Like It Or Not, You’re in Sales!

Leading any kind of change effort is, in its essence, about getting people to buy into and embrace new ideas. That can be a tough sell.

As you well know, people generally aren’t overly keen to change. If the status quo isn’t killing them, they’re usually pretty happy to keep things just the way they are, thank you very much.

All too often the majority of the resources and attention go into planning change initiatives, assuming that stakeholders will magically be moved by the rational corporate missives that get fired over the bow of the status quo in the form of mass emails, sanitized videos and highly scripted presentations telling people that things are about to change. Let’s face it, people often ignore those messages and the status quo chugs along, barely changing course.

You can plan all you want, but if people in the boat with you aren’t rowing in the direction you need them to, you aren’t going to get to the desired destination. Threaten them, and you’re dead in the water.  What to do?

Champions of change can learn some valuable lessons about winning over the hearts and minds of stakeholders from studying the art of making the complex sale. I’m really enjoying the work of the marketing consultancy Corporate Visions.  In their book, Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, they connect basic insights from neuroscience with research on how people make decisions and offer some practical ideas for selling people on the need to do things differently. Some of the insights you can learn more about from their work include:

  • Decisions are made by the “old brain” which uses emotions to mark what’s important, and is impressed by sharp contrasts and surprises
  • Don’t talk at people, talk with them using the same kind of language you would use with a colleague or friend you like and enjoy.
  • Draw large, simple pictures to simplify complex messages and make abstract ideas feel more real.

While the Corporate Visions work can give you valuable ideas on how to shape your messages, we can help you with some ideas on what to communicate.  Our framework for change, called Untying the Knot®, is a simple but robust way to understand the insights you’ll need to create before people are willing to move into action.

You’ll need to begin with what people are unaware of. Until people “see” the value of the change in terms that are meaningful to them, they aren’t that interested in engaging. Remember that people have different ideas of value. People who value a higher purpose will want to know how the change will contribute to a greater good, while people who are all about mastery will want to know how accomplishing the change will give them opportunities to take on new challenges.  So, you’ll need to creatively shine the light on the benefits of the initiative from different angles.

Once people understand the value of the change, it’s important to listen for and address their fears and concerns. People aren’t going to start pulling in the direction of change unless they believe they have a very good chance of successfully landing in a new, desirable place.  Mutinies happen when people get frightened. Once fear takes hold, it’s hard to release its strangling grip on the change initiative.  You’ll need to think ahead about the kinds of fears people are likely to encounter, and give them the tools they need to confidently address these challenges.

One of the best ways to do this is to teach people hard and soft change management skills they’ll need to be successful. Things like engaging in difficult conversations, planning complex projects, and understanding how to collaborate with old rivals. The sooner you instill these kinds of skills, the less likely it is that fear will put a chokehold on your change initiative.

Before you can build it, you have to sell it! That means shifting people’s perspectives as to why the change matters—to them—and give them the skills they need to move through the change process successfully. When you do this change happens more quickly and easily, and delivers on its promised benefits.

Dianna Anderson, MCC

CEO, Cylient

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