Santa as a Role Model

By Lain Ehmann

Facilitation is more than serving as a go-between for two parties. Facilitation means helping others improve their work as well as their working relationships – something even Santa’s elves can benefit from. In their new book, Crisis at Santa’s Workshop: Using Facilitation to Get More Done in Less Time (Berrett Koehler Publishers, 2003), organizational consultants Richard Weaver and John Farrell show how Santa’s team used facilitation skills to overcome a raw material shortage and quality issues in order to manufacture all the toys they needed to satisfy their millions of demanding customers.

According to Farrell, facilitation skills aren’t useful only at the North Pole; salespeople anywhere can use the principles of facilitation to help their customers get their work done and improve their working relationships. Here are Farrell’s keys to facilitation for salespeople.

Be prepared. “There’s no such thing as an informal meeting with prospects, even if it’s a five-minute elevator ride,” says Farrell. “Have your game plan ready and have a backup plan, too.” Things rarely go as scheduled – the 30-minute meeting becomes a five-minute one; the CFO decides to invite the CEO to sit in. Change happens. Good facilitators are ready to make adjustments.

Listen to the customer. Even if you’ve done your homework and think you know what your prospects’ issues are, there’s a very slim chance you can jump in and hit the nail on the head. Customers don’t necessarily want you to read their minds; they want you to listen. “Successful selling is getting the prospect to do 80 percent of the talking,” says Farrell. Facilitation means you’re listening to what’s important to your customer, not filling the silence with your thoughts and ideas.

Don’t look back. Often salespeople ask prospects to describe their problems. “A lot of folks focus on what hurts, on what’s not working,” says Farrell. This rear-view mirror perspective keeps people mired in the past, limiting their ability to create solutions. Facilitation is about focusing on what needs to be done now, not on past issues.

Get the customer to define success. Facilitators help others define success. Instead of asking what’s wrong, ask your customers to describe their idea of success, suggests Farrell. Ask: What would be happening for you if this problem were fixed? “Get them to be the author of a potential, better future,” says Farrell.

Connect the dots. Once prospects have shared their concept of success, salespeople with good facilitation skills are able to link their product or service to the customers’ goals. “Your prospects are going to give you the solution,” says Farrell. It’s up to you to make the connection between that solution and your company.

For more information, please click on, or contact John Farrell at 651-331-9980, or via email at