No, entropy is not a new disease of the colon. Entropy is usually thought of as the natural tendency for things to be come disordered over time. Like your shop. Without work done to clean it up it tends to get messier on its own, right? Entropy is a concept that affects everything from loose parts to information.
The formal scientific definition of entropy is first “a measure of a system’s capacity to undergo spontaneous change” and second, “a measure of the disorder or randomness in a system.”
The second law of thermodynamics dictates that eventually every machine will wear out and quit working. As parts wear, the movement becomes more and more random and disorderly until the machine stops altogether. For our fellow craftsmen in the mechanical repair field, entropy is their best friend, providing them with a continuous flow of vehicles in need of repair.
But how does this apply to people and sales? The forces of entropy bombard us everyday. We have upsets, disagreements, and sometimes, even fights. These entropic forces often bring disorder to our lives. And perhaps one of the most unsettling experiences a person can have is an automobile accident that interrupts his or her life and, at least temporarily, takes away the valued method of transportation they rely on every day. An estimator generally meets and talks to the vehicle owner or driver at this very upsetting time. This could make a sales conversation very difficult or it could make getting the job very easy. A while back I did several weeks of sales training for estimators at a chain of collision centers. A couple of the estimators were already very competent, closing the majority of jobs they estimated. They instinctively used what something called dissipative conversation.
The forces of entropy affect us all. We all experience friction and wear and tear, and in the long run, we also run down and stop working. But, in the short term, we have a powerful advantage over machines, and a more cheerful prospect thanks to the work of Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-born Belgian theoretical chemist. Prigogine received his Nobel Prize in the 1970’s for proving that increased order in nature and evolutionary progress come about because of the entropy of chaos and disorder—not despite it. Prigogine said we have an advantage because the open systems of living creatures have an ability that inanimate machines lack. That is the ability to dissipate the pressures that cause entropy. He noted that this second law of thermodynamics applies only to closed thermodynamic systems, where no energy enters or exits the system. In an open system, like that of human beings—and the earth itself with its energy input from the sun—are able to dissipate or throw off the forces of entropy and thus adjust, shift, change and, in the case of a traumatic experience like an accident, feel much better. We can think of this as energy input to overcome disorder. Like the work you do to clean up your shop, for example.
To take another example, we dissipate anger and frustration by venting it— “letting off steam” —kicking the wall, banging our shoe on the table—or perhaps meditating. We dissipate frictions by conflict resolution discussions, negotiations, agreements, and occasionally smacking an opponent in the jaw. But if given an opportunity, we can release negative emotions through dissipative conversation. The estimators who closed the most jobs used dissipative conversation. Apparently, a major flaw in many sales people is a tendency to talk endlessly and listen very little. These estimators did exactly the opposite. They encouraged what we might call verbal “image streaming,” allowing their prospect to speak without interruption to a natural stopping point. In conversation, we are often eager to have our say, and will interject a comment or take the conversation in a different direction if we lose interest in what the other person is saying. This is detrimental to the dissipation process. Let ‘em talk. Their accident was a highly traumatic experience and may call for a lengthy conversation to dissipate the stress.
A busy estimator may have several estimates to write and people to talk to. While there is a limit to how much time can be given to any one prospect, the estimators I talked to said they could listen to their prospect until a calm point was reached, without harming their own efficiency. The important point is the fact that these prospects being given the opportunity to release some emotional pressure usually did leave their car and their keys with the listening estimator. I’m sure that most managers and estimators reading this article have listened to more than their fair share of accident stories, but it’s not easy to resist the urge to cut the story short and to move on to getting the job sold. The question to ask oneself is, “If I had listened a bit more, would my closing ratio be better today?” It’s worth a try.