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How to Become a Change Agent

How to Become a Change Agent

Many salespeople sell something that might already exist in an organization. You have to get someone to change their mind to move toward your solution. That can be incredibly hard to achieve. There are often barriers you have to overcome. In most instances, there’s a present bias that accounts for someone’s reluctance to change.

Douglas Cole points out that one of those natural barriers is the status quo. Why would they change if their current solution is working just fine to achieve their objectives? Another barrier is the assumption that it’s a people problem you have to solve (i.e. persuading someone to change their mind).

But Douglas points out that it isn’t a people problem—it’s a situation problem. Situational factors include the personal, the social, and the structural. The reason people change has to do with their circumstances. A change agent has to determine where the energy change is coming from.

The energy of where change is

Any company must evolve to survive. When you look at personal interests, social influences, and the environment that shapes the choices an organization makes, you have to ask, “How can I shape them?” You have to view change as a situational problem, not a people problem.

A former colleague of Douglas’s was a top-performing sales professional who got a whole organization to go all-in with her program. She identified the energy source that mattered most to the people at the company.

She had been working with one team that used her solution and wanted to expand it to the entire company. There was a theme that was constantly talked about at the executive level that trickled down.

So instead of creating a new slogan with her program, she took their theme and advanced it. She took her program and recommended a few things people could do differently that were explicitly tied to their existing agenda. It was easy to get them to agree to it because the larger energy source behind it made it a no-brainer.

She also went directly to people who were known innovators in the organization. She made it a point to figure out their daily cadence, their training environment, their software, and things they were routinely exposed to so that she could embed exposure to her training program into those things. She approached change holistically to feed the existing energy.

But even as you influence where the energy is flowing from, you need to be a decision architect. What does that mean?

Becoming a decision architect

Many salespeople can get people to move in a certain direction and think about change, but when it comes time for a decision to be made, they fail to cross the finish line.

The core framework of behavioral economics (that Richard Thaler proposed) talks about the bounds of attention, rationality, and self-interest. If you’re to persuade someone, how do you get noticed? How do you get that person to make the right judgment about your product or service? How do you get that person to act in a way that’s in their—and your—best interest?

Being a strategist requires you to understand who the primary buyer is, where they’re competing, and how they need to win in that context. You need to bring that understanding to your role as a decision architect. You want them to take action that is consistent with what you understand to be their strategic priority.

It’s not about manipulation. It’s about maximizing the probability of breaking through the noise, getting noticed, and getting someone to take action in a way that’s consistent with their strategic interests.

Learn more about leveraging influence and persuasion to become a change agent in episode #385 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast!