Education Market Leadership Series: Part 4 of 6

by Joe Caruso

In article three of my six-part Education Leadership Series, I introduced the concept of the Four Rules of Engagement. “Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right” is one of the four rules. In this article I'll address how you can apply this simple rule to help you close a deal, or lead your K-12 sales team to a specific action or outcome. For more insight, I suggest you listen to a discussion about this topic with STS Radio talk-show host Glen McCandless. It's a lively 15-minute interview you won't want to miss.

How a Simple Rule Can Help Education-Market Leaders Drive Desired Outcomes

In many ways, we understand ourselves through our perception of the world and our personal experiences. We make decisions based on how we feel. For example, some of us love all new technology; others think technology is a necessary evil. Some people are loyal to certain brands or products, while others prefer to try new things.

Bias is a part of everyone’s self-identity. Bias can be magnified among prospective customers in the K-12 market, because their self-identity is wrapped up with a passionate desire to serve their constituents. That passion makes it very difficult for them to change how they feel, and nearly impossible for you to change them. This is why I say their greatest desire is to be right. What your prospects believe needs to feel validated — not necessarily complimented or agreed with — but validated nonetheless. Now, let's take a closer look at how you can put Rule #2 to work when you are selling in the K-12 market.

How K-12 Sales Professionals Can Apply Rule #2 During Presentations

Your top consideration throughout every sales presentation is to respect your prospect's sensibilities. Respect should inform everything you do, including how you dress, the words you choose, the examples you use, and the types of happy customers you cite. Your prospects could love your product, but if something you say or the way you say it goes against their sensibilities, they will be less inclined to buy. When applying Rule #2, it’s also important to consider the personality type of your prospective client. Here are a a couple of examples of personality types, and things to make note of:

  • Dominant or Directing types don’t like to be complimented or told what they should, or need to, consider. Avoid using phrases like “you should remember” or “you need to address this issue.” Allow them to discover these factors for themselves.
  • Cautious and Steady types don’t like to be rushed or feel like they’re being pushed to make a decision. Provide the details and useful information that will lead them to the conclusion on their own. If you have researched their needs carefully and positioned your products appropriately without being pushy and by honoring their timeline, Cautious and Steady types are more willing to work with you.

The words you choose and the way you deliver those words could also impact your customer’s buying decision. The subconscious mind is powerful; our biases and personalities influence our purchasing decisions, consciously or not. Applying the Four Rules of Engagement — especially Rule #2 — will help make you less likely to trigger negative reactions from your potential customers.

Drive K-12 Sales and Outcomes You Want by Respecting Your Team Members and Education Customer’s Sensibilities and Biases

While you can’t know everything about your prospective customers’ sensibilities or personality types, you can learn quite a bit prior to your presentation, as well as in the first few minutes of polite, warm-up discussion. Observe not only what they say and do, but how, why, and how adamantly they say and do it. Most people expose their sensibilities and biases through small talk, or the way they interact with their colleagues, or the way they shake your hand or position themselves in the meeting room. 

Let's say, for example, that you have a meeting scheduled with the CIO of a medium-sized school district, and you plan to present your company's offerings. Here are two examples of how you could interpret behavior in order to understand and honor your prospective customer’s sensibilities.

  • Does the prospect rush in at the last minute, or even late, and make a point of saying how busy he is? This could tell you something about his sense of self-importance, or how much importance he is placing on the meeting. Be sure to honor his time, don’t let the meeting run over, and focus on the efficiency your product or service will bring.
  • Does the prospect sit with arms folded, stay relatively quiet, but jump in for very specific parts of the discussion, like technology or process? If he reveals the only things he cares about, honor that "domain" when you ask questions, and tailor your discussion accordingly.

How to Make Engagement Rule #2 Work For You as a Leader of a K-12 Market Company

Every company has a narrative, or overriding story, that every employee believes about the company. That narrative is important because it shapes the company culture. Great leaders understand the narrative because they help create it. Most people work because they have to, but where and how they work depends on their biases and sensibilities. A positive narrative about “why we do what we do” can help even bad news become more easily accepted when it is related in the context of the narrative. 

Recently, I helped one of the CEOs I advise develop a narrative that said, “Change is in our company’s DNA. It’s what we do.” This simple idea became so accepted and ingrained in the corporate culture that it spurred the leadership team to be more creative and adaptive, which then inspired other employees to do the same. Imagine how important that narrative is in a fast-changing marketplace! This creates leadership by example, with a strong narrative at the foundation. When the narrative is accepted and embraced, then it aligns with “Everyone’s desire to be right.”  And the team will behave accordingly. 

The Four Rules of Engagement are at the heart of all communications. Rule #2, “Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right,” is at the core of every customer’s, potential customer’s, and employee’s self-perception and worldview. If considered and properly responded to, it becomes a powerful tool in helping you create the outcomes you want.

For the next part of the series, I will present the Rule #3: “You can’t change another person’s mind.” There you'll find out why the age-old sales philosophy about the importance of overcoming objections can actually cost more revenue than it generates.

About the Author

Joe Caruso is owner/founder of Caruso Leadership, a management consulting firm that advises education companies, as well as CEOs, Admirals, and Leadership Teams from every industry on optimizing outcomes by applying the principles of The Quintessential Process. An author and frequent education industry keynote speaker, Joe’s best-selling book "The Power of Losing Control" has been featured on PBS and an audio series from Nightingale-Conant. Learn more about Joe and his work at www.carusoleadership.com/education.