Sales Engineer Guide: Understanding the Motivations of Others

We communicate ideas and attempt to drive decisions with messages, meetings and conversation. We try to sell things, push ideas and get cooperation from others and “make things happen” by driving people to a common understanding. It is tempting to think that “our way” is obvious to people and that they “just don’t get it” when they don’t agree. We should instead put ourselves in the other person's position to see if we really understood the other party’s drivers and decision points.

There is only way … to get anybody to do anything. … Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it. 
Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

I went to a meeting a long time a go with Max. Max created a sheet for every major player that we filled out from that person’s point of view. The sheet had two columns, What’s in it For Me (WiFM) and Does it Threaten Me (DiTM). You can use “Pros” and “Cons” if WiFM and DiTM make you uncomfortable even though they mean something different. I find that WiFM and DiTM more accurately describe how people subconsciously evaluate things as they are proposed or discussed. Max's table had two rows, Organization and Personal representing two levels of decision making that people operate on when considering options.

WiFM and DiTM

Prepare for your discussion by making a sheet for each participant, or at least each decision maker. Each cell is filled in from the point of view of the other person, the one you are meeting with.

-put-name-here-What's in it for me  Does it threaten me  
Professional Lens

Personal Lens

What's in it For Me / Organizational

List the advantages of this idea or proposal from the other person’s organizational viewpoint. Think how they believe it would help their organization, not how it helps you. This could be a team level advantage when meeting with another group, possibly in the same company. It could be at the corporate level for those at the VP / Cxx level.

Your idea might be a new way to make that group more productive or make it easier for them to meet their goals. The idea can increase morale or make folks excited about a project.

Example: Some new method may reduce the time taken for a process. This may make it possible to increase their internal satisfaction or let them work on other underserved processes.

What is in it For Me / Personal

List the reasons this would be good for them at a personal level. Does it increase their visibility, help them achieve something that would be difficult otherwise? Think of ways it may make their relationships easier with others. Personal interest or benefits vary by the type the field or area of the discussion.

Example: People in high tech may wish to be on current technologies to stay relevant in their fields. (This is not to be confused with “shiny object” syndrome.)

Example: Success might can increase a person’s stature.

Does it Threaten Me / Organizational

Change, ideas or action often involves organizational risk. Products or proposals may create more work for others or cause conflict with overlapping teams. Some ideas or programs may reduce the power of an organization or potentially cost it money. Action can cause liability or point out things that are currently broken.

Example: A team may not have budgeted for the additional work for a new idea. The idea potentially puts their previous commitments at risk.

Does it Threaten Me / Personal

This is the area people claim doesn’t happen. They would like to assume that people make rational decisions when in fact their wants and fears come into play. Think about how a change or an action can threaten someone personally. Does it change their importance? Would failure wound their standing more than success? I person might know how things work now but may not be comfortable that they would understand the new system.

Example: Someone created the previous system and is the focal point for questions and troubleshooting. The new system removes that level of expertise.

Preparation and Usage

Meet with your team or someone who understands the the other people, the charter/internals of the other group and understands the proposal/idea. Create a sheet for each major player, decision maker or influencer. Make sure you have enough people who would see enough WFM to outweigh DFM. Some participants may be “all threat” and you may have to talk around or through them to others. 

Sometimes I’ll do this in my head while walking through someone else’s meeting prep. I try and make sure they understand what is important to others instead of just pushing the thing they think is important.

Short Form

Meeting prep for internal meetings is important.  I often do one WFM/DTM group sheet for the other team if we're meeting about something big.  Usually this is just in my head or as a verbal walk-through with someone on my team.

Personal Relationships

We try and get people to do things or make decisions in a certain direction in our personal lives. A mental WFM/DFM worksheet with just the personal row can be a good pre-talk preparation. It isn’t manipulative. It is a way of taking the time to think about the other person’s needs or wants.

3:00 YouTube


I initially thought that this approach seemed manipulative. I’ve since come to appreciate it as a method of ensuring that I take time to understand other’s people's motivations.

People do things they want to do. I’ve worked with people who bullied or forced others into decisions. It worked tactically but often turned out badly in the long run.


Created 2014 09

Video made 2020 02


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