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Learning Nugget 13 - How Ice Cream affects your sales judgement

I like Ice Cream…….Ice cream will make me fat

I like Ice Cream……it’s healthy to have a high calcium rich diet

The truth behind what selling is really is

We often believe that sales is about convincing a customer to buy our product or service. News flash. It’s not. It’s about helping them achieve better business outcomes, and in doing so reach a state of cognitive consonance

Cognitions, they underpin everything we do, every decision we make and action we take.

Your clients share the same phycological profile.

So what does this have to do with Ice Cream, or to that point sales and selling? Have I spent too much time in the hot summer sun over summer ?

Cognitive dissonance/consonance theory is basic to understanding human thought and behavior. It describes how our beliefs interact with each other, our resistance to new beliefs, and what dynamics are involved when we do change our beliefs. We experience cognitive dissonance and consonance on a day to day bases as we process all the new information in our mental "inbox". It not only applies to our spiritual and political beliefs, but also what products we choose to purchase, how we raise our children, where we arrange our furniture, and all other decisions we make both large and small.

Cognitive dissonance is so central to how we think and make decisions, it becomes key to understanding how you can out perform the market by understanding more about how and why your clients make the decisions that they do.

Remember in a Phase 0 sale you are selling ideas, unlocking a latent need, a need the client has not yet even identified. The ideas will be often unconventional, sometimes left field, frequently outside the comfort zone of many executives in your clients organisation. In fact for middle management your ideas will be down right scary.

So what is a cognition ?

A cognition is a belief, concept, behavior, memory, attitude, or emotion. Our minds are filled with millions of cognitions. Most of them have no relationship to each other and cannot be correlated -- for instance, last years Super Bowl scores have nothing to do with worries over the rising price of gas. But many cognitions are connected, and of these, some will reaffirm each other (consonance) or conflict with one another (dissonance).

For example, knowing laws of gravity would be consonant with a belief in using a parachute. Hearing a story about a person who died whilst using a parachute would be dissonant.

According to theory, states of dissonance will leave us uncomfortable. In 1957, Leon Festinger published a theory of cognitive dissonance, which has changed the way psychologists look at decision-making and behaviour. The basic idea behind cognitive dissonance theory is that people do not like to have dissonant cognitions. In fact, many people argue that the desire to have consonant cognitions is as strong as our basic desires for food and shelter. As a result, when someone does experience two or more dissonant cognitions (or conflicting thoughts), they will attempt to do away with the dissonance.

I do like Ice Cream and I don’t want to get fat, so I need to overcome this dissonance.

  • I can change my belief. Ice cream doesn’t make you fat, I eat it all the time and I’m not fat

  • I can add a new cognition to balance it out, such as, Ice Cream is high in calcium which is important for healthy bones and it’s my only source of diary so I HAVE to eat it

  • I can alter the importance of one of the cognitions. I won’t get fat cause I exercise 3 times a week

OK, so going back to the very first two statements at the top of this article, you can see statement 1 is a cognitive dissonance statement (two conflicting statements). The second is in cognitive consonance.

When in Phase 0, there are many many many people, both in your clients and your own, and partnering organisations, that are going to be in various states of cognitive dissonance with your ideas.

Your job is to move them to a state of cognitive consonance around your ideas

It really is that simple.

Achieve that and people will buy from you.

So how do you do it ?

Firstly you need to identify the dissonance. If you've been fortunate enough to participate in one of our BOLD workshops you will have heard us talk a lot about risk. Both the risk of doing it and the risk of not doing it. Risk is merely the professional business world’s term for dissonance. Think about every single risk that could be tabled around an idea. Lets explore an example.

Your client is a 100+ year consumer goods manufacturer. Over the years they’ve built a business that has worldwide brand recognition, diversified supply chain with global production and distribution, strong marketing, excellent retail network and more recently an online store that’s going gangbusters. Everything with this company is good. Stock price never been higher, innovation is a powerhouse with new products being launched at a rate never seen before. The executive leadership team though is worried. While they are good at punching out new products, these products are really just incremental evolution of what is already out there, add 4K Ultra High Def TV’s to their line up, releasing the latest higher speed cyclonic food processor, etc. Great products, but nothing ground breaking. The board’s concern is the time between new product releases needs to get shorter and shorter, it can’t take 12-18 months between major releases. They need 6 months or less.

You have an idea to help them; establish an open innovation platform that will bring the meaningful outside in and enable not just product ideation but also better and faster supply chain innovation, design innovation, distribution innovation and sales and post sales support innovation. The idea is a UCCaaS federated platform linked to a dynamic innovation interface (web and app) that enables a genuine open innovation (Invitation based and secure) sharing / collaboration environment.

Here are some of the cognitive dissonance (aka risk – both of doing it and not doing it) statements, comments and fears you may hear from the board, the executive leadership team, but more and more from the middle management of the organisation. Oh and by the way one of the biggest risks cited by most boards and CEO’s. My employees won’t embrace the necessary change needed (i.e. Middle management will throw up all over it…why? cognitive dissonance)

  • We know our products and processes, no one from the outside could add value to our thinking

  • Those on the outside don’t know our systems, their ideas just wouldn’t work here

  • It will take so long to bring these outsiders "up to speed" that we will already be way behind the market

  • If we bring the outside in, aren’t we then exposing the inside out, and potentially leaking talent, intelligence, IP etc to our competitors

  • Won’t open innovation mean our competitors will know everything we are doing and move faster than us

  • We pay a lot of people good money to do this work, if we have the outside involved, why do we pay these people

  • Isn’t this going to make my role redundant ?

  • It won’t work, we already have more ideas than we can implement

  • Change doesn’t happen quickly around here

  • You can see where these are going…..your idea does not have a snowflakes chance in hell of getting up while people feel the above dissonance.

But lets say the CEO is all in on your idea, ready to go, loves it, but realises that she cannot simply dictate it. She seeks your support in getting her executive leadership team on board with the idea. How do you do that ?

There are many ways to resolve dissonance, but there are three that are considered the most common and most impactful:

  1. Change your cognitions (beliefs, attitudes, behavior),

  2. Add new cognitions to explain or balance the conflict,

  3. Alter the importance of the cognitions.

Before you can use these techniques you need to understand their dissonance. As you consider the above three approaches, lets explore them;

  1. Changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. This is probably unlikely in many cases. This is your client. You, as an external sales professional, are not in the position of trusted advisor (yet) to change beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. If you can do this, well done, but it will be in frequent. So we won’t spend too much time here. Other than to state that the best way possible, for achieving this, is to help the person whom you want to change to have a different and better personal experience. In the case of the idea floated, maybe take them to a company who has an open innovation approach and you and your client join forces in actually participating in an open innovation effort for that company. Let them sit on the other side of the fence, as the outsider, and see how a different personal experience helps them potentially change beliefs, attitude, behaviour and thus cognitions.

  2. Adding new cognitions to balance it out. This one is the classic overcome risk or doing it by having a deep and meaningful conversation about the risk of not doing it. Unfortunately we often focus that dialogue on “if you don’t do this your company will lose marketshare and go broke”. That doesn’t have a lot of meaning to most people. It’s like climate change. If you don’t recycle the oceans will rise and we will all be flooded. It’s such a big problem people think their small change in belief, attitude or behaviour won’t make any difference cause it requires everyone to change and that just ain’t happening. So once the dissonance is understood (usually a risk of doing it), then you must add a new cognition that will balance out that very specific dissonance. Take for example the dissonance above of “won’t open innovation mean our competitors will know everything we are doing”. A counter balance to this that will move the client to a state of consonance could be something like. What if you could make parts of your open innovation platform truly open and other parts by secure invitation access only? In this case we are adding a new cognition. In this situation the cognition is a new concept. It changes the perception that the idea is merely an open free-for-all and injects a sense of control into the idea. Another example could be the dissonance of “isn’t this going to make my role redundant?”. Say this is a middle manager in the RnD dept. The consonance balance cognition here could be something like, the most innovative companies on the planet are already adopting open innovation / crowd sourcing style processes. But they are in the minority. Less than 5% of companies on the planet. Imagine if you built a resume around being an expert at transitioning from vertically integrated inside-out product innovation to an outside-in open innovation regime. What impact would that have on your career prospects ? Is this an opportunity your peers would embrace or will they fear the change ? In this case the dissonance is a belief. The new cognition is designed to provide balance. Yes there is risk of job loss, but there is also an opportunity for career gain.

  3. The final one is also valuable as a technique, altering the importance. In the ice cream example it was hey I can eat all the ice cream I want as I exercise three times a week. So I have lowered the importance of the “it will make me fat” cognition. Altering the importance is where you and your sales teams can operate with the strongest confidence. This is where your ecosystem can really shine. Looking at many of the dissonance listed above (in our example) would the CEO value support from an organisational change experts, from process change experts, from deep project management expertise, from security and legal support in making the open innovation platform genuinely secure in both form and concept, etc ? If this then that…..if this where to happen we could collectively do that to prevent it, mitigate it or manage it. But your client can’t do that on their own, neither can you. The ONLY way to alter the importance is through a dynamic performance ecosystem.

So enough with the psycho babble. How does this help you as sales leaders increase conversion rates, convert orders to revenue, increase pipeline etc.

It comes back to the core concepts of BOLD.

These seven points above are all designed to do one thing and one thing only.

Help you move your clients to a state of cognitive consonance around your ideas linked to their latent need so they can get better business outcomes.

Understanding the psychology of human behaviour is merely a more informed, more professional way of approaching these conversations and having greater success as a result.

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