persuasion Uh oh! One of the Oldest Tenets in Sales is just Plain Wrong!

If we can get our prospects to know the benefits of our products and services and how those benefits can impact their business, then they will buy. Except, of course, we know that isn’t true. Other things matter, like whether they have the authority and the budget. That’s why BANT (Budget, authority, need and timing) was created—to help salespeople remember that it’s not just about whether or not a prospect values your offer.

Something else matters as well. For a prospect to make a purchase decision, someone has to take action. Neither Information nor BANT alone will produce action. A long-lived tenet of sales is that people make a decision to take action based on emotion and then proceed to justify the decision with logic. But this is just plain wrong. This outdated notion may be the biggest underlying cause of so many stalled deals.

Rational decisions and emotional motivation are entertwined from the start, twisting around one another throughout the buying process like a rope of licorice.  Even if you believe that emotional motivation comes before the rational justification – perhaps especially if you still believe that – why lead with the merits of your solution instead of the emotional motivation behind the need to change?

This topic is at the core of “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,”[1] by co-authors and brothers, Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They emphasize that change is hard primarily because our minds are ruled by two conflicting systems, the rational mind and the emotional mind—each competing for control.

According to Switch, each decision to change behavior involves directing the rider (the rational mind), motivating the elephant (the emotional mind), and shaping the path (making the desired change in behavior “easy”).

The concept of the elephant and the rider is not new. I believe it was first developed in the 1990’s as a way to describe one’s rational and emotional side by Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business and author of “The Happiness Hypothesis.”[2] The central thesis of the rider and the elephant metaphor is that the rider can get the elephant to go wherever he or she desires—as long as the elephant has the will.

When it comes to the field of selling, it’s interesting to ask, “Who is the rider and who is the elephant in this metaphor?” Both manifest wholly within our self, and within others. Salespeople use their rational mind to direct their emotional mind every time they pick up the phone and face the fear of rejection. And prospects use their rational mind to justify why it doesn’t make sense to take a risk. If you read that last sentence again you’ll see I described the prospect deciding on emotion, not to take a risk and then justifying the decision with logic. This is the complete opposite of the tenet which is more evidence of why it is so misguided.

And, finally, we can use the metaphor to describe how our own rider and elephant interact with the two systems at work inside the prospect’s own head; in other words, how can we direct the rider inside our prospect to motivate his or her elephant and make the change that we propose?

This can get to be a rather heady topic and I’m certainly no expert at psychology. But it’s easy to see that the decision-making process a prospect goes through, and our own attempt at persuading them to make a decision in our favor, is a lot more complicated than we (and our sales managers) often acknowledge.

Two of the smartest women in sales I know, Lynn Hidy and Babatte Ten Haken and I enjoyed a rather spirited conversation in which we dissected the principles in “Switch” and how they can be applied to the field of Sales. I encourage you to read each of their posts to see how our views, or rather or perspectives on the topic vary.

We kept our conversation to the first chapter which detailed the first principle, “Direct the Rider.”

Babette wrote a blog post focusing on a method for overcoming the paralysis of change by looking at the bright spots. A technique that helps decision makers sort out the next steps, not by understanding what the problem is, but by identifying where things are currently working (and then deciphering how those bright spots can be replicated). Lynn wrote a post highlighting three suggestions for how to affect change within Inside Sales organizations, her area of expertise.

The perspective I will take here (and tend to always take), is that of the prospect. I asked myself this question, “How do we motivate prospects to take action and make a change.” Notice I didn’t ask, “How can we get prospects to decide to take action and make a change.”

If we can understand what causes people to delay or avoid action in the face of logic, then we can better understand how to help them overcome the battle of the two minds.

When faced with a decision, prospects try to direct their own elephant’s-rider—their rational side—to look at things logically.  But a rider’s greatest weakness is the tendency to get lost in the details. As the Heath brothers state, “to the rider, the ‘analyzing’ phase is often more satisfying than the ‘doing’ phase.”  This is not something we in sales want to hear for it’s the doing-phase that represents a decision. Add to this, the troublesome fact that the heart and mind often disagree and you can see how the tug-of-war between logic and emotion leads to a decision to do nothing. This often happens when short-term sacrifices are required for long-term pay-offs (which is itself, often the case in business).

No doubt about it, convincing people to think differently is always the hardest route. When we talk about the rational and emotional systems, we’re talking about the brain where thinking takes place. So I will say that again. Convincing people to think differently is always the hardest route. We need to help prospects see that what we propose is in line with their own rational and emotional talk-tracks.

All of this is made all the more difficult when you consider that B2B sales involve multiple decision makers.

The good news: we may be making the entire process of motivating change more difficult than it needs to be, and if we figure out how to simplify the process, we’ll shorten sales cycles and help a lot more customers. One way is to forgo the temptation to explain why people should change, in favor of demonstrating what can happen when change occurs.

Rationale and emotion are not two separate stages in a purchase decision. They are equal players often playing on opposite teams. The way to affect change is to get them on the same team. If you want to learn the 3 step process to make that happen, pick up Switch and read it today.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the concepts in Switch can be applied to your sales environment and whether you’ve learned any key take-aways from reading the book.

To learn why I have the deepest respect for Lynn Hidy and Babette Ten Haken, go to UpYourTelesales.com and SalesAerobicsforengineers.com respectively.

Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert increasing sales productivity through the use of tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Sales Productivity blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation click here.


[1] As well as “Made to Stick” and “Decisive”