Every one of us—every person, company, organization and sales team—is surrounded by hidden forces that make it harder to convince others to adopt the new ideas or beliefs necessary to close more sales.

So when your sales numbers aren’t meeting expectations, when you’re struggling to gain traction and achieve your sales goals, what do you or your company do?

What most companies do: they invest in “more,” or do what Loran Nordgren, author of The Human Element, calls, “adding fuel” by:

  • selling harder.
  • improving or investing in more marketing.
  • improving or enhancing product offering.
  • investing in additional hiring.

Yes, but… what if you selected a different approach? What if instead of adding fuel, you removed friction?

Why this question is so important: Because answering it incorrectly leads to wasted investment, time, and effort that ultimately results in failure.

Fuel vs Friction Defined:

Fuel’s job is to elevate or enhance the appeal of an idea, product or decision. Typically this involves incentives, supportive data or evidence, emotional appeals (branding), or demonstrating the value of a new idea, product, or service to end users.

Friction’s job is to resist change. It’s defined as any set of forces that resist change and act as drag on innovation and change.

For example… In Loran’s book, he shares the story of Beach House (not the company’s real name). They sell customizable sofas or chairs. These are truly one of a kind pieces of furniture 100% customized by the buyer.

  • The problem: While Beach House’s potential customers loved customizing their furniture, playing with the design tool online and in store for hours, they wouldn’t buy the finished product.
  • The Beach House Solution: They added fuel via reduced prices and improved the fabric options—neither of which worked.
  • The Insight: Beach House hired an ethnographer who discovered the REAL PROBLEM: customers didn’t know what to do with their current sofa or chair. They didn’t know how to get rid of them, but needed to in order to make room for the new, customized Beach House sofa or chair they wanted to buy.
  • The Bottom Line: Beach House was adding lots of fuel to stimulate sales but in reality they only needed to remove the friction.
  • The New Solution: Beach House now offers to remove a customer’s existing sofa or chair during the delivery process.
  • The Result: Since implementation, sales have taken off.

Why orgs focus on Fuel vs Friction: It’s easier and sexier to build a bigger rocket vs a lighter spaceship. The human mind instinctively processes behavior in terms of internal forces like motivation and intent. Thus, if people aren’t buying what we’re selling, we assume this lack of motivation and intent is driven by a lack of product/idea appeal or allure. So we instinctively add more fuel in hopes of winning the “sale.”

But it goes deeper… because friction can be caused by so many things big and small, obvious and hidden, it’s often far more difficult and time consuming to identify and solve friction issues. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when you begin looking for friction points, you shift attention from the idea itself as you turn your attention to the audience you seek to persuade. This latter point starts to bring ego into the equation and that isn’t usually a good thing because ego based decisions not supported by data usually turn out badly.

For example, The University of Chicago long suffered from a smaller applicant pool vs similar colleges and universities. The school was known as a rigorous college and they wrongly, as it turns out, believed their brand was causing students to shy away from applying.

In truth, students weren’t afraid of applying to a rigorous college. But they didn’t want to do any extra work to apply. You see, the real problem was that The University of Chicago didn’t participate in the Common App: a program that allows students to file a singular application that is then sent to every college where they want to apply. Once the university switched to the Common App, applications increased dramatically.

Techniques to reduce friction: instead of selling harder, make it easier for people to buy what you are selling by fighting the friction that holds them back:

  • Make the action easier: Netflix automatically plays the next episode in the series you’re watching because they know it improves the likelihood you’ll keep watching the next episode. How much effort are they really saving you? Not much. But even taking away this minor friction has a huge effect on your willingness to keep binging.
  • Make them feel like they are the author of the change: We are most effectively influenced by ideas/evidence we generate on our own. It’s called the principle of Self-Persuasion or you’ve heard it referenced on this site numerous times before—show, don’t tell.
  • Remove negativity bias: Negative experiences carry greater weight vs positive ones. For relationships (romantic, friend, AND business) it’s 5:1 – meaning you need 5 good experiences to offset every 1 bad experience. Think about that from a user experience, buyer journey or sales prospecting/nurturing perspective.

The Bottom Line:

Before you even begin building a single piece of sales and marketing materials, uncover any buyer friction. Engage in a process of discovery designed to understand the needs and contexts of your target audience(s) first. Then, once you’ve identified any and all friction points and removed them, start building out those sales and marketing materials, offers and sales scripts with confidence.