Crucial Conversations – Chapter 4 (part 5 of 18)

I have known a thousand scamps; but I never met one who considered himself so. Self-knowledge isn’t so common. – Ouida


Chapter 4 – Learn to Look. How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk.


In truth, most of us do have trouble dual-processing (simultaneously watching for content andconditions) – especially when both stakes and emotions are high. We get so caught up in what we’re saying that it can be nearly impossible to pull ourselves out of the argument in order to see what’s happening to ourselves and others.

How could that be? How could we be smack-dab in the middle of a heated debate and not really see what’s going on? A metaphor might help. It’s akin to fly fishing for the first time with an experienced angler. Your buddy keeps telling you to cast your fly six feet upstream from that brown trout “just out there.” Only you can’t see a brown trout “just out there.” He can. That’s because he knows what to look for. You think you do. You think you need to look for a brown trout. In reality, you need to look for the distorted image of a brown trout that’s underwater while the sun is reflecting in your eyes. … It takes both knowledge and practice to know what to look for and then actually see it.

So what do you look for when caught in the middle of a crucial conversation? What do you need to see in order to catch the problems before they become too severe? Actually, it helps to watch for three different conditions: the moment a conversations turns crucial, signs that people don’t feel safe (silence or violence), and your own Style Under Stress. Let’s consider each of these conversation killers in turn.


Learn to Spot Crucial Conversations 

First, stay alert for the moment a conversation turns from a routine or harmless discussion into a crucial one. In a similar vein, as you anticipate entering a tough conversations, pay heed to the fact that you’re about to enter the danger zone.

To help catch problems early, reprogram your mind to pay attention to the signs that suggest you’re in a crucial conversation. Some people first notice physicalsignals – their stomach gets tight or their eyes get dry. Thank about what happens to your body when conversations get tough. Everyone is a bit different. What are your cues? Whatever they are, learn to look at them as signs to step back, slow down, and Start with Heart before things get out of hand.

Others notice their emotionsbefore they notice signs in their body. … Some people’s first cue is behavioral. For them it’s like an out-of-body experience. They see themselves raising their voice, pointing their finger like a loaded weapon, or becoming very quiet. It’s only then that they realize how they’re feeling.

So take a moment to think about some of your toughest conversations. What cues can you use to recognize that your brain is beginning to disengage and you’re at risk of moving away from healthy dialogue?


Learn to Look for Safety Problems 

If you can catch signs that the conversation is starting to turn crucial – before you get sucked so far into the actual argument that you can never withdraw from the content – then you can start dual-processing immediately. And what exactly should you watch for? People who are gifted at dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety. They pay attention to the content – that’s a given – and they watch for signs that people are becoming fearful. When friends, loved ones, or colleagues move away from healthy dialogue (freely adding to the pool of meaning) – either forcing their opinions into the pool or purposefully keeping their ideas out of the pool – they immediately turn their attention to whether or not others feel safe.

When it’s safe, you can say anything. Here’s why gifted communicators keep a close eye on safety. Dialogue calls for the free flow of meaning – period. And nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear. … This is a pretty remarkable claim. Think about it. We’re suggesting that people rarely become defensive simply because of what you’re saying. They only become defensive when they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the contentof your message, but the conditionof the conversation. … That means the first challenge is to simply seeand understandthat safety is at risk.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel safe, you can’t take any feedback. It’s as if the pool of meaning has a lid on it. … When it’s unsafe, you start to go blind. By carefully watching for safety violations, not only can you see when dialogue is in danger, but you can also reengage your brain.

Don’t let safety problems lead you astray. Let’s add a note of caution. When others begin to feel unsafe, they start acting in annoying ways. Now, since they’re feeling unsafe, you should be thinking to yourself: “Hey, they’re feeling unsafe. I need to do something – maybe make it safer.” That’s what you should be thinking. Unfortunately, since others feel unsafe, they may be trying to make fun of you, insult you, or bowl you over with their arguments.  This kind of aggressive behavior doesn’t exactly bring out the diplomat in you. So instead of taking their attack as a sign that safety is at risk, you take it at its face – as an attack. “I’m under attack!” you think. Then the dumb part of your brain kicks in and you respond in kind. Or maybe you try to escape. Either way, you’re not duel-processing and then pulling out a skill to restore safety. Instead, you’re becoming part of the problem as you get pulled into the fight.

Imagine the magnitude of what we’re suggesting here. We’re asking you to recode silence and violence as signs that people are feeling unsafe. We’re asking you to fight your natural tendency to respond in kind. .. and then what? Do something to make it safe.

Obviously, this can be a very difficult undertaking. But it’s worth it. This skill is the pivot point for everything that follows.

In the next chapter we’ll explore how. For now, simply learn to look for safety, and then be curious, not angry or frightened.


Silence and Violence

As people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move either to silence (withholding meaning from the pool) or to violence (trying to force meaning in the pool). That part we know. But let’s add a little more detail. Just as a little knowledge of what to look for can turn blurry water into a brown trout, knowing a few of the common forms of silence and violence helps you see safety problems when they first start to happen. That way you can step out, restore safety, and return to dialogue – before the damage is too great.

Silence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of meaning. Methods range from playing verbal games to avoiding a person entirely. The three most common forms of silence are masking, avoiding, and withdrawing.

  • Maskingconsists of understating or selectively showing our true opinions. Sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching are some of the more popular forms.
  • Avoidinginvolves steering completely away from sensitive subjects. We talk, but without addressing the real issues.
  • Withdrawingmeans pulling out of a conversation altogether. We either exit the conversation or exit the room.

Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning into the pool. Methods range from name-calling and monologuing to making threats. The three most common forms are controlling, labeling, and attacking.

  • Controllingconsists of coercing others to your way of thinking. It’s done through either forcing your views on others or dominating the conversation. Methods include cutting others off, overstating your facts, speaking in absolutes, changing the subjects, or using directive questions to control the conversation.
  • Labeling is putting a label on people or ideas so we can dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
  • Attackingspeaks for itself. You’ve moved from winning the argument to making the person suffer. Tactics include belittling and threatening.


Look for Your Style Under Stress 

Let’s say you’ve been watching for both content and conditions. You’re paying special attention to when a conversation turns crucial. To catch this important moment, you’re looking for signs that safety is at risk. As safety is violated, you even know to watch for various forms of silence and violence. So are you now fully armed? Have you seen all there is to see? Actually, no. Perhaps the most difficult element to watch closely as you’re madly dual-processing is your own behavior.

Become a vigilant self-monitor. What does it take to be able to step out of an argument and watch for process – including what you yourself are doing and the impact you’re having? You have to become a vigilant self-monitor. That is, pay close attention to what you’re doing and the impact it’s having, and then alter your strategy if necessary. Specifically, watch to see if you’re having a good or bad impact on safety.


Your Style Under Stress Test

 What kind of self-monitor are you? One good way to increase your self-awareness is to explore your Style Under Stress. What do you do when talking turns tough? To find out, fill out the survey at It’ll help you see what tactics you typically revert to when caught in the midst of a crucial conversation. It’ll also help you determine which parts of this book can be most helpful to you.

What your score means.Since these score represent how you typically behaveduring stressful or crucial conversations, they can change. Your score doesn’t represent an inalterable character trait or a genetic propensity. It’s merely a measure of your behavior – and you can change that. In fact, people who take this book seriously will practice the skills contained in each chapter and eventually they will change. And when they do, so will their lives.

What’s next?Now that you’ve identified your own Style Under Stress, you have a tool that can help you Learn to Look. That is, as you enter a touchy conversation, you can make a special effort to avoid some of your silence or violence habits. Also, when you’re in the middle of a crucial conversation, you can be more conscious of what to watch for.



When caught up in a crucial conversation, it’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on and why. When a discussion starts to become stressful, we often end up doing the exact opposite of what works. We turn to the less healthy components of our Style Under Stress. 

To break from this insidious cycle, Learn to Look.

  • Learn to look at content and
  • Look for when things become crucial.
  • Learn to watch for safety problems.
  • Look to see if others are moving towards silence or violence.
  • Look for outbreaks of your Style Under Stress.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 3 (part 4 of 18)

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. – Ambrose Bierce


Chapter 3 – Start with Heart. How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want.

It’s time to turn to the howof dialogue. How do you encourage the flow of meaning in the face of differing opinions and strong emotions? Given the average person’s track record, it can’t be all that easy. In fact, given that most people’s style is based on long-standing habits, it’ll probably require a lot of effort. The truth is, people can change. … But it requires work. You can’t simply drink a magic potion and walk away changed. Instead, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

In fact, this is the first principle of dialogue – Start with Heart. That is, your ownheart. If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right. When conversations become crucial, you’ll resort to the forms of communication that you’ve grown up with – debate, silent treatment, manipulation, and so on.



Here’s how people who are skilled at dialogue stay focused on their goals – particularly when the going gets tough.

Work on Me First, Us Second

  • Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself.

Focus on What You ReallyWant

  • When you find yourself moving towards silence or violence, stop and pay attention to your motives.
  • Ask yourself: “What does my behavior tell me about what my motives are?”
  • Then, clarify what you really Ask yourself: “What do I want for myself? For others? For the relationship?”
  • And finally ask: “How would I behave if this were what I really wanted?”

Refuse the Fool’s Choice

  • As you consider what you want, notice when you start talking yourself into a Fool’s Choice.
  • Watch to see if you’re telling yourself that you must choose between peace and honesty, between winning and losing, and so on.
  • Break free of these Fool’s Choices by searching for the and.
  • Clarify what you don’t want, add it to what you do want, and ask your brain to start searching for healthy options to bring you to dialogue.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 2 (part 3 of 18)

Our live begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr.


Chapter 2 – Mastering Crucial Conversations. The Power of Dialogue. 

We didn’t always spend our time noodling over crucial conversations. In fact, we started our research by studying a slightly different topic. We figured that if we could learn why certain people were more effective than others, then we could learn exactly what they did, clone it, and pass it on to others. … We wanted to find those who were not just influential, but who were far moreinfluential than the rest.


The Startling Discovery

What typically set them apart from the rest of the pack was their ability to avoid what we came to call the Fool’s Choice.

You see, Kevin’s contribution was not his insight. Almost everyone could see what was happening. They knew they were allowing themselves to be steamrolled into making a bad decision. But everyone besides Kevin believed they had to make a choice between two bad alternatives.

  • Option 1: Speak up and turn the most powerful person in the company into their sworn enemy.
  • Option 2: Suffer in silence and make a bad decision that might ruin the company.

The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

Beyond the fool’s choice. And from that day forward, we find plenty of those moments – with bosses, colleagues, loved ones, and line cutters. And the consequences can be disastrous. … We discovered a cadre of human beings who refuse to make the Fool’s Choice. Their goal is different from your average person’s. … When [Kevin] took a breath and opened his mouth, his overriding question was, “How can I be 100 percent honest with Chris, and at the same time be 100 percent respectful?”



When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. … That’s it. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. … They willingly and capably share their views, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular.

Now, to put a label on this spectacular talent – it’s called dialogue. The free flow of meaning between two or more people.

We’re still left with two questions. First, how does this free flow of meaning lead to success? Second, what can you do to encourage meaning to flow freely?

We’ll explain the relationship between the free flow of meaning and success right here and now. The second question – what you must do in order to achieve dialogue rather than make the Fool’s Choice, no matter the circumstances – will take the rest of the book to answer.


Filling the Pool of Shared Meaning 

Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us, but also propels our every action.

When two or more of us enter crucialconversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing; you another. I have one history; you another.

People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the sharedpool – even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously, they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.

The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy.

Not only does a shared pool help individuals make better choices, but since the meaning is shared, people willingly act on whatever decisions they make – with both unity and conviction.

The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more unified, and more committed action later on.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We’re not suggesting that every decision be made by a consensus or that the boss shouldn’t take part in or even make the final choice. We’re simply suggesting that whatever the decision-making method, the greater the shared meaning in the pool, the better the choice, the more the unity, and the stronger the conviction – whoever makes the choice.

Now, here’s how the various elements fit together. When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, we’re often at our worst. In order to move to our best, we have to find a way to explain what is in each of our personal pools of meaning – especially our high-stakes, sensitive, and controversial opinions, feelings, and ideas – and to get others to share their pools. We have to develop the tools that make it safe for us to discuss these issues and to come to a sharedpool of meaning. And when we do, our lives changes.



And now for the reallygood news. The skills required to master high-stakes interactions are quite easy to spot and moderately easy to learn. First consider the fact that a well-handled crucial conversation all but leaps out at you. … your natural reaction is to step back in awe. … What starts as a doomed discussion ends up with a healthy resolution. It can take your breath away. … More important, not only are dialogue skills easy to spot, but they’re also fairly easy to learn. That’s where we’re going next.

Crucial Conversations – Chapter 1 (part 2 of 18)

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Show


Chapter 1 – What’s a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?

When people first hear the term “crucial conversation,” many conjure up images of presidents, emperors, and prime ministers seated around a massive table while they debate the future. Although it’s true that such discussions have wide-sweeping impact, they’re not the kind we have in mind. The crucial conversations we’re referring to are interactions that happen to everyone. They’re the day-to-day conversations that affect your life.

Now, what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? First, opinions vary. … Second, stakes are high. … Third, emotions run strong. … What makes each of these conversations crucial – and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying – is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life.

Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse. We’ve become masters at avoiding tough conversations. … But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.



Just because we’re in the middle of crucial conversation (or maybe thinking about stepping up to one) doesn’t mean that we’re in trouble or that we won’t fare well. In truth, when we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

  • We can avoid them.
  • We can face them and handle them poorly.
  • We can face them and handle them well.


When It Matters Most, We Do Our Worst

But do we handle them well? When talking turns tough, do we pause, take a deep breath, announce to our innerselves, “Uh-oh, this discussion is crucial. I’d better pay close attention” and then trot our best behavior? Or when we’re anticipating a potentially dangerous discussion, do we step up to it rather than scamper away? Sometimes. Sometimes we boldly step up to hot topics, monitor our behavior, and offer up our best work. We mind our Ps and Qs. Sometimes we’re just flat-out good.

And then we have the rest of our lives. These are the moments when, for whatever reason, we’re at our absolute worst. … Why is that? … We’re design wrong. … Countless generations of genetic shaping drive humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

We’re under pressure. … Crucial conversations are frequently spontaneous. More often than not, they come out of nowhere. … What doyou have to work with? The issue at hand, the other person, and a brain that’s drunk on adrenaline and almost incapable of rational thought. It’s little wonder that we often say and do things that make perfect sense in the moment, but later on seem, well, stupid.

We’re stumped. Now let’s throw in one more complication. You don’t know where to start. You’re making this up as you go along because you haven’t seen real-life models of effective communication skills. … We act in self-defeating ways. In our doped-up, dumbed-down state, the strategies we choose for dealing with our crucial conversations are perfectly designed to keep us from what we actually want. We’re our own worst enemies – and we don’t even realize it.



The Law of Crucial Conversations

At the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams, and our relationships lie crucial conversations – ones that we’re either not holding or not holding well. Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that thekey skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. Period. Here are just a few examples of these fascinating findings.


Kick-Start Your Career

Could the ability to master crucial conversations help your career? Absolutely. Twenty-five years of research in seventeen different organizations has taught us that individuals who are the most influential – who can get things done and at the same timebuild on relationships – are those who master their crucial conversations.


Improve Your Organization 

Is it possible that an organization’s performance could hang on something as soft and gushy as how individuals deal with crucial conversations? … Study after study suggests that the answer is yes.


Improve Your Relationships 

Consider the impact crucial conversations can have on your relationships. Could failed crucial conversations lead to failed relationships? As it turns out, when you ask the average person what causes couples to break up, he or she usually suggests that it’s due to differences of opinion. You know, people have different theories about how to manage their finances, spice up their love lives, or rear their children. In truth, everyoneargues about important issues. But not everyone splits up. It’s howyou argue that matters.


Improve Your Personal Health 

If the evidence so far isn’t compelling enough to focus your attention on crucial conversations, what would you say if we told you that the ability to master high-stakes discussions is a key to a healthier and longer life? … The long answer suggests that the negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health. In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems. In others it results in disaster. In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.



When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations transform into crucial ones. Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. The consequences of either avoiding or fouling up crucial conversations can be severe. When we fail a crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected – from our careers, to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

And now for the good news. As we learn how to step up to crucial conversations – and handle them well – with one set of high-leverage skills we can influence virtually every domain of our lives.

What is this all-important skill set? What do people who sail through crucial conversations actually do? More important, can we do it too?

Crucial Conversations (part 1 of 18)

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

by: Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler (2012)

[pigeonhole] Practical Rule Book

[premise] A guide book, with tactics and techniques, of how to conduct a difficult conversation as a means to improving your career and/or relationships


PREFACE – xiii

  1. What’s a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares? – 1-18
  2. Mastering Crucial Conversations. The Power of Dialogue. 19-32
  3. Start with Heart. How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want. 33-50
  4. Learn to Look. How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk. 51-72
  5. Make It Safe. How to Make it Safe to Talk About Almost Anything. 73-102
  6. Master My Stories. How to stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared, or Hurt. 103-130
  7. STATE My Path. How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively. 131 – 154
  8. Explore Others’ Paths. How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up. 155-176
  9. Move to Action. How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Actions and Results. 177-188
  10. Yeah, But. Advice for Tough Cases. 189-210
  11. Putting It All Together. Tools for Preparing and Learning. 211-222
  12. Afterword. What I’ve Learned About Crucial Conversations in the Past Ten Years. 223-230

INDEX – 233


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 3 (part 10 of 10)

Opportunity Planning

The best advice that we can lend is to use a method and use it consistently. … That being said, there are some important implications that today’s consensus purchase highlights, which we think you should consider incorporating into your opportunity planning approach. … Done well, it should be hard for your sales team to distinguish between the process and the plan.

So what then isthe difference between the two? Why have an opportunity plan at all? The answer is quite simple, though frequently overlooked: if the sales process captures the what, the opportunity plan captures the how. A sales process inherently is meant to capture what happened – particularly if it’s based on customer-verified outcomes to track progress. As we just discussed, those are hugely important milestones that inform deal progress, forecasting, and resourcing, among other things. The opportunity plan, however, helps prompt sellers to critically assess how. How will they get to that next customer verifier and continue deal progression?

That brings us to the third principle of good opportunity planning, which is to base the plan on a series of such questions about the customer organization, the dynamics within the organization, the Mobilizer, and commercial opportunity itself.

LEARN STAGE: What need shouldthis customer be learning about? What should be keeping this customer up at night?Here, sellers are encouraged to understand how the customer is currently mismanaging their business. In this stage, it’s also important to understand whether or not the customer is aware of this need – that likely informs whether or not they’ve already conduced their own research. Will the seller have to initially shape or reshape the customer’s demand? The thought process here encourages sellers to truly prepare for the initial sales calls with the customer.

UNDERSTAND NEEDS STAGE: How shouldthe customer respond to this need? This is the stage where a disruptive insight challenges the customer’s thinking – it’s critical for sellers to plan for that conversation. Here, sellers are encouraged to consider a variety of ways to position their insight and tailor it for customer consumption. What might go wrong in the initial sales conversation? What reactions might the customer have? Good sales planning is just as much planning for the ideal as it is planning for the unexpected. Sellers also need to consider what the customer’s reaction to the Commercial Insight meant and consider the next steps based upon that initial sales call. Was healthy skepticism observed? Did potential Mobilizers reveal themselves? Did a potential Blocker tip her hand? If so, what does that mean as the sale progresses?  This is key – it’s not just that the customer responded, but is asking “What do I take from that? What should my next step be?”

DEFINE PURCHASE CRITERIA STAGE: How shouldthe customer define the purchase criteria? Here, the opportunity planning heavily factors in the Mobilizer. Naturally, your Commercial Insight will have significant bearing on how the customer views the purchase criteria, but the Mobilizer will need to ensure that the nuanced details of the purchase criteria truly reflect that insight. Thinking through the best course of action for the Mobilizer’s support here is critical. Sellers should be reflecting upon the purchase criteria that the competition will likely advocate and how the Mobilizer can then explain how that view is flawed or insufficient.

EVALUATE OPTIONS STAGE: How shouldthe customer evaluate and reach consensus? Here, planning for Commercial Coaching interactions with your Mobilizer is the primary focus. Sellers should be considering what they’ll commercially coach their Mobilizer on, how to tailor that coaching guidance, and how to arm the Mobilizer. This phase is all about considering how to get a “Collective Yes” from the customer stakeholders.

VALIDATE AND SELECT STAGE: How shouldthe customer reach a final decision?  Here, you’ll want to consider how to arm the Mobilizer for any final objections he or she may encounter. In this final stage, as we already discussed, planning for the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of the purchase must happen. Taking stock of how to achieve the ideal customer reaction is important, but almost always there will be a late objection or challenges in the negotiation. So taking stock of the negotiable aspects of the purchase well in advance matter tremendously.

Notice the key theme throughout these questions: how shouldthe customer make their purchase. Each phase of planning encourages sellers to think through the ideal customer interactions, while realistically planning for the unexpected. These questions force sellers to think one step ahead. In this way, each customer interaction moves the deal forward – it’s not merely an “information-gathering” interaction. Even in the face of limited information, the point is to critically assess what should happen and how to best make that action happen.

The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 2 (part 9 of 10)

Implication #5: Sales Process and Opportunity Planning

If there’s one takeaway you should have from all the research and best practices shared to this point, it’s this: commercial organizations need to place far greater emphasis on supporting the customer’s purchase process.  One of our all-time classic best practices comes from an organization that has done just that and shifted their entire salesprocess to more of a purchase enablementprocess. The company is ADP, the global payroll and human capital management firm, and this is their “Buying Made Easy” Purchase Process (see figure 10.10 on page 244) … This entire approach is designed to support the customer through a series of customer outcomesthroughout a typical purchase experience.

But what ADP is doing is different. From their perspective, the real question isn’t “How do we help our reps better sell?” but rather, “How can our sales teams help our customer better buy?” … This process is predicated upon the major decision stages that nearly any customer will undergo, including:

  1. Recognizing a need – This is where the customer initially determines a reason to explore a potential purchase, whether based upon an opportunity, a risk, or a problem. In this stage, the customer will frequently make excuses to maintain the status quo. The customer may preliminarily research suppliers and even conduct an initial supplier outreach.
  2. Exploring options – Here, suppliers start to get initially compared. More extensive supplier research happens, including differing capabilities and pricing. Customers often request more detailed information at this stage.
  3. Defining purchase criteria – Here, customers evaluate the efficacy of their current business processes, assessing precise areas where improved performance is necessary, along with minimum thresholds for that performance. Customers undergo some form of risk/reward analysis. Buying groups convene and stakeholders are tapped to help evaluate the purchase. Purchase criteria are initially proposed.
  4. Evaluating options – Here, customers present a clear business case to senior leadership. Solution providers are formally evaluated and a short list of preferred suppliers is created.
  5. Validating options and selecting a favored supplier – Supplier return on investment is evaluated. Formal requirements are finalized. Funding is secured and the go/no go decision is made.
  6. Negotiating the purchase – Procurement is formally involved as terms are negotiated. A final round of executive sign-off occurs, legal reviews occur, and finally the contract is signed.
  7. Implementing the solution – A project team is assigned. Old processes are retired and new processes are implemented.
  8. Evaluating impact – Various service levels and other agreed-upon performance standards are evaluated relative to expectation.

The conventional thought is there are as many buying processes as there are customers … True, customers are all different, but the motion of buying is not nearly as different as you might initially think.

ADP has created a series of actions that salespeople can take to support the customer purchase – these are referred to as the “Seller Leads” column within their process overview (figure 10.10). The Seller Leads actions capture the activities a rep can do to move the deal forward. For each stage of the customer buying process, ADP has also included a series of expected customer actions, which are referred to as “Buyer Signals.” The Buyer Signals column notes a series of customer verifiersthat indicate the customer is committed to and ready for the next stage in their purchase. This is a dance between the seller and customer, where the seller leads and the customer responds, seller leads, customer responds. If the customer, for whatever reason, fails to respond, the seller immediately takes stock of what is happening inside the customer’s purchase process. Perhaps new stakeholders have entered the picture. Perhaps the competition is encroaching on the deal. Or maybe a new debate is happening about the purchase criteria or required performance thresholds.

Are seller actions or buyer signals the thing that is being tracked, right now, in your CRM to monitor pipeline health and forecast? For most organizations, it’s the seller actions.

At ADP, the “Seller Leads” column is no longer considered the one path to closure but a description of many different possible paths. As a result, don’t think of the Seller Leads column as the set of rules but rather a set of principles. These are suggested actions that might help the starting point for reps to apply their judgment to do what they believe is necessary in a particular situation to achieve the Buyer Signals that indicate purchase progress is being made on the customer’s side.

See Figure 10.11 on page 246. … as the customer moves from exploring options to defining criteria, the expected customer verifier is for the customer to commit to an analysis to help refine their requirements. If the customer fails to commit to this analysis, the seller is instructed to stop all progress and reassess the situation. If, however, the customer commits to the analysis, the seller then provides the customer with a tool to support the next stage. In this case, ADP may provide a questioning guide that helps the customer determine what their purchasing criterial should be. In this way, ADP’s sellers are one step ahead (but only one step) of the customer, supporting the customer as they progress through their purchase experience.

For this approach to work, the customer verifiers have to be created in a special way (see figure 10.12 on page 247). First, they require active participation on the customer’s part. In other words, a good verifier is not one where the customer could passively insinuate they’re progressing. Instead, you want the customer to clearly state their intentions, take an action step, or otherwise signal their commitment to further explore a purchase. Second, good verifiers are clear, binary, and objective. In this way, they should leave little room for misinterpretation.

Otherwise you’ll slip into a big debate about whether something is verified or not, and the power of a “customer-verified pipeline” will be lost. Finally at least someof the verifiers (certainly not every single one) need to test the customers willingness to change their current direction. These may include verifiers where the customer readily acknowledges the unnecessary costs their business is incurring, or commits resources to exploring the root causes of their business challenge. But in some way, shape, or form, you’ll want to track the customer saying “we’re currently doing this wrong and need help.”

By assessing precisely where the customer was in their purchaseprocess, ADP’s teams were able to reassess what need to happen to reinvigorate these opportunities. Mangers were able to get a clear sense of where the customer was in their purchase process – not just where the rep reported the customer was in the sales funnel. For the first time it allowed managers to ask their reps two important questions during deal review sessions: (1) where is the deal? And (2) how do you know?

By encouraging sellers to focus on the ends (the customer-verified outcomes that happen throughout the sale), not the means (the sales activities), sellers are better able to do what they need to do. … to help customers progress through the deal. In this way, sales managers and their sellers can exercise creativity without penalty.

Sample customer verifiers can be found in Figure 10.13 on page 250:

The first stage reflects customer learning. Customers are always in some state of passive learning. This includes reading articles, attending conferences, reading books, etc. The idea here is that customers are always looking for ways to improve their business and in search of a new direction. … the verifiers of this stage are merely customer willingness to take a live call – indeed, good verifiers don’t need to be overly complex!

As customers progress through their purchase, they begin to better understand and refine their needs. The verifiers at this point largely center upon the customer acknowledging that their current beliefs, mental model, and state of practice are not sustainable or somehow flawed. Ideally, you are looking for your customer to show receptivity to your Commercial Insight and commit to exploring the implications for their business.

In the third stage, customers begin to define their purchase criteria. This is where a clear Mobilizer should be identified (preferably fairly early within this stage) and have committed their support to the purchase exploration. The customer committing resources to the exploration, as well as establishing some semblance of timeliness, are important verifiers at this stage.

The fourth stage is where the customer evaluates their options. Stakeholders expressing consensus for a new direction becomes an important verifier for this stage. The customer’s defined requirements should reflect your solution’s unique capabilities as well.

In the final stage, the customer validates their selected supplier and enters into a signed deal. Gaining Mobilizer support to rally their colleagues for the implementation phase is a smart customer verifier at this point.

Tracking indicators such as these encourage the proper use of Mobilizers, Commercial Insights, Commercial Coaching, and a variety of other tactics we’ve discussed to this point. It ensures customers are well supported as they move through their purchase experience, while simultaneously understanding and acknowledging your company’s unique capabilities.


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 1 (part 8 of 10)

Chapter 10: Shifting to a Challenger Commercial Model: Implications and Implementation Lessons

There are a handful of implications that our research has highlighted as particularly tricky to navigate.

Implication #1 – Demand Generation: Most marketing teams aim their demand generation efforts at developing leads that are “ready to buy.” … While this approach delivers a ready-made customer to the sales team, it fails to do so on yourterms.

Implication #2 – Marketing Talent: Most marketing teams are disproportionately focusing their skill building in the digital space. … There are a lot of skills related to the consensus purchase that are being overlooked. These skills are the ones that drive a marketer’s ability to create and deploy Commercial Insight.

Implication #3 – Social Selling: Sales reps out to be using social media tools to engage customers, we observe many social selling efforts that amount to little more than broadcasting (or perhaps more accurately, noise). … We’ll explore how marketing and sales need to collaborate to deliver social teaching, not social selling.

Implication #4 – Managing Blockers: the prevailing thought for managing Blockers is to ignore them. Rarely do sales methods teach approaches for Blocker management. … We’ll explore several methods for actively managing Blockers in this section.

Implication #5 – Sales Process and Opportunity Planning: Much of the commoditization pressure suppliers face today isn’t the result of customers’ willingness to settle for “good enough,” it’s their failure to agree on anything more. Today’s sales process must better reflect how sellers can enable the right customer purchase behaviors, rather than march a deal forward through the supplier’s sales stages. Similarly, opportunity planning follows the same logic.

Implication #1: Demand Generation

Conventional Wisdom might lead marketers astray. There are three main failure points.

  1. Conventional wisdom leads us down a path of creating ever more content, and content quality quickly trumps content quality. Coupled with the drive to generate leads and outbound marketing efforts, marketers risk turning off customers who are already bombarded with supplier messages.
  2. Conventional wisdom is mum on the absolute criticality of upending how customers think of their own business, thereby changing the customer’s direction when they are learning on their own. That means marketers will generate demand that commoditizes their own solution.
  3. Conventional wisdom is about better connecting individuals in a buying group to you as a supplier, not about connecting them to each other. So marketers will fail to lay the groundwork for the early consensus that needs to happen about the problem and the solution (forget about the supplier!)

Don’t generate demand, Mobilize demand:

  1. Create Content Paths that Confront and Connect
  2. Adjust Lead-Scoring Criteria to Reflect Confrontation and Connection
  3. Nurture Leads Explicitly for Commercial Insight and Collective Learning

Implication #2: Marketing Talent

Here’s the key takeaway: Commercial Insight skills and knowledge are in short supply. Moreover, it takes a special blendof those skills and knowledge, put into the right operating environment, to successfully build and deploy Commercial Insight. In other words, this can’t be left to chance or to heroism on the marketing team. Marketing leaders need to step in to engineer the right kinds of working teams, and create a particular kind of environment that nurtures Commercial Insight creation.

Implication #3: Social Selling

The single most powerful behavior separating high performers from core performers is using social media as a critical channel to engage customers and generate leads. … What exactly does it mean to use social media in the context of getting in early? Well, when you unpack the data, it comes down to three things:

  1. Connecting with potential customers
  2. Using social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to share points of view valuable to customers
  3. Using social media for lead generation

When we talked to a number of sales reps having huge success with this approach, what we found is this all adds up to positioning oneself as a key influencer within social networks.

To do that, we found the best reps work very hard to tap into a large social network, extending far beyond personal contacts and current customers. These reps are accessing the entire ecosystem of the marketplace that that rep sells into. So not just existing customers, but potential customers. Even people who might never be your customer but could potentially buy your product in another territory, through a different channel, or through another supplier altogether.

But that’s just the beginning. Then there are channel partners, industry experts, market influencers, complementary suppliers, influencers from similar or adjacent industries – you name it. Basically, it’s anyone and everyone who might be interested in engaging in a conversation around the broadest set of issues your products and services potentially touch.

So the best reps find the “watering holes” or those online communities where people in their industry gather and learn. In advanced cases, the very best reps will serve as teaching connectors– serving as a hub, bringing this group of people together in order to engage in a learning conversation around a common interest. Done well, sales reps who play this role as teaching connector are much more likely to attract Mobilizers into their orbit.

Now, there are clearly ways that rep use of social medial can go wrong. The best reps who are involved in social media are very careful how they use it. The last thing star performers would do with this powerful network they’ve tapped into is to use it to broadcast messages with no interaction or teaching – in other words, using it purely as an advertising channel. Yet we see far too much of social selling happening in exactly this way.

That’s not what this channel is for. Rather, it’s about actively engaging in a productive, interesting conversation. Ideally, conversation that teaches. It fits right into the Spark-Introduce-Confront model from chapter 6. Social watering holes are the idea place to spark a target audience into exploring your ideas by sharing surprising data, insights, and provocative viewpoints. Because Commercial Insights are by definition not about you as a supplier but about customers, they are much less likely to be rejected on the grounds of being commercially slanted.

“You’ve got to weave yourself into the knowledge fabricwhere your customers learn. But you’ve got to earnthat right. You’ve got to help the customer think differently than they would have otherwise.”

We view this kind of social enablement as a critical part of the larger commercial strategy to teach Mobilizers and disrupt their mental models early, ideally when they are passively learning, but certainly before the 57 percent point when they are picking up the phone to talk to a sales rep. Teach where and when customers learn.


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 6, section 2 (part 7 of 10)

So how do marketers build that path? Take a look at figure 6.2 (on page 122). It’s a simple model that identifies the steps to overturning a customer’s mental model. Let’s unpack this then bring it to life with the Xerox example.

Fig 6.2 – Spark-Introduce-Confront (SIC) Content Path [Spark Exploration of Frame-Breaking Idea – Introduce Frame-Breaking Idea – Confront with Frame-Breaking Idea – Commercial Insight]

First off, the whole idea here is to have all of the content you produce, publish and curate – all the blog posts, all the testimonials and case studies, all the white papers, all the infographics, you name it – lead to a Commercial Insight.

There are three mental stepsthat Mobilizers (or any customer stakeholder, for that matter) go through to have their A state challenged, creating the drive for them to rally other stakeholders and mobilize change toward a B state.

The first step is to spark exploration of the frame-breaking ideaat the heart of your Commercial Insight. You need your content here to hook the Mobilizer into revisiting her mental model in the first place. That might be a killer infographic or an intriguing tweet. Individual sales repsincreasingly have a role to play here as “micro-marketers,” deploying marketing curated “sparks” in social networks. The thought bubble you’re looking for that Mobilizer to have is “Huh … I never thought of it that way before … I need to learn more” or “I’m not sure I believe it, but I’m kind of intrigued … tell me more.”

Having gotten the mobilizer to want to learn more from the Spark content, the Introduce content (second step)lays out the idea in more detail. It presents the rational evidence and makes a powerful emotional appeal that breaks the customer’s frame. That could be an animated video or an interactive white paper or a trade show booth. You want your Mobilizer to come away from this content with the thought bubble “I ‘get’ the insight conceptually … I believe it could be true generally … but I wonder how that plays out in my world – in my business.”

That’s when you path the Mobilizer to Confront content, the third step. This is where you confront the Mobilizer with the frame-breaking idea in her own terms. You dial up herpain, so that she can’t escape the sense that the pain of same is greater than the pain of change. By the way, this isn’t about pressuring the Mobilizer as a personin any way; rather, it is diplomatically but convincingly leading the Mobilizer to pressure-test her own ideas, assumptions, and beliefs about her business. Often, these kinds of content are online diagnostics or interactive pain calculators, which enable the Mobilizer to plug in information about her own reality, so that she can see where the gaps are or how big the pain really is. The thought bubble coming off this content should be “Holy cow! I had no idea we were taking this kind of hit. I need to learn more about fixing this.”

We’ll refer to this Spark-Introduce-Confront content progression as an SIC content strategy. Through a progression like this, you’ve blown up the Mobilizer’s mental model through compelling content at arm’s length. You’ve broken down the A state.

At this point, you can path Mobilizers to content that builds up the B state. But we can’t overstress that customers who consume only B state content are unlikely to feel the need to break from current course and speed.

When you put it all together, if you’re looking to teach Mobilizers with content like this, it boils down to three rules.

  1. All content should be tied in some way to a Commercial Insight
  2. Content that isn’t itself frame-breaking should directly path to content that is
  3. All other content should be discarded or never created in the first place

This won’t be easy to do. It means discarding content that doesn’t fit the model. As we’ve spent time with CEB members, running content audits on their existing content portfolios, we find that there are often pieces of existing content that can be repurposed for Spark, Introduce, or Confront. White papers that can be atomized into bite-size pieces, with some atoms being repurposed and others disappearing altogether. Blog posts that can be repurposed. Sales decks with pages that can be torn out and used.

And then there will always be the practical spec sheets that are necessary for the transactional parts of the selling process. Those can stay (but you can’t lead with them … you have to lead tothem).

But we don’t want to understate the importance of staying tightly aligned to these SIC content paths. Stay on message. Keep beating the drum. Tear down the A before you build up the B.

This is a big shift for marketers. For the majority of content types you produce, following this content strategy will shift the focus from supplier-centric to supplier-agnostic. That will feel really unnatural, at first.

For example, most marketers are used to creating customer testimonial videos focused on the B. Over 90 percent of the testimonial videos we review from marketers focus on the B. To create content paths that break mental models and drive urgency instead, they’re have to start creating testimonials about A. Imagine creating video testimonials of Mobilizers talking about how they discovered a hidden connection in their business and how it was costing them so much more than they realized. And then, how they rallied the 5.4 around a consensus view of the drivers of that pain and what kind of solution it would take to solve it. You want these kinds of A state testimonials to lead back to your Commercial Insight and the differentiators underneath that insight. It’s a really different approach, but it’s so important to breaking down the A and changing the customer’s direction.

Testimonials are but one kind of content. We’ve seen marketers apply SIC principles all over the content portfolio, from trade show booths to white paper design to online booking toolkits.

Less Is More

Create less content … but drive greaterimpact.

See example in Figure 6.3, page 126 and Figure 6.4, page 128

Example 2: Xerox

The idea is to create “on-ramps” that spark a Mobilizer, no matter where she is in the journey, to travel down a teaching content path that challenges her mental model. … For Xerox, that sparking content took multiple forms:

  • Provocative data points promoted through social media, where Mobilizers are doing Passive Learning
  • A series of e-mail scripts that sales reps could use to promote the research findings on the link between color and student performance
  • A K-12 segment microsite with resources and banner displays promoting Xerox’s Commercial Insight content
  • Third-party affiliates posting comments and blogs about the Xerox K-12 color research

Note the implications on your search engine and optimization efforts. Because your content is focused on surprising or unexpected aspects of the customer’s business, those customers won’t naturally be searching your content keywords. So the key is to find adjacencies. … the idea is to locate Mobilizers where they are searching on adjacent terms and “spark” their exploration of your Commercial Insight – take them to your infographic or a mention of your insight somewhere in earned media.

Xerox’s Introduce content included a blog series, a white paper, and testimonial style videos. … Their Commercial Insight meant it was achieving strong engagement with Mobilizers on the Spark and Introduce content alone. Leah and her team found they could rely on sales reps and  account executives to do the work of Confront content.

Sometimes the strength of a Commercial Insight will win early engagement between Mobilizers and sales reps. Here, it’ll be about having sales tools that are custom-built to Confront the Commercial Insight. At the same time, marketing will need to create Confront content so Mobilizers can engage with the personal ramifications of the Commercial Insight before they speak with the sales rep. The disciplines of field marketing, content marketing, product marketing, demand generation, and sales ops/training all need to work closely together to co-create these SIC content paths that transition seamlessly into sales conversations.



The Challenger Customer: Chapter 6, section 1 (part 6 of 10)

Chapter 6: Teaching Mobilizers Where They Learn

Wheredo your customers, and Mobilizers especially, learn? … engaging Mobilizers where they learn is going to feel hard. Because they are learning in lots of different places. They’re following varied learning paths. They’re learning from peers and subject matter experts in social networks, where the rules of engagement are different than what marketing or sales are used to. … the average B2B customer consults nearly a dozensources of information, spread across all varieties of touchpoints on the path to purchase. Only half of that information comes from suppliers, in total. So if you’re an individual supplier, and say you’re one of four that a customer knows to seek information from, you’ve got about 12 percent “share of information” that customer is consuming.

On top of that, you have to teach customers at arm’s lengthin all these places? In other words, with little to no human engagement. How are you going to do that?

“Sounds like a job for great content,” you say. Well, yes and no. “Yes” on content. That’s going to be critical to teach customers, to change their direction while they are learning in a noisy information marketplace. But “No” in that almost all conventional wisdom on content marketing

Leads us awayfrom the kind of intervention suppliers need to be doing with Mobilizers to change their direction in that 57 percent.

The Dark Side of Content Marketing

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three high-level points of guidance we repeatedly hear in the massive amount of content and marketing created to explain content marketing:

  1. Look smart – “You need to be a though leader
  2. Be useful – “Create content that speaks to customer pain points.”
  3. Be present – “Create customer personas. Publish content on a regular cadence.”

Each in its own way is a tiger trap for suppliers looking to teach Mobilizers where they are learning. Let’s take them in turn.

Look Smart. The problem here is that the vast majority of content written in the name of thought leadership focuses on building up the B and completely overlooks tearing down the A. Bottom line, customers aren’t going to change unless we give them a good reason to. That’s the tiger trap of thought leadership.

Be Useful. By definition, this line of conventional thinking has suppliers speaking to customer pain points that customers realizethey have. What are they searching for? Let’s write content that speaks to that. Even if it doesn’t relate directly back to the supplier’s solution. It’s an attention play. … In other words, suppliers who follow the be usefuladvice might be ringing up blog clicks and “engagement” metrics, but none of that is feeding through to any kind of meaningful sales activity.

Be Present. This is all about coverage. The problem here is the sheer volume of content that suppliers have to create and deploy. The back-of-envelope math on this gets really ugly, really fast. … Very quickly, the content tail wags the dog, as a big flashing light on the editorial calendar starts flashing red because no new blog post is in the queue for next week’s submission deadline. … They inexorably fall prey to putting content quantityover content quality. That’s the tiger trap of “be present.

The real devil with all of these content approaches is the opportunity cost. Every ounce of energy and resources that goes into creating and deploying “look smart, be useful, be present” content crowds outthe energy and resources needed to create surprising content that has a chance to truly change the customer’s direction.

Creating Challenging Content Paths

If the primary goal of marketing content is to break down the customer’s A and then build up a B, then suppliers should ensure that all of their content is somehow tied to that goal. In other words, once they have created a Commercial Insight, marketers need to step back and create a related content strategy. That strategy will lay out the content paths that lead Mobilizers on an ever deeper exploration of a Commercial Insight that simultaneously changes the way they think about their business and leads them ever closer to valuing the supplier’s unique strengths. Not that every piece of content must “get them to buy,” per se. But imagine if every piece of content were built back from a single, powerful insight, all thematically aligned, leading to an ever deeper treatment of that topic. The goal there is to “get them to explore.” As long as the exploration is designed to lead them exclusively back to you, the deeper the exploration, the better.

“look smart, be useful, be present” conventional wisdom in content marketing … leads marketers to create content on a very wide arrayof topics, for very different personas, and to scatter it as far and wide as possible. … Yet notice how this strategy doesn’t build a consistent path or message to anywhere, as each piece is largely independent of every other. … They may think differently about you, but they’re far less likely to think any differently of themselves.

On the other hand, when you lay a purposeful path with your content, so it’s all tied together thematically to a single, provocative insight, you get a different output altogether.

In this world, all the content is linked – almost like a trail of breadcrumbs – leading back to a single Commercial Insight purposefully designed to change the way customers (and specifically, Mobilizers) think about theirbusiness. What’s especially powerful here, each one of those links in that narrative chain provides a potential hook to catch a Mobilizer, and a possible rallying point for forging consensus.