Tom Levers

Methods of Understanding in Sales

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING, PUBLIC RELATIONS by Tom Levers on December 17, 2009

Selling is one of the classic and obvious domains where changing minds is a core skill.

The skills that are part of every rainmaker can be applied by the novice if they internalize methods of understanding…  where determining motivations and distinguishing the buying behaviours of individuals who hold the keys to selling services or product can facilitate building relationships and creating partnerships to become the vehicle for providing mutual value.

Techniques that are not genuine to your personality yet imply you must follow, like mirroring and matching techniques, body language, etc were considered progressive for connecting with prospects and customers twenty years ago. Now each person when using methods of understanding can be themselves, while improving the sales process with a new power to better understand the factors in your customers making a decision.

Methods of understanding…. is a collection  of tools for thinking.

In my previous article I covered that we all instinctively lean toward some approaches rather than others, but the key to applying the principles is to internalize the different constructs, so everyone can appreciate the influences on better communication. The first four types were:

  • Attribution – we need to attribute cause, that supports our ego.
  • Constructivism – we use constructs as perceptual categories.
  • Framing – mental combinations that affect perception.
  • Schema – structure to organize and interpret the world.

Now lets finish with the final four:

  • Personal Constructs – constructs represent understanding.
  • Symbolic Interaction  – we derive meaning around symbols.
  • Objectification –  we simplify complex things into concrete images.
  • Story Models – most marketers instinctively piece together complex situations into stories to build understanding.

 

Personal Constructs

People develop internal models of reality, called constructs in order to understand and explain the world around them in the same way that scientists develop theories. Like scientists, they develop these constructs based on observation and experimentation. Constructs thus start as unstable conjecture, changing and stabilizing as more experience and proof is gained.

Constructs are often defined by words, but can also be non-verbal and hard to explain, such as the feeling you get when your football team just won the championship.

When constructs are challenged or incomplete the result is emotional states such as anxiety, confusion, anger and fear.

Constructs are often polar in that they have opposites (and are hence dichotomous). Thus the construct of good implies another of bad. Polar constructs create one another: thus ‘good’ cannot exist without ‘bad’.

Although we share the idea of constructs through words (ie Good and Bad), the detail of constructs are particular to the individual and hence are called personal constructs.

Constructs that are important to the person are core constructs, while others are called peripheral constructs.

Constructs may be expanded to accommodate new ideas or constricted to become more. An example would be ownership of an idea. I look at how the executive talks about a business division that they originally came from and consider him more focused on improving that group. All of these are constructs that I have created or learned in order to explain the behaviour of those I have met.

Using it

Listen to people. Hear the constructs they use. They will be amazed at how much you understand them. You can also lead them in building new constructs.

Defending

When you are building new ideas, consider where these have come from. Was there a conversation with an influential other person involved?

 

Symbolic Interaction  

People act based on symbolic meanings they find within any given situation. Thus interact with the symbols, forming relationships around them. The goals of our interactions with one another are to create shared meaning.

Language, math, selling methodologies are itself a symbolic form, which is used to anchor meanings to the symbols.

Key aspects are:

  • We act toward others based on the meaning that those other people have for us.
  • Meaning is created in the interactions we have with other people in sharing our interpretations of symbols.
  • Meanings are modified through an interpretive process whereby we first internally create meaning, then check it externally and with other people.
  • We develop our self-concepts through interaction with others.
  • We are influenced by culture and social processes, such as social norms.
  • Our social structures are worked out through the social interactions with others.

Using it

Pay attention to the symbols within the persuasive context and utilize them. You can place the symbols there. How people interpret them includes how you interpret them. 

Defending

Pay attention to the symbols within the persuasive context and notice how they are affecting what happens.

 

Objectification

Complex ideas are, almost by definition, difficult to understand. To help us make sense of them, we turn them into concrete images. There are three processes by which objectification is done:

  • Ontologizing gives an idea physical properties, for example by using close metaphors like the ‘mind as a computer’.
  • Figuration turns the ideas into pictures or images, for example traffic ‘jams’.
  • Personification turns the idea into a person. For example, a genius as Einstein.

The term ‘objectification’ or depersonification is also used to describe the way we treat other people as objects, in particular the way men can treat women as sex ‘objects’. By reducing other people to things, it permits us to treat them with less care and human concern, bypassing our values around this subject.

This car is like a thoroughbred race-horse. Just imagine thundering up the roads, with trees and houses flying by. People will think you are Michael Schumacher.

In war, effort is often put into depersonifying the other side, thus legitimizing and even encouraging killing them.

Using it

Explain your ideas through analogous or metaphorical things, pictures or people.

Defending

Just because the other person can explain their ideas clearly, it does not mean they are good ideas.

Story Models

One way in which we explain the world around us is to create stories about it. In particular when we are face with complex situations, we will pick out what seems to be key elements and then turn these into a story.  

For example people were shown a movie of a trial. They found that in order to make sense of the wealth of detail, the participants constructed stories about what happened. 

In another experiment, they found that when evidence was given in an order which made the story easy to construct, the participants were more likely to construct the same story. When the evidence was in story order, 78% of participants found the defendant guilty. Yet when the evidence was out of order, only 31% voted for the guilty verdict.

A common technique for remembering a complex list of unrelated information is to weave them together into a story.

Using it

Help the other person understand your case by presenting it as a logical story, pausing to emphasize and repeat the key points you want them to remember and include in their remembered interpretation. 

Defending

Just because the other person presents a nice story, it does not mean it is true.

Conclusion

The trained sales person learns the process of selling from their training courses in Relationship or Consultive Selling, Strategic Selling, Customer Centered Selling, Spin Selling, Platform Selling, and Scientific Selling… but none will better educate you on understanding people, how they think, and their motivations.

These techniques, when internalized will allow you to objectively recognize a “No Decision” earlier in the selling process, as well as, allow you to better understand yourself and how you “make or react to decisions” in your every day business and personal life.

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Sales and Methods of Understanding

LightBulb“Methods of Understanding” will get what you need done in your business.

No matter if it is working to build a “Company Culture”, or becoming a sales “Rain Maker”, or “Marketing Positioner” of the next Widget… you will get further if you apply the toolkit of how individuals use “Methods to Understand”.

You may know Sales Methodologies, but the “Rain Maker” applies Systems of Understanding. Most natural “Rain Makers” unknowingly identify how others are using these various types of Understanding Methods, they just identify these throughout all aspects of their lives… without even knowing they are using them. By identifying what individuals use when they try to understand can enlighten the situation. 

WARNING! This is not for everyone. Some people are so locked into their individual method that if you are a “hammer” everything looks like a “nail”! The “Rain Maker”, the “Corporate Motivator”, and the  “Customer Requirement Aggregator” ” all must identify which “Methods of Understanding” is being used and how to adapt to it. 

We all instinctively lean toward some of these approaches rather than others, but the key to applying these principles  is to internalize the different constructs so we can better communicate. The different types are:

  • Attribution – we need to attribute cause, that supports our ego.
  • Constructivism – we use constructs as perceptual categories.
  • Framing – mental combinations that affect perception.
  • Schema – structure to organize and interpret the world.
  • Personal Constructs – constructs represent understanding.
  • Symbolic Interaction  – we derive meaning around symbols.
  • Objectification –  we simplify complex things into concrete images.
  • Story Models – We piece together complex situations into stories to build understanding.

Lets first cover the first four in this article and try to identify after reading how you and others are using them in your professional and personal life.

 

Attribution

We all have a need to explain the world, both to ourselves and to other people, attributing cause to the events around us. This gives us a greater sense of control. When explaining behaviour, it can affect the standing of people within a group (especially ourselves).

FaceWhen another person has erred, we will often use internal attribution, saying it is due to internal factors. When we have erred, we will more likely use external attribution, attributing causes to situational factors rather than blaming ourselves. We will take credit, due to the good business skills that were applied. And vice versa. We will attribute the successes of competitive rivals to external ‘advantages’. 

When a football team wins, supporters say ‘we won’. But when the team loses, the supporters say ‘they lost’. Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other people and avoiding personal recrimination is a very real self-serving attributions. We will also make attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks. We will point to injustice in an unfair world. 

In practice, we often tend to go through a two-step process, where we start with an automatic internal attribution, followed by a slower consideration of whether an external attribution is more appropriate. Key to this is, if we are hurrying or are distracted, we may not get to this second step. This makes internal attribution more likely than external attribution.
Example of Use: I have no support and no budget there for I cannot do a good job.

Using it: Beware of being a complainer (i.e. making internal attributions about the situation). Also beware of making excuses (external attributions) that lead you to repeat mistakes and leads to Cognitive Dissonance in others when they are making internal attributions about you.

Defending: Watch out for people making untrue attributions.

Constructivism

We try to make sense of the world by making use of constructs, which are perceptual categories that we use when evaluating things.

People who have many different and abstract constructs have greater flexibility in understanding the world and are cognitively complex, whilst others are cognitively simple. Cognitively complex people are better able to accept both complex and inconsistent messages. They also have a greater need to understand things and will question deeply anything that is new to them. However, once persuaded, they stay persuaded and are less likely to change their minds as their new constructs will support the argument.

Example: Some people have a construct about being fat that says fat people are lazy and greedy. Others may perceive it as a medical condition. 

Using it: Help cognitively complex people to build new constructs that support your argument. Do not bother with this detail for the cognitively simple.

Defending: Do not let others take charge when building new constructs.

Framing

A frame is the combination of beliefs, values, attitudes, mental models, and so on which we use to perceive a situation. We effectively look through this frame in the way we would look through tinted spectacles. The frame significantly effects how we infer meaning and hence understand the situation.

Example: I see a holiday in the hills as an opportunity for outdoor exercise. My friend sees is as a chance for a quiet read. My son sees it as a long period of boredom.

Using it: Change elements of a person’s frame (reframing) and hence how they view the world). This is a powerful persuasive technique. 

Being able to see things through many frames yourself gives you a broader perspective and able to understand more of how others think.

Defending: When people ask you to look at something from another viewpoint, be aware that there are many viewpoints, many of which are valid and legitimate. 

ShoesSchema

A schema is a mental structure

Schemas are also self-sustaining, and will persist even in the face of disconfirming evidence. This is because if something does not match the schema, such as evidence against it, it is ignored. Some schema are easier to change than others, and some people are more open about changing any of their schemas than other people. Schemas are also known as mental models, concepts, mental representations and knowledge structures(although definitions are different–for example some define mental models as modeling cause-effect only).

Schemas affect what we notice, how we interpret things and how we make decisions and act. They act like filters, accentuating and downplaying various elements. We use them to classify things, such as when we ‘pigeon-hole’ people. They also help us forecast, predicting what will happen. We even remember and recall things via schemas, using them to ‘encode’ memories.

Schemas have inferences and appear very often in the attribution of cause. The multiple necessary cause schema is one where we require at least two causes before a ‘fit’ to the schema is declared. Schemas are often shared within cultures, allowing short-cut communications. Every word is, in effect, a schema, as when you read it you receive a package of additional inferred information.

We tend to have favourite schema which we use often. When interpreting the world, we will try to use these first, going on to others if they do not sufficiently fit. 

Example: Some people dislike police because they have a schema of police as people who perceive everyone as guilty until proven innocent. Other people feel safe around police as their schemas are more about police as brave protectors. 

Using it: Find people’s schemas around the area of interest, then either create trust by utilizing their schema or reframe to change their schema.

Defending: Become more self-aware, knowing your own schemas and why there are useful for you. When people try to change them, you can then more rationally understand whether your or their schemas are better.

This is a lot to absorbs,  so look for these in your every day business or personal life and check back for the second part of this Article after I try this myself!

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