This is Why Your Modern Selling Program is Stalled

October 25, 2018

Modern Selling

Editor's Note: This guest post was contributed by David J.P. Fisher, President of RockStar Consulting.

Let’s be honest, the world of selling is changing a lot right now. For those responsible for leading, managing, and coaching sales teams, there is always a new program or tool to adopt.

But, as you might have found out, it is rarely an easy transition. Getting people to adopt new behaviors is hard.

There is usually a lot of resistance and change is slow. Many factors impact that friction, but there’s a big one that escapes most people’s attention.

Peer pressure.

Peer Pressure is Killing Your New Modern Selling Program

On a recent podcast by author Malcolm Gladwell, he shared a story about the career of Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt, while one of the best basketball players of all time, was a lousy free-throw shooter. Except for one season, and one only. And that was because in that season he shot underhanded.

Now, shooting underhanded free-throws is physiologically simpler which leads to it being more accurate, but almost no professional basketball player does it (at least not since Rick Barry). And why don't they? Because nobody else does and they would feel odd. So even though it would be logical to switch styles and increase their free-throw percentage, almost every single basketball player still shoots free-throws overhanded — in the same basic way they shoot a jump shot.

A fear of doing something different kept Wilt Chamberlain from choosing a shooting style that was more accurate. And it keeps a lot of your team from embracing the new tools of modern selling and using social media and other selling tools. This isn't an isolated phenomenon. While researching how social groups adopted new behaviors and attitudes, noted sociologist Mark Grannoveter developed what he called the "Threshold Model of Collective Behavior."  

If you can understand how this is working in your sales organization, you are going to see a huge boost in modern selling adoption and success.

The Science Behind Peer Pressure

Threshold Model of Collective Behavior. That's a pretty fancy term, but it's a simple concept that you've probably experienced in the past. When we're in a group, most of us need to see a certain number of others engaged in a behavior until we are willing to jump in. And then once that threshold is reached, the rest of the group is more comfortable adopting the new behavior.

It's not a rational decision, it's an emotional one. If enough basketball players changed their style to include underhanded free-throws, there would be a tipping point. And pretty soon it would catch on everywhere, until there were just a few "old-timers" that were shooting overhanded.

You'd like to think that your team is logical, and that if you can show them some stats and infographics, they'll jump on board the modern selling train. But humans aren’t rational actors. If we were we would see the cost and benefits of a new behavior, weigh them, and if the benefits were higher we would adopt the new behavior.

But that’s not what happens. Emotions come into play. The threshold model describes a situation where a certain number of a person's peers around them have to adopt a behavior or taking action before they do. So if your goal is to create change in your team's behavior, you have to build to that threshold, and then the rest of group will feel comfortable moving forward.

Choose the Right Salespeople to Pilot Your Program

Here's why you struggle to get the people you manage to adopt new behaviors

You are choosing the wrong people to champion it.

Any time you are trying to start a new behavior, you have to find people who are willing, psychologically, to not fit in during the start of program. Wilt Chamberlain could have been an even better basketball player, but he felt the pressure to be like everybody else and gave up on shooting underhand.

When you start a new modern selling program with your sales team, it's typical to start with your top performers. On the surface, that makes sense. It's easy to assume that they are the most invested in the success of the organization and themselves. And there's the assumption that they are the role models on the team that everyone looks up to.

But if you are looking to create behavior change, there's no correlation between someone's sales performance and their willingness to try new things. Just like Wilt Chamberlain was swayed more by emotion than by logic, a lot of your top sales reps will be resistant to trying a new tool that nobody else is using. You are putting all of your efforts into getting them to adopt modern selling into the workflow, and they might not be on board.

So it's important to be strategic when you roll out your new modern selling program (or really, any new program).

3 Ways to Encourage Your Team to Adopt Modern Selling

1. Start your program with "low threshold" team members

Your goal is to create a behavior that doesn’t exist within the group. You’re asking people to do something that is out of step with the people around them. So first, look at your roster and identify those who would be willing to try something different than the rest of their peers.  Who on your team really does march to the beat of their own drum? You need people who are going to be OK with doing their own thing for a little while.

These individuals might be top sales people. But there is a very good chance that they aren't. It's pretty common for top salespeople to be very sensitive to how others view them.  In fact, that often motivates them to achieve the accolades and awards from selling a lot. And since they are already successful, there's not as much upside for them to try something new because they are already doing well.

But for someone who is in the middle of the pack, there's a bigger upside for them to adopt these new tools. They don't have as much on the line is your #1 salesperson. And it will be easier for them to realize an increase in performance. Look for people in the middle third who would be OK with going their own way for a little while and you'll be set.

2. Give them tons of support

When you've identified the best candidates, don't just send them an email with a link to a webinar and say, "I want you to get on this modern selling thing. Join this online class and do everything they say." That's a recipe for failure.

Using digital tools to prospect, build relationships, and become a go-to resource for customers isn't a quick switch to flip. It takes time, energy, and focus. It will be frustrating for your people at times, even if they are in the "low threshold" category.  If you aren't prepared to support them in this new endeavor, you can't be angry if they don't succeed.

You're asking them to change their behavior, so use all of the tools you have available to support them. Be sure to engage with them. Use resources like training, coaching, and one-on-one time. Be the source of motivation that helps them over the initial hurdles that come with adopting any new behavior.

3. Share the stories of their successes

As your new modern sellers continue to have success, share that with the rest of the team. Bringing your sales organization into the modern world of modern selling is more about emotion than rational logic. You can't just print up a few reports and put some slides in a presentation to bring the rest of your team into the mix.

If it was as easy as looking at facts and figures, you could pull statistics from any number of relevant studies. There's a lot of data that show the success that comes from engaging digitally with prospects and customers. But that's not what moves people. It will be easier to drive team-wide adoption once the rest of your team sees the results from people they know.

Share the wins that your pioneers have. Create a narrative in the minds of the rest of the team that “other people are doing it and being successful — I can feel comfortable jumping in." Once that threshold has been reached, you'll see that the rest of your team naturally gravitate towards using these tools as a matter of course.

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