people problems

I heard an interesting statistic this week. Daniel Goleman, popularizer of emotional intelligence, studied the competencies required to succeed in business. His research shows that 67% of all competencies needed to succeed in business are competencies around dealing with other human beings.

That’s an interesting statistic, but it doesn’t surprise me. I have for a long time believed that all problems are people problems if you trace them back to their root cause. Even something like failing to innovate is caused by a cultural issue, a failure of leadership, or a general lack of resourcefulness. But if we know this is true (and we do), why don’t we spend more time on the people issues?

I work with salespeople and sales organizations. Most of the challenges in creating and winning opportunities are people problems.

  • Your dream client doesn’t recognize their real need or the danger in maintaining the status quo, and their fear prevents them exploring change.
  • One of the stakeholders in a deal you are working feels threatened by change, and he wants to kill your initiative to protect his significance.
  • Your dream client asks you for a price quote, focusing on the transaction and refusing to allow you to build value, ultimately jeopardizing the real result that they need–and your ability to create the highest level of value.
  • One of your salespeople doesn’t want to change their old school approach because they are afraid to try a new approach, an approach that would help them produce better results.

I could continue writing this list until it fills a dozen pages. Your problems are mostly people problems. So we work on teaching the sales process. We talk about the buyer’s journey. We work on building playbooks and resources, and we track all kinds of metrics. But we don’t touch the deep human psychology that’s really at work here.

This week I received an email and a direct message on Twitter from a salesperson who listened to my speech at Dreamforce. I said that you need to get off the spreadsheet, that the real battle is for mindshare. This salesperson thanked me for introducing him to an idea that he hadn’t considered and for pointing out the root cause of some of his losses. He thought he was supposed to be winning on the spreadsheet because that’s the way his industry shows value (something I call Level 3 Value).

But the deep human psychology doesn’t make rational decisions. It makes emotional decisions and rationalizes them after the fact. To overcome the very real human obstacles you need to deal with things like trust, and caring, and protecting people’s egos. You have to help people consider new beliefs without being judgmental. You have to help people deal with things like certainty and risk, the threats to their significance, and the need to be connected and liked.

Look at a problem or challenge you are dealing with now. Follow that problem until you get to the root cause, the person on the other end of that problem. What is that they really need? What can you do to help them get what they really need? How do you give them that help?

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and stories. Tell me what you’re doing to improve your ability to understand human psychology and how you can be more helpful for your clients and your team. Forward this to someone on your team who might benefit from a new view on their challenges and share your thoughts with them.

Do good work this week, and I’ll see you back here next week!

Anthony Iannarino


Contributor Anthony Lannarino is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and consultant. He writes daily at and you can subscribe to his newsletter at