The resistance to needed changes in your organization is insidious, pernicious, persistent and determined.
Selling to people in businesses is hard for three important reasons:
- There are very few (or no) champions of your product or service offering because no one knows how good your product or service offering is inside the organization you’re selling to.
- There are no direct ways to influence the people who can make the decision to buy from you—today.
- There has been a massive shift in consumer behavior, but not a massive shift how businesses purchase from you based in the reality of shifting consumer behavior.
These are big problems and they’re getting bigger because the practice of creating buyer personas still dominates in a big way in almost every piece of advice available around advising organizations on how to sell to organizations.
While buyer personas are a fine shorthand for figuring out the profile in your head as a seller to businesses, the downfall of them is that they neglect each of the three areas above. In addition, they depersonalize the act of buying (or purchasing or procurement) and attempt to reduce it to a series of formulaic and discreet steps.
Which, of course, makes the three reasons above more problematic, not less.
Here are three ideas that may help when you’re selling (peace, consulting, freelance solutions, or even you’re next “gee-whiz” product to a skeptical procurement buyer):
Champions are easy to get (and even easier to lose), but require engaging with personality, care, and empathy.
Most of the people who are going to become your champions are the ones who have the power to say “no” but no power to say “yes.”
There are still gatekeepers in many organizations, and going where they are (in-person, online, emotionally, rationally, etc.) will go a long way toward engaging with them.
You must determine if buying today is all that matters, or if arbitraging the time to build a relationship today against the dollars that you are going to get tomorrow, matters more in the long run.
The short run will take care of itself.
Does your selling strategy include a 1,000-year long plan?
The reality of consumer behavior means that buyer personas are dead as predictors of selling success in the B2B space.
It also means that running after every social platform for sales is also dead.
This is a good thing.
In principle, this means that consumer behavior in business to business sales is the same behavior in business to consumer sales, but the volume of the connection is lower.
In practice, this means that targeted videos on a YouTube channel, embedded in an email campaign, direct to a buyer, matter more than the number of Facebook likes you happen to be cultivating that aren’t converting to sales.
In practice, this also means that providing value to the small number of businesses you work with as a selling organization, trumps the number of actual businesses that you work with.
Or that you think you should work with.
Champions, behavior, targeted engagement, and long-term strategy matter more for business success than just closing the sale and moving on to the next client.
Will this be on the test?
This is the question that we struggle with every new semester. It reveals what and where the focus of students has been trained into them over the last 12 years of primary schooling.
Will this impact my grade?
This is the question that reveals the struggle between attaining real learning, real connection with material, and real engagement, and the need for accreditation, for getting the “right” job and for fitting in all the ways that society demands of us.
Will this be in the lecture?
This is the question that reveals a deep desire for certainty and the continuing pushback against the Socratic, the uncertain, and the unpleasant friction of the unknown.
There are no lectures that can cover the ingrained need that these three questions reveal.
There are no carefully crafted syllabi.
There are no YouTube videos and there is not enough clever gaming of student’s pre-wired psychology.
And the professor that spends a semester (or several) preparing more for successfully neutralizing these questions than for engagement and connection with material that could be life-changing, is the professor who has invested in playing a game whose hand was dealt way back in kindergarten.
For the innovative peacebuilder, the truly important switch must happen in how thinking about products and services cross the chasm.
Most of the time, processes (such as mediation, negotiation, or dispute resolution) are confused with products.
A process is, in essence, a service.
Sure, there are sometimes opportunities to grow a process past a service and into a product, but this is rare.
The idea that content focused around “how-to” can be a product, is supported by the digital reality we live in now. With digital platforms, developing digital components for processes we already think of as services, should become second nature.
But for many it hasn’t.
At least not yet.
There are four ways to cross the chasm in thinking, from a strong consideration and focus on services, to a strong consideration and focus on products.
- Deep listening requires surveying clients (formally and informally), compiling that data, and executing on the results of that listening. By the way, deep listening is beyond active listening, and is something that peacebuilders are increasingly seeing as a tactic for clients at the table.
- Deep understanding is the corollary to deep listening. Deep understanding requires accepting that crossing the chasm is the only way to scale. Plus, it requires accepting that one-offs, workshops, seminars, and more of the traditional ways of engaging with audiences, clients, and scaling a “lifestyle” business, have changed irrevocably.
- Deep advice requires accessing the wisdom contained in the organizations peacebuilders may already be working in. It also requires listening to, and reading, advice that comes from non-traditional places. Accessing, and considering deep advice is strategic and tactical. Deep advice not only comes from outside the box, but also it comes from looking in another box entirely.
- Deep courage is the last way to cross the chasm. Execution is about courage, and many of the reasons that serve to “stall out” the crossings peacebuilders attempt, is less about not doing the other three things listed above, but is more about the lack of courage to pull the trigger and execute on a truly scary idea.
Philosophy first, tactics second, and courage always to change how peacebuilding happens in our digital world.
Three points need to be emphasized at the beginning of any training, workshop, or seminar.
Your way of thinking about conflict, communication, and persuasion must shift before anything else can happen.
Your way of consuming information, your attention span, and your level of caring about the content you are about to hear, must shift before any deep learning can happen.
Your way of listening to the delivered content must shift from passive to active, for without that shift, nothing else can happen.
The desire, of course, from some of the participants is for these three things to happen. And these points being made out loud makes those participants relieved.
But there are other desires in the room.
The desire to get the tools, get the skills, get the listicle version of the information, and then to leave.
The desire to get the lecture, get the knowledge, but to not engage in any deeper change. After all, such change is challenging, and if there’s no support in the environment from which you came for change that needs to happen, well then it’s easier to ignore the calls to change.
The desire to not care. This is reflected in the phrases, the questions, the statements, and the observations that spring forth from the participants. Typically framed by some participants as “I hope that you can keep me awake,” or “You kept me awake more than any other facilitator I’ve ever sat through.”
The desire for the listicle version, the shorthand, the summary, the 30-second point, is seductive. But ultimately, changing the philosophy about how we think, matters more than applying shortcut tactics to achieve an outcome we might not enjoy.
The skills required to facilitate training for an audience with content that wasn’t developed by the facilitator, are the same skills sale people practice every day:
Persuasion: Since a facilitator doesn’t create the presentation content (or product) they are facilitating (just like the sales person doesn’t create the product they sell door-to-door), the skills of persuasion through using influence in the room, is critical for success. The facilitator must use all the skills of persuasion their fingertips to get the “customer” to buy the product. Yes, the audience already “bought” the product by being there physically. But just like children in school, you have to “re-earn” their attention caring and awareness, rather than taking it for granted.
Body language: Sales people know that confidence, body language, and silence combined with active listening (more on this one below), can help close the sale in a face-to-face encounter. Facilitators need to keep this in mind. Particularly, when facilitating content with which they are not familiar. A facilitator with none of those traits, just like a sale person with none of those traits, can stumble and fall in the room.
Active listening: Facilitators should listen more that they talk. This is easy when the facilitator has developed the product they are facilitating. It’s hard when facilitators haven’t developed the product they are facilitating. The problems compound when they don’t believe the content itself. The first person to listen and react to the content should be the facilitator. But not in the room. Not in front of the audience. And not when the audience pushes back and disagrees, asserts themselves, or engages in conflict with the content.
With all this being said, the facilitator should remember, above all else, that the work is on the line in the room, not the facilitator as a sales person.
As the economic, cultural, and spiritual forces that used to bind us together continue to refragment from overarching macro-cultures to indispensable micro-cultures, alternative dispute resolution practitioners must take notice.
Overarching macro-culture was driven by communal events, television, economic stability, and overarching cultural “norms” that allowed people to engage in conflicts and disputes with the same regularity they always have, but also allowed the impacts of those conflicts to be dampened.
Indispensable micro-culture is driven by technology, network connections that defy geography and notice, a dismissal of the status quo, and a strong identity component. People still have conflict in these micro-cultures (what used to be called “sub-cultures”). But the impacts of those conflicts are like wildfires that catch the masses attention for a moment, but without a “there” there, there is little sustained effort mounted to ameliorate the effects upon people in those micro-culture conflicts.
Conflict resolvers, conflict coaches, conflict engagers, mediators, arbitrators, and others have watched this evolution occur over the last fifty or so years, with greater acceleration, but the response to the evolution through providing access points to conflict resolution has not been as quick. This is mainly for three reasons:
- Indispensable micro-culture is still seen as “niche” and not really enough to build a business model on by the entrepreneurial conflict resolver. This is a terrible fact, but except for some people doing some great work in resolving conflicts in specific areas with specific groups in conflicts (i.e. with parties in churches, with divorcing or separating pet owners, etc.) there is more focus by ADR professionals on how to gain credibility with the courts—still standing as the last guardians of a passing away overarching macro-culture.
- There are still enough parties in conflict participating in the remaining civic life of a formerly overarching macro-culture. This is something that will pass away over time, but right now, there are enough of the “masses” left around that many professional conflict resolvers look at the problems and conflicts of that group and decide to address their issues first. Both as a way to make a “dent” in the universality of conflict, and to make money from a reliable income stream.
- Refragmentation is still not understood—or accepted psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually—as an inevitable outcome of the erosion of the twin, post-World War 2 oligopolies of corporation and government. Now, this is not to say that government will disappear either now or later; but the fact is, that as conflicts and disputes between parties in indispensable micro-culture become harder and harder to understand, the overarching macro-culture responses from government entities (i.e. new laws, regulations, taxes, and fees) will be less and less effective. This is because indispensable micro-culture conflicts are driven by esoteric, identity based rules, that require conflict resolvers to engage in relationships with those cultures to resolve—and to go beyond the overarching macro-culture rubric of intercultural communication skill sets.
None of these three areas are that daunting to overcome. And once overcome, the business models to get ideas for resolution to people in conflict begin to overwhelm the entrepreneurial conflict resolver. All that is required to get there is the courage of conflict resolvers to act outside of the “box” they have been trained in.
There are two paradigms that are rubbing against each other, creating friction in economies, lives, employment choices, and even in personal lives:
The first paradigm is that of productivity. The type of productivity where an employee does “more with less,” where people are forced to shave the personal and the engagement from interactions in order to render them quicker and more “widget-like. The type of productivity where people work at mass and a type of productivity where quality scales in incremental steps.
The second paradigm is one that exists in the micro-economies of many state-level, land grant, higher education institutions: The paradigm where productivity means that more people are doing quality work without scale, in micro-ways, marketing to a group of people who represent a captive audience, and who have little to no interest in moving to scale. The second paradigm favors quality over quantity and replicates the volume of mass, without all the people.
In the wider economy, it used to be that the first paradigm generated enough value in terms of revenues, trust, and awareness, that the second paradigm could exist, almost in opposition to it in some ways, philosophically, economically, and even culturally.
This is no longer the case for a variety of well documented reasons, but the biggest reason is that the friction between revenue generating at mass is now in direct competition for value and meaning, with the network effect at scale. The other large reason is that we have all been trained as consumers to believe that quality and quantity both go together, hand-in-hand.
Artificial intelligence, automation, and more technological transitions are going to ensure the spread of these unique, fragmented, highly differentiated micro-economies, but not at scale. Or at least, not a scale larger than maybe the geographic area of a state, or a region.
This will lead to further fragmentations in ideologies, perspectives and stories about how the world “should” work, and more fracturing around what is the “good life” and who gets access to it.
This is the dark side of all of this.
The more positive side is that people—at mass—will have more choices, with more awareness of the rare—yet deadly—issues that can affect everyone at scale, and perhaps more meaningful engagement, communication, and awareness.
But right now, we are experiencing the birth pangs of a new fragmentation.
Influential personalities and brands online are about to become even more influential as the years go by.
And mediators, lawyers, and negotiators should take note.
Influencer advertising is tricky to navigate, whether you are trying to partner with the peacebuilding neighborhood association with a vibrant Facebook community or the pop singer Rhianna.
Influencer marketing is only going to grow larger in the coming year for the very same reasons that social media is influential now: Individuals trust other individuals more than they trust brands. In the field of mediation and peacebuilding, where trust is a huge deal, influencers and thought leaders such as Bernard Mayer and Kenneth Cloke bring their substantial influence to academic programs, academic writing, advocacy and other areas.
However, as the influence of those individuals begins to fade, a new generation of influencers is rising in the ranks of mediation and peacebuilding professionals, such as Patricia Porter, Brad Heckman, Cinnie Noble, and others who have begun to leverage social tools and the wide reach of the Internet to make a dent in the peace building universe.
For the ADR professional with limited resources to be able to connect with larger names in the peacebuilding world, there are a few things to remember when considering using influencers to advertise your content, your services, your philosophy, or your processes:
Does the influencer’s brand link well with my brand promise?
Carefully considering how an influencer’s brand (which may range from Bernard Mayer all the way to Kim Kardashian) complements the strengths and reduces the weaknesses of the peacebuilder’s brand promise is key to developing a long term relationship with the influencer. Influencers are people first and foremost, and peacebuilding professionals should be about building that relational knowledge ahead of jumping into a branded relationship.
Is the influencer’s audience an audience that I want to be addressing as a peace builder?
Depending upon who the influencer’s audience is (and audiences range in taste and structure from the 1,000 followers the neighborhood peace builder has on her Facebook page, all the way to the millions of fans and followers Jon Stewart has) the peace builder has to decide carefully if that is an audience worth talking to. The fact of the matter is, every audience that a brand influencer has is not appropriate for a peace builder to talk to, nor is every audience open to hearing a message about peace.
Does the influencer’s message help or harm my message?
Every influencer talks to their audience in their own way, using words, images, symbols, and other forms of social cuing that inexorably tie that audience to them.
Some influencers are less savvy than others, but that does not mean that they aren’t sophisticated communications professionals in their own right.
It used to be ok to be, well, “ok.”
It used to be “ok” to do good enough work at home with your kids, in the neighborhood with your community, and in your church with your time.
It used to be “ok” to just show up, do what you’re told, don’t ask too many questions, and be the nail that hammered itself down.
It used to be “ok” to not do the little extras, to not give a little more, to care only at the level you were comfortable caring at and to devote little or no time to thinking about why that was ok.
And in this time, when things used to be “ok,” political world leaders still were elected and assassinated with regularity, wars still were started and ended, products were still invented and sold, television programs, the newspapers, and other forms of communication tools still worked to get you information. And people still lived and died, marketing still worked, and scandals still intrigued the masses.
So what happened?
The Law of Averages says that in a sample of any kind, from neighborhoods, to marketing campaigns, the statistical distribution of outcomes among members of a small sample must reflect the distribution of outcomes across the population as a whole.
The law has always been a fallacy, based on observed, personalized experiences that are then transposed to a much larger (or sometimes different) population sample. And the rules that the industrialists, the marketers, the politicians, and the policy makers created in the 20th century (and that they are mightily trying to recreate in the 21st century) are responsible for the massive belief in the law of averages.
But, wishful thinking is not reality. And the reality is, it was never good enough to just be “ok”: whether at your job, at communicating in conflict situations, or at creating a project, or taking a risk. And now, because of technological shifts that have been long remarked upon and analyzed, the fallacy is being exposed at mass, for what it is.
It’s not good enough to be average at communicating in a conflict scenario.
It’s not good enough to just show up at home, at church, in your community, or at work.
It’s not good enough to not go the extra mile, do the extra thing, and take the extra time, even if you don’t get paid for it. Especially if you don’t get paid for it.
It’s not good enough to disengage from what’s going on in someone else’s political, economic, spiritual, or financial reality because “that doesn’t impact me over here.”
Wishful thinking that “it will all be ‘ok’” doesn’t work anymore (and never really did), because it won’t be “ok.” The cultural, social, political, and financial machine that used to guarantee that “ok” would be good enough, is breaking down.
Its only individuals (not the masses at scale) who can choose to do the hard work that moves humanity collectively from merely “ok” in our emotional, spiritual, and material interactions with each other, and moves us to better, and finally to best (or most remarkable) in the world: meaning the world individuals inhabit on a daily, weekly, yearly basis, not the whole wide world.
Navigating the tension between the desire to passively slip into the anonymity of “ok” and the need to actively move from “ok” to better to best, is the place where engagement—personal and meaningful—must happen in the 21st century if humanity is to become the best version of humanity it can be.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org