Decisions are More than Arithmetic

When asked why the product I was selling was better than a specific competitor, I once made the mistake of thoroughly researching the competitor’s rates and pros and cons. I knew my client was direct and I didn’t sugar coat it to sway their decision. Here’s exactly what you’re getting. I even did some calculations and provided scenarios as to when and why our product or our competitor would be better. It was an honest assessment. I thought my potential customer would appreciate the good will in my objective and informative email.

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As much as you would think business decisions are all rational, methodical, and well thought out, they simply aren’t. Decisions, whether they are made by individuals or groups are more often irrational. World views, perceived needs, motives, fears, and resistance to change are all aspects that come into play.

Consider the worldview of the person(s) that you’re wanting to change. This can be the difference between a yes and a no for that crucial decision. It isn’t just about looking at behaviour or characteristics, but why they think a certain way. Empathize with the individual and step into their shoes. What else are they dealing with on the periphery of this decision? Why do they think their idea is the solution? What do they believe that informs that worldview?

Resist the urge to play ‘show and tell’. ‘Here’s all the things I have to sell you, what would you like?’ Rather, ask them what they want and need. Listen to your potential client or customer. When you have a mutual understanding of the problem, it’s actually much easier to sell since a problem is merely an opportunity to gain a result later. Learn their needs. In Spin Selling by Neil Rackman, he explains that customers will only be motivated to buy something if they identify a need. Understand the buyer and present a solution from the buyer’s perspective. Don’t put too much emphasis on the features and details of your product or service.

After you’ve listened well and learned the context of their need, ask yourself whether your solution is truly a fit for that customer or client. As a marketer, your business, product, or even cause may not be the best fit. Acknowledging that and not forcing the sale is important, not only for the customer, but your integrity.

In the nonprofit industry, I often think that everyone should care about a particular cause. If you don’t care — you’re heartless and selfish, but that’s not the case at all. As a marketer, my role is to compel and inspire — if the cause doesn’t resonate with you, don’t give. Find something you’re truly passionate about and put your self, heart, and wallet behind it. Rarely are stories (and products alike) aimed at everyone. Average people are good at ignoring you, so don’t water down your message in an attempt to profit from the masses.

You don’t sell an idea to an organization (either as an outsider or from the inside) by using MBA-style rational pros/cons. You do it by understanding how the organism/organization makes decisions.

— Seth Godin, altMBA

Reflecting on how I approached the interaction with my potential client is immensely embarrassing. Yet, he saw through my overly rational argument for and against myself and I did get the ‘YES’. In a way, I knew he was a straight-shooter, so my approach may have been partially correct, but I’ve now learned that there’s plenty more than simple arithmetic when it comes to decision making. We’re humans. There’s more to us than math.

Serving charities globally through fundraising consulting. Passionate about charity, simplicity and adventure. Writing about work, life, and random musings.

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