It's a record at 40 feet, it may go to 41 or 42 and at 43 we're screwed! That's the jist of many conversations here in the Red River Valley as our quiet Red River swells to 3-4 times its size.

Observing how people react in such situations can give us some good insight into how they make choices and decisions. By the way, this applies to decisions in stressful situations as well as buying and business decisions on a daily basis.
In this article I'll share observations about several people and how they made choices under stress. It is amazing how I see the same behaviors in business decisions!

A couple in their late 20's have a new house and two toddlers and are 10 blocks from the Red River. They can see the sand bags, the air boats and dikes going up and the neighborhood across the highway is evacuated. The husband is busy sandbagging and his employer is one of the utility suppliers which means he is on emergency call 24/7.

After four days of no work, no husband and more activity outside her window, she has had it! Forget the house, forget everything we own I want out of town! A completely understandable reaction!

Then the unfair question to the husband; What is more important, the house or your family? Of course it upsets him yet he understands it comes from frustration and fear. To his credit he is controlled and continually comes back to "Let's talk it out before we act on this."

My friend lives in a lower level condo unit along with several older ladies. We have to move out, we have to evacuate, what if we flood! Several of us indicate to them we are in the best place in town and have never flooded. To no avail, they are not sold. Countless discussions about sewer plugs, moving furniture to the upper condo units or getting sand bags delivered are the focus of discussions.

The city comes out with the just in case evacuation plan. It has the city map color coded into eight areas. The first seven color coded are the areas that would be flooded at 42 feet with a large unnumbered white area in the middle. This white unnumbered are is where the others would evacuate to. Guess who's condo is in the white area!

Finally after viewing the maps and facts, (condo's lowest level is 45-46 foot) having several plumbers indicate that plugging the sewers and toilets is unneeded at this location, the conversations finally die down. Yes we did plug several of the lowest floor drains just a precaution.

Key points:
In both of these situations the threat is real, the question is what are the real chances of the event actually happening?
In the first example it is very real, a compromised dike would most likely take the basement and surround the house. They had already moved everything to the upper level and plugged all the drains in the lower level. The sump pump is in place and working. What they do not know is the elevation numbers at their house. So it is unknown what the result of a dike break at 41 or 42 foot would result in.

Another friend of mine is in the same area as the young couple, but across the highway closer to the river. He knows his new house has an elevation of 42 foot at his basement floor. They plug the drains; move everything to the upper floor and leave to stay at their mother in-laws ten miles away. The outcome is known, the house would be surrounded by water and inaccessible, yet with minimal damage if the dikes did go. Amazing how some factual information and reasoning changes one's choices!

1. So much of the reaction and choices being made by many of the people involved is based on fear of the unknown.
2. So many of the people involved are utilizing comments and statements from uninformed sources as the basis for their conclusions.
3. So many focused only on the negative outcomes or worst case scenario, some even made the outcome more severe than it could be.
4. The support system of a husband or partner was missing and caused more fear.
5. The lack of time to communicate and "talk it out" added to the growth of fear.
6. The more Fear talk that took place, the more intense the Fear became.

Now all of these are real feelings and emotions and yes I personally have lost property though flood, fire and wind. So yes we cannot ignore these emotions and have to deal with them in order to help these people make sound rational choices. When one can do this the results are a much calmer situation and better choices and alternative plans.

Yes, your business prospects and associates also go though similar emotions in decision making!

As a professional salesperson we need to be aware of this and be willing to help our clients sort out their thinking and feelings when making choices and decisions. This is another point to ponder if you think all buying is about your product and price!

Here are a few key points to apply:
1. Be willing to ask open questions that get the client talking about the feeling side of the decision. This is not an interrogation or put down approach. "Where did that stupid thinking come from?" would not be appropriate. "I'm sensing some strong feelings here, would you share them?" would get you a great deal further.
2. Continue the open counselor questioning until the client can identify the source of the fear or emotion. This may require multiple questions and approaches so keep at it. Once this is understood most fears or emotions disappear or are greatly reduced.
3. Once the source is in the open, then factual information now means something. Prior to this, facts simply create reactance and push back. Be specific and have evidence such as the city map to back up your facts.
4. Ask what the contingency or backup plan might be based on this new view and information. Help them create the backup plan so they are confident it will work if needed.
5. Reassure them they are making good sound choices and clarify the actions they will be taking and when.
6. Indicate how you will support them and their choices and actions. These six steps are the "Talking It Through" process.

It's very interesting how often I have taken clients through this type of process in getting a sale. They were resistant or hesitant for some reason and this approach helped them through their decision process. It can work for you as well!

For those of you who still insist that selling is about your product and price, try selling the idea they are safe to a home owner with a twenty foot sand bag dike in their back yard based on product and price!

Push the envelope and move forward!
Harlan Goerger

© Harlan Goerger 3-2009

Author's Bio: 

International sales expert, Harlan Goerger has 25 years leading companies to explosive growth. Author of The Sales Gap, Harlan’s strategies generate s sales growth to levels as high as 400%. His innovated strategies empower professionals with practical, effective techniques.