We’re All in Sales, So Start Selling Change!

Jeff Cole

Are you in sales? Trick question – we’re all in sales. You may not be selling a product, but on a daily basis we’re all selling ideas, new ways of doing things, and information. Think about it. You may be selling your boss on the idea of giving you a raise or maybe you’re selling an interviewer on the notion of hiring you. Perhaps you are simply selling a loved one on going to your favorite lunch destination.

Those of us in operational excellence are often talking to people about process improvement. "Improvement" is just a code word for "change" – as in behavioral change, ie. stop doing this the old way and start doing it the new way. What if I told you that one of your main services to your organization is selling behavioral change? How are your sales?

Given this premise, how can we leverage what top salespeople know and use that information to become more effective in process improvement? I’m not talking about donning an Armani suit, getting a spray-tan, and talking real fast. Instead, what if we took one proven fundamental you can execute today and started with that?

Here’s a secret that all top salespeople know: Humans buy based on emotion, and they justify it based on logic. Let’s say that again – we buy on emotion and justify based on logic. Of the two, emotion is much stronger in in helping to secure a sale than logic. However, think of the number of deadly meetings you’ve been in that were 100% logic - spreadsheets and powerpoints until your eyes bled.

If we take a small modification to the influence model taught by CEO-consultant Anthony Robbins and others, we can change a sales model into a behavioral change model.

In sales, there are three things you are managing: ERBN, LRBN, and DRAB. DRAB is Dominant reasons to avoid buying. ERBN is Emotional reasons to buy now. LRBN is Logical reasons to buy now. In our model we’ll modify that to ERCN, LRCN, and DRAC (substituting "Change" for "Buy" because we are "selling" behavioral change).

In the illustration, you’ll see that when it comes to a process change, people will have a simple choice to make – engage in the new process ("Change") or try to keep doing things the old way ("Don’t Change"). In this model, DRAC (Dominant Reasons to Avoid Change) is like a large boat anchor - a very powerful set of thoughts keeping people doing things the old way. At best, you might hope someone is neutral when you approach them with the idea of a change. Notice that ERCN (Emotional Reasons to Change Now) is much larger and has more leverage than its companion LRCN (Logical Reasons to Change Now). We’re not talking about you being emotional when presenting the change – in sales it’s never about us – it’s about tapping into the customer’s emotional sense of a need to embrace the change. While ERCN is significantly more powerful than LRCN in overcoming DRAC, many OpEx practitioners are auto-programmed to launch mainly logical proposals.

Professor Jonathan Haidt calls this phenomenon "The elephant and the rider" - The elephant being a massive beast that automatically does what it wants (emotion) and the rider (conscious Logic) trying to guide and cajole the elephant toward the direction he wants. On a daily basis we have unconscious logic-emotion battles going on. If you ever said "I knew I should _____ but didn’t") – guess what – emotion won. In countless kitchens around the country, the elephant is guiding people to twinkies, beer, and nachos. All the while, the poor rider is hanging on for dear life, trying to steer the elephant toward the celery sticks and mineral water. Next time you open the fridge, ask yourself – "Am I feeding the rider or am I feeding the elephant?"


The same applies in presenting the case for process change. Are you presenting to the rider or to the elephant? Logic can help close the sale, but in reality it’s based on your appeal to emotion. Some tips:

#1 - Provide a visual. In one large manufacturing organization, a manager found they were using over 400 types of work gloves with each factory procuring their own. The exact same style was bought for $3.00 at one facility and $12.00 at another. This amounted to many millions of dollars in waste. When he called the executives in for the presentation he didn’t show spreadsheets or powerpoints. Instead, he got a sample of all 400+ types of work gloves, attached large price tags to them showing their cost, and piled them up on the conference table. This was a man who knew how to present to the elephant!

#2 - Case Study. Can you follow a high-contrast before/after case study through from a worker perspective showing how the worker’s productivity, morale, etc. improved because of the change? You’ll see politicians often do this when trying to make real the impact of a particular policy change or bill they are promoting. Can you put a face to your change?

#3 - Tap into the Pain. If your process is a remedy for pain the organization is currently experiencing, tap into that. One of the most motivating things to humans is relieving a major pain source.

#4 - Remember to focus on the person who is changing. People tend to not respond well to stories of how you (the salesman) will personally benefit from the change or how "management" or some amorphous "organization" will benefit. The best proposals show how they personally will benefit, tie to an emotional need, and overwhelm the dominant reasons shouting at them in their head to not change!