Read any sales or marketing book and somewhere in there the author will remind you that selling is a logical process, but buying is an emotional process. To buy, your prospect must “feel” that what you offer is not only able to help solve his problem, but also that yours is the right and best solution. When it comes to selling change within an organization, you may also need to demonstrate and sell that there is a problem to solve in the first place before you move on to providing a solution.
It is pretty common to hear supervisors, managers, even executive leaders express sentiments like, “I wish people would leave their feelings at home” when faced with human feelings, especially anger or tears. The irony in the “leave your feelings at home” or “feelings don’t belong in the workplace” belief system: feelings are what drive people to action. And as a leader, action — consistent, intrinsically motivated, aligned action — is what you want.
Sales guru Zig Ziglar summed up the relationship between sales person and prospect this way: “If people like you, they’ll listen to you. But if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” The relationship is the same for leaders and followers. Handy if people like you, but much more powerful if they trust you.
Buying-in, like trust, requires an emotional commitment. Trust in leadership helps courage emerge. It enhances willingness to step out, to try something new or different, even to risk looking stupid, clumsy or awkward in front of peers, friends — people seen every day at work. It can be the difference between being all-in or just going through the motions.
Many years ago I was a member of my employer’s lean team. We were charged with using lean tools to significantly improve results in one of our struggling manufacturing plants. It wasn’t quite a crisis, but it was on its way to becoming one if left unchecked. We had proven the tools worked setting up and refining processes at a greenfield site, but we were now coming into a well-established, long-standing system. We had “support” from senior leadership, but with reservation about our ability to drive real change in what was considered a difficult environment.
We found out quickly that parading in with the tools and forcing the issue was the fast track to failure. Unlike the greenfield site, where habits were not yet ingrained, there was a lot of history here and vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
We had to slow things down and build relationships. To build credibility, we handled a few problems that were technically out of scope, but very important to people on the shop floor. Within a few weeks, we designed and executed a couple Kaizen events with two areas who had need and were willing to engage. There was drama and resistance, but also solid results.
We didn’t consciously identify it as sales, but essentially we worked through a sales process — over and over again. The supervisors and workers in the plant had to like us before they would try, and they had to trust before they would step up and engage, even if that engagement came with heavy skepticism. Logical argument only went so far. They watched for consistency, patience, fairness and accountability. They looked for what we promised and called us out when we didn’t deliver on our commitments — and we challenged them when they didn’t deliver on theirs.
Bottom Line: If you are a leader, and especially if you are tasked with driving change, you are in sales. Remember, the sales process is a logical one, but the buying process is an emotional one. Change is an affair of the heart. The feelings that emerge are a natural, even essential, part of the process.
Does this reflect your experience? Please share thoughts & feelings.