How To Think About Sales Differently


Friday, 12.30am

Sheffield, U.K.

Technically, it’s Saturday. But who’s checking.

Sometimes life feels like we’re walking around with blinkers on.

We can see what’s in front of us, what we’re told is there and the rest of the world is hidden from view.

And what this means is that we make a lot of assumptions about the way things are. We form theories and the think that those theories are real rather than what they really are – guesses about how the world works.

One such theory has to do with communication.

If you’re a communications engineer, the Shannon and Weaver model of communication is the one you start with – it’s even called the mother of all models.

In this model, if you want to get a message from a sender to a receiver, you encode the message, use a channel to deliver it, decode it at the other end and have it picked up by the receiver – with some noise injected along the way.

If you’ve ever done sales, have you been taught that your objective is to communicate your message clearly?

To say it in words that the prospect will understand? To show what you do? To have brochures and presentations and much more that will help you make a sale?

The idea is that you’re the sender of a message and you need to get that message across to the receiver without losing it along the way.

If the receiver doesn’t want to hear your message – well that’s an objection – and you need to handle it. You need to sell past the objection.

Or do you?

The Shannon and Weaver model has to do with machines. It has to do with the technical aspects of encoding a vibration into a microphone and sending it across the world to be played back on a radio.

It tells us little about how humans communicate.

We’re not machines. We don’t receive messages in that way.

But the engineering way of thinking is so simple, so seductive, so logical, that we’re fooled into thinking that’s the way it happens.

That’s because technology and engineering so dominate the world we live in that we think that’s the only way to look at it. Sometimes.

Sir Geoffrey Vickers tried to understand how the process of communication actually happened in society. How do we actually communicate with each other? How do we “attach meaning to communication”?

Not many people have listened to his stuff, but systems thinkers like Peter Checkland have – and created a model that we can use to think more clearly about this.

At the core of it is something called appreciative systems.

And you can summarise the whole thing in one sentence – but you’ll need to jump to the end of this post to get that.

Here’s the longer version.

We’re wrong when we think that logic will seal a deal, or that a product will sell itself, or that something is a no-brainer.

In reality, the decisions we make and the actions we take are because we want to maintain, modify or avoid having relationships with others.

We start with everything that happens in the world – the flux of events and ideas.

As people living in the world – we have interests and concerns. When faced with a situation, we perceive certain facts.

For example, if you are selling consulting services, you may perceive your value as being a skilled Excel modeller. That’s a fact.

You may select certain facts – like your Excel skills – and look for the significance of those facts in a relationship. You can create a wicked workbook – and that will help someone that has a complex mix of data that needs working out.

You come up with a hypothetical form of a relationship – perhaps it’s offering 30 days of consulting.

Maybe the client only wants 3 days – you select and settle on a form of relationship that is good enough.

Now, have you noticed the thing that’s happening as we work through this process?

Most of the time, we’re thinking of what we want, selecting the facts and forms of relationship that matter to us.

Many salespeople will be reluctant to learn anything about the prospect. Why waste their time on understanding someone else when they could be selling to five others?

What we need to do is start to appreciate what others want.

What are their existing norms and standards – how they expect the world to be?

What are their interests and concerns? What facts do they notice and select? What do those facts mean for their relationship with you?

What form of relationship would they put forward, and what are they likely to settle for?

If you can appreciate that, then you can help them work towards a decision on how to build a relationship with you.

That will lead to action.

And that leads to a sale.

A new norm and standard that includes you in the prospect’s life.

So… that’s a lot of theory to say something obvious. Perhaps.

Sometimes obvious things aren’t that easy to see – because we have existing concepts and ideas cluttering our brains.

You see most of us know the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But, thinking in terms of appreciative systems, involves a lot more appreciation of the other person.

And that gives you the platinum rule.

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.


Karthik Suresh

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