How to Help Non-Sales Staff Sell

July 31, 2009

Copyright 2005/2009

Asking non-sales staff to sell is an issue that arises more and more these days, as organizations compete to move their products and services. Sounds good on the surface, but the request (or demand) often terrifies people who don’t do sales on a regular basis. If they are going to participate in sales activities they need help. I first wrote about this in 2005 and am updating that article here.

There is nothing wrong with sales. It is just another manifestation of influence. If the influence is of benefit to the person being influenced, then most societies would usually agree it is a “good” thing.

So, why are some people and not others afraid of selling? For the answer to this question, which I did not address in my original piece in 2005, I’m drawing on neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns’ 2008 book iconoclast, particularly his commentary on “fear”. My conclusion is that some people fear sales because they are uncertain of the benefit of the influence sales represents. They suffer from “ambiguity”, or the inherent fear of the unknown. And/or, they may, like a third of Americans, suffer from the same fear that arises from that most common phobia – public speaking. It’s the fear of failure.

In his book, Berns references the science of these fears and notes some experiments that prove the power of these fears and their effect on human behaviour. When people who have these fears hear the word “sales”, a movie runs in their head and it triggers a reaction. Think of the fear inherent in making the initiating phone call with the prospective client, or in the “asking for the order” of closing the sale. These images trigger the socially debilitating condition – fear of rejection.

Before I get into solutions to these fears, let me answer another question. Why would organizations want to have non-sales staff selling? We hear from clients that they want as many points of contact with potential customers as possible. We hear that they also want staff to cross-sell products and services to existing customers. Consulting companies want consultants to go out and bring in new business, or “kill their dinner” as they say. But many of these people are not psychologically equipped to go out and “sell”.

A number of years ago, I received a call from a truly desperate PR consultant who practically begged me to help him find new business or to get another job. A consulting  firm had recruited him from a position at an industrial association because of his knowledge of a particular industry sector. He told me he had been promised that the firm had lots of business for him to work on and that he would only occasionally be required to participate in new business pitches. Well, that lasted for a couple of months, and then he was told that he had to make a far more substantial contribution to his billings from clients he was to bring into the firm – or he would be let go. This was a likeable, knowledgeable fellow – but a salesman he wasn’t and he knew it. When he told his wife, she was devastated. She had warned him not to leave the association for the consulting field. His distress and bleak prospects had such an effect on me that I use his story as a cautionary tale for anyone who asks me about a career change, where the selling reality is not fully understood. His story also prompted me to want to find a solution to the problem.

Another situation where non-sales staff are asked to participate in selling occurs when the organization has to make a sales presentation as part of a bid on a major contract. We’ve seen these situations cause serious concern amongst these staff. Organizations that realize the terror this creates come to us looking for training/coaching assistance, to help their non-sales staff to be less anxious and to make a better showing for the prospective client.

So, what help do we provide these terrified staff?  I should note here that the solutions offered were not derived from, but are consistent with Berns’ commentary on “Taming the Amygdala Through Reappraisal and Extinction”. (The amygdala is the brain’s fear centre.)

Here are 3 critical components:

1. Brand/Reputation-building, not sales

Change the words and you change the perception of what is being asked of staff. Sales to most non-sales staff (and even to some salespeople!) is as frightening as giving a speech to an audience of 1,000 people. In truth, these people are not really being asked to close deals. Usually they are being asked to find selling opportunities or to contribute to the sales process, not necessarily to do the actual sale.

It makes sense to use language that doesn’t frighten staff. In fact, what most non-sales staff do is deliver the product or service. If they do it well and look after the customers, they help to build the brand image and enhance the reputation of the organization, thus making sales easier. If the task is explained in those terms to staff, there is likely to be far less anxiety.

2. Customer knowledge

I always want to have the customer knowledge discussion in these sessions. Non-sales staff have a perspective on their customer and some have a deep knowledge. However, many haven’t fully thought through their customer’s wants and needs. A customer knowledge discussion puts a current perspective about the customer in their heads. It often stimulates a conscious empathy for the customer. Eliciting an expression of interest in helping the customer get what they want/need isn’t difficult after this discussion.

It may seem like a “no-brainer”, but too often this knowledge and consciousness is taken for granted. When we ask them to tell us the customer’s story at the beginning of this exercise, they can’t. We get part of the story, but not all. So, we should never assume staff have it top of mind. We should always work through the customer knowledge discussion.

How powerful is this customer mindset? I met the top salesperson for the largest region in a particular division of a major bank. We talked about sales. He said he never sold. He just gave the customers what they asked for. Their ask which resulted in the sale would come after he explored their wants and needs with them, as well as the possible solutions and products that might satisfy those wants and needs. He said he never asked them to buy a product. He didn’t have to. They asked him. His success was based on customer knowledge. And while the monetary reward was good, he said looking after the customer was what he enjoyed most. No anxiety or terror here.

3. Personal contribution

Most employees believe they are making a contribution and take pride in what they do. We tap into that. We get them to tell us what that contribution is and how it helps the customer. Then we ask, if they were speaking to a customer or prospect, would they feel comfortable in talking about their knowledge of the customer? Or how they as employees contribute at their organization to satisfying the customer want/need? Customers more often want to hear a credible story about how their wants/needs will be dealt with from the people who do the work, rather than hear from a person whose job it is to “sell” making grand claims. But staff doesn’t have this perspective on their minds or the right stories prepared, if they are blinded by the terror of the demand that they have to sell.

Don’t deal with this terror by saying, “Oh, you’ll be fine, don’t worry” (this line is about as comforting as the “this won’t hurt a bit” line.) Shift the focus from outcomes to a focus on a process that will credibly show non-sales staff how effective they can be at “sales”.

Influence/Change: What Formula Are You Using?

September 7, 2009

Success at work involves influence at work. We employ influence in decision-making, sales, client relations (internal and external), change management, organizational transformation, managing, recruiting, handling conflicts, negotiations, and so on.

We all have our ways of preparing to exercise influence. Some of us are aware of these approaches and for others the approaches are largely unconscious. A way of preparing that yields the best results is to use a formula to guide our research and analysis of what needs to be in our influence/change communications.

There is a 1960s vintage formula that I have found provides a very useful question stimulus and analytical framework through which to strategically prepare for an influence opportunity. I’m referring to Gleicher’s Formula or Equation. David Gleicher was a  consultant at Arthur D. Little. In equation form, his formula looks like this:

Change = Dissatisfaction ´ Vision of the future ´ First steps towards that vision > Resistance.  (C=DVF>R)

This was later refined to DVF > Cost (economic and psychological). The thought is that, if any of the elements on the left side of the equation are weak or missing, then overcoming resistance/cost won’t happen.

The great value of using a formula like Gleicher’s when we are planning to exercise influence to achieve a goal is that it brings discipline to our thinking (or lack thereof!) It makes us examine our assumptions against what the person we are trying to influence is thinking, believing, fearing, wanting, etc.

Who hasn’t heard the admonition to be client (external or internal) centred (driven, etc.) today? Well, the client’s cost resistance is one thing, but that psychological cost is a swamp of resistance, to play on John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. From bias, to “I don’t know you”, to the fear factors, such as the fear of failure.

This side of the formula – resistance – has the most weight, precisely because it is the client’s centre. But how many of us want to believe that we’ll achieve the influence we want to have, based on the client’s dissatisfaction with the status quo (and how much research did we do on this?), combined with our vision of the future for the client (our product, service, idea, goal, etc.), along with our gentle (or otherwise) push with a suggested action or exhortation (“now get out there….”)? Some will do thorough research (questions, surveys, etc.) and analysis, using a disciplined approach that will include the resistance part of the formula. But many will not do much more than a cursory think- through, driven by their firmly held assumptions.

Resistance is powerful. Facts and persuasive influencers notwithstanding, change can be non-existent or slow if it cannot outweigh resistance.  For example, on the issue of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Professor Andre Potworowski flags the resistance problem in a column by technology writer Tyler Hamilton.

“It is, in effect, a challenge of change management… The greatest barrier to innovation comes from resistance to change on the part of the consumer… People must begin to see the possibility of profiting from sustainability,” says Potworowski.

And every issue, challenge – indeed, opportunity – is the same. Does DVF outweigh R?

There is a circumstance where influence/change can happen extremely quickly. I’ll take some liberty with Gleicher’s formula to explain. When I ask myself what factors have been present when I’ve seen an immediate result in influence/change that overcomes resistance, it looks like this:

Fear + Urgency + Limited Options (FULO) > Resistance.

Why? Basically the values of Gleicher’s DVF are jacked-up to the “threat” level and the cost considerations – economic and psychological – don’t have as much sway.

How many times do most of us have these FULO factors working in our favour to overcome resistance when we’re exercising influence? Not that many. So, we have to deal with the CVF factors Gleicher identified. We can “manufacture” FULO. Many high-pressure sales techniques do just that. We can introduce some aspects of FULO into DVF. Certainly there’s an ethical line for using these “weapons of influence.”

Gleicher isn’t the only one with a formula. Just a sample from my bookshelves includes:

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People – great advice for anyone.

Robert Cialdini, INFLUENCE – The Psychology of Persuasion – PhD. He has six “weapons of influence.” They are present in every analysis I do and often employed in my strategies and those of my clients.

John Adams, Successful Change, Paying Attention to the Intangibles – a change leader I found by exploring Gleicher, he asked the question “Why do so many of these efforts fail?” He found his own answer. His research led to a list of 12 Individual Change Success Factors that he believes are complementary to Gleicher’s Formula. He shared it in OD Practitioner in 2003.

Howard Gardner, Changing minds: the art and science of changing our own and other people’s minds – Harvard Ph.D. put forward the concept of multiple intelligences, and in this book outlines his 7 Levers of Change, all starting with “Re”. I’m thankful to Gardner for introducing me to a formal examination of resistance. It informs my thinking, training/coaching and counsel.

Gregory Berns, Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently – MD, PhD. Berns wanted to have innovation in the title but it was overused. He really framed the fear factors part of resistance for me.

Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses – Professor Emeritus Harvard and Thought Leader, Monitor Group. Argyris discusses the undiscussable: how organizations resist change by implementing “organizational defenses”. My take on it: Most organizations talk the talk, but few walk the talk.

I will explore influence and the references above in future blogs, but in the meantime, enjoy your reading if you check out these experts. And don’t forget to use a formula to increase your strategic influence.

Copyright 2009

More Read A Speech? The US President Does It Well in the SOTU Speech

More readers have come to this blog for the post Read a speech rather than memorize? Sure. Just do it well. than any other. It’s been translated by Google into what must be nearly a dozen languages.

I know people don’t have time to memorize their speeches. So, we tried to offer tips on how to read a speech so that the audience would forget it was being read. (One way to read a speech is to use a teleprompter. But not many can afford it or find it appropriate to use the clear screens that flank the lectern and that deliver the written text to the speechmaker. Some say they are overused and the President of The United States – POTUS- endures a lot of this criticism for his reliance on TOTUS – Teleprompter of The United States.)

That’s not what has prompted this post. What struck me about President Obama’s State of the Union Speech (SOTUS) on January 25, 2011 was an insight that addresses a powerful element found in influential speeches that is often lost when they are read.

After the SOTUS,’s editor-at-large and Senior Political Analyst Mark Halperin wrote in his blog The Page:

“Obama’s presentation was close to flawless: upbeat and animated, leisurely and assured, surprisingly engaging even when he lapsed into the professorial mode he favors over tub-thumping. He also offered up some light, teasing humor, a rare feat for the generally sober president, whose forays into comedy often seem forced or hammy. Rehearsals with one of the Democratic Party’s best speech coaches clearly paid off, allowing him to internalize the text and focus on conveying the emotion of the words with grace and spontaneity.”

I underlined the last two lines because therein lies my point. It’s not just reading that needs to be mastered. It’s the delivery.

When I have worked with clients on presentations and speeches, a good part of my contribution is to constructively challenge the words and thoughts in the speech – the content. My intention is not to re-write the material. It is to help the client “internalize” the content. To make all of it conscious as content, not just the words on a page. It’s difficult to do this if you are the person giving the speech. So my suggestion is: get a coach. Just like a stage actor – even a veteran – has a Director to help with this.

A coach’s job is to challenge everything in the content. If you are the speech giver, don’t get defensive. Understand that explaining, say, the purpose of the speech or a line or a word, is part of a process of commitment and internalization. It’s the process to move from a level of just getting through a read with a bit of inflection to the level where we might say the thoughts and points are lifted off the page to fly to the audience instead of dully trudging through space and too often not penetrating the audience’s consciousness. The difference is performance rather than just a read.

So, the upside of reading is that we keep on track, we have an external memory (the script) to rely on and that lessens anxiety and we don’t have to memorize. The downside of reading is that without the extra work, the rehearsal and the use of the reading techniques, the read can be flat and lifeless – a fail that undermines purpose.

Why not be spontaneous, memorize or use cards as prompts? If you can do this well, by all means, use this approach. Unfortunately, too often the preparation is not good and the performance is poor. This fail damages your personal brand.

Yes, POTUS used TOTUS for SOTUS. But, because of Obama’s ownership of the content, his rehearsals with a speech coach and his use of the teleprompters to keep his eyes up and his fear of losing his place in check, we get a review with words like “flawless”, “grace”, “spontaneity”. What more could a speech giver want?