Selling Past Institutional Knowledge


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Selling into organizations with a lot of institutional knowledge can be difficult. Constantly running into the “we’ve always done it that way” objection can frustrate even the most savvy of sales professional.

I once heard an analogy of institutional knowledge that I think helps shed some light on the absurdity of it all.

Imagine there’s a big cage about the size of large hotel lobby. The cage has five monkeys. In the middle of the cage, there’s a long rope dangling from the ceiling. At the top of the rope is bunch of bananas.

Each time one of the monkeys tries to climb the rope, someone sprays the other monkeys with a fire hose. The monkeys learn to not climb the rope, which becomes conditioned in them (institutional knowledge). At some point, the monkeys are no longer sprayed by the fire hose; nonetheless, they never try to climb the rope.

At some later point, an individual monkey is removed and replaced by a new monkey (Ie, employee). This new monkey sees the rope and bananas and naturally has a great idea (go and get the bananas). As soon as the monkey reaches for the rope, the other monkeys attack him. The group will not allow the new monkey to go after the bananas.

One by one, the original monkeys are replaced by new monkeys. Each time a new monkey wants to go for the bananas, he is assaulted by his peers.

Over time, all of the monkeys who actually experienced the fire hose are gone. Nonetheless, the monkeys never allow a new monkey to go for the bananas. None of them know why they don’t go for the bananas. They just know “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

Pretty sad, isn’t it? Institutional knowledge prohibits growth and innovation in many organizations. So how do you sell past it?

Fortunately, there are tactics and strategies for overcoming the hurdle of institutional knowledge. The most obvious is change. It’s natural for people and organizations to resist change, but often at their own demise. There’s no such thing as staying the same. You’re either striving to improve, or your allowing yourself to get worse. Putting the consideration in this context, can open the eyes of the individuals.

Another tact is to offload the research and dissection of the problem to a current team member. Rather than you being the one to bring forth evidence of the need for change, charge another individual in the organization with researching the problem. Often times, that first hand look at the issue will serve as a real eye opener.

There are many other ways to drive for change. One recent Empowered Sales post addressed The Top Ten Ways to Accelerate a Deal to Closure.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kevin Graham
Kevin Graham is an author, speaker and expert on empowerment, sales and leadership. As managing director of Empowered Sales Training, Kevin works with organizations to empower sales success. Formerly, Kevin was a top performing sales executive in the ultra competitive technology sector. He's qualified for President's Club status in three Fortune 500 companies, carried the Olympic Torch and played in a national championship.


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