3) A sale is a voluntary exchange that requires, and is based on, an agreement that is voluntarily reached
An often unseen reality
One of the most challenging lessons that we human beings need to live but often don’t is to respect, value, feel completely safe, comfortable and at peace with the freedom of others to believe, behave, act, perceive, interpret, judge, decide, or choose as they see fit. We are scared of respecting the freedom of others to such an extent while we often demand, consciously and unconsciously, that our freedom be valued and respected in things big and small, consequential or otherwise. What children observe and experience during their formative years is not exactly a deep respect for individual freedom. Personally, I learnt this lesson at an intellectual level, many years ago. However, it was not until I discovered the Camp System of Negotiation that I found a practical way to do so in all interactions and relationships. Now, in my daily effort to live guided by the System, I see the tremendous gap that still exists between intellectual knowledge and my behaviors, actions, decisions, and choices in the moment. Respecting and valuing the freedom of others requires that I fully accept and embrace a fundamental truth about the other person – and specifically, this other person that I am interacting with here and now: People are free and remain free to decide and choose as they see fit. Crossing that gap between intellectual acknowledgment of a particular reality and its practical demand and manifestations is a journey that lasts a lifetime – especially with near and dear ones.
Forgive me for insisting. Not living this truth is a cause of immense human misery. People are and remain “free” to decide and choose in accordance with what they see. This is a direct consequence of their innate dignity and worth that they possess. It is not conferred on them by other human beings or by the state, nor can it be taken away by anything or anyone else. This does not mean that they are thereby free to do whatever they like, and in whatever manner they choose. Understanding “freedom” in a way that is unrestrained and that the subject himself/herself defines, is essentially defective, deforming, and can more accurately be called an “abuse of freedom”. However, because people abuse their own freedom or ours does not mean it becomes fair game to prevent them from exercising their freedom. Such prevention can only be done by a competent authority – to defend the good of everyone integrally and thereby subordinate individual freedom to truth, goodness, and justice. Every good parent, teacher, manager, or leader knows and has experience of this.
What is the relation between this and sales?
The answer is contained in the title to this post: A sale is a voluntary exchange that requires, and is based on, an agreement that is voluntarily reached.
Sales professionals are not somehow immune to the blindness that afflicts the larger human race. It is therefore vital that they see, understand, accept, and embrace this reality, in each interaction and in each of their selling efforts. If this truth is understood and lived, and they learn to influence effective decisions in others without violating or tampering with their freedom, they become that much more effective, happier, more serene, and more fulfilled. Once the voluntary aspect of a sale is done away with, they are skating on thin ice. To my mind, the voluntary aspect of the exchange in sales is manifested in numerous ways:
- Monopolies are frowned at, in the free market economy and why perfect competition is held up as the ideal.
- The cliché “The customer is king” – which a typical buyer believes wholeheartedly means that he/she feels that he can go elsewhere if his/her needs are not met. In the worst case situation, customers can decide to do without a product if the option of going elsewhere is not (readily) available.
- When a sale goes wrong – before or after the order has been placed and payment has been made – individuals are often still held responsible for what goes wrong.
- Customer service is lauded by all (though lived in practice by so few) because we all believe that a good experience makes for loyal customers who willingly come back, and willingly refer others.
I am also of the opinion that much of the baggage, prejudice, and stereotyping associated with the selling profession is connected in part by the behaviors, actions, and decisions of millions of sales professionals who fail to recognize and respect the voluntary aspect of sales and selling. Like other normal human beings, many sales professionals behave as though they are afraid of the power that a freedom to choose and decide gives to the buyer.
No matter how one looks at it, voluntary exchange and voluntarily entered agreements constitute the nucleus of selling. Understanding and living this out has numerous consequences and corollaries. I shall attempt to tease apart and take a deeper look at what I consider as being the more central ones.
1) To move forward, every sale requires negotiation
Ultimately, voluntary exchanges can only occur between individuals or groups. That’s why they are voluntary. Every sale – from the simplest one between 2 individuals that lasts a few seconds to the most complex B2B sale or one between a multi-billion dollar behemoth and a government that sit at the head of a multi-trillion dollar economy can be simplified and understood in terms of the people negotiating with each other. Ultimately, regardless of the processes used and the impersonal forces at play, people make the decisions to buy and/or sell. This brings us back to the significant overlap and misunderstanding between selling and negotiation – something that I and a number of others have written about.
Those in the “selling world” tend to enlarge that world and subsume negotiation into it while those in the “negotiating world” do the opposite. To an observer, this might appear to be a case of each side striving to prove its legitimacy (or superiority?) over the other. However, since the world of selling is more visible and popular than that of negotiating, the popular view remains that negotiation is a subset activity that goes on within the larger sale. To me, the confusion stems from definitions. It is notoriously hard to come to agreement on definitions or to even delineate the reality that those definitions refer to. Definitions describe reality but do not “create” it. If I state that “A sale is a negotiation”, we must define both “sale” and “negotiation”. I don’t want to attempt to define a “sale”. I have found that my understanding that every sale is/involves a negotiation but every negotiation is/does not involve a sale, serves me well.
At CNI, we define a negotiation as “The human effort to reach agreement between two or more parties with all parties having the right to veto”. This means that negotiation encompasses everything that is said and done; where, how, when, why, it is said and done; and of course who says and does what. It also extends to include the order and sequence in which things are said and done, or not said and not done. Of course all these are understood in relation to the parties reaching agreement with each other. It alludes to the resources expended in trying to reach agreement. Above all, this definition means that as long as the right to say “no” is respected, what is actually occurring is a negotiation – no matter exactly how it is being conducted. This implies that people can either negotiate well or badly. It is a definition that can easily find echoes in the world of selling.
The predominant view in the world of sales – that of seeing negotiation as the song and dance around price (other terms are often not as terribly important as price) tends to conflate negotiation with bargaining. Calls for and offers of, compromise, are intrinsic to bargaining. Bargaining is a pressure-filled activity. It opens the door to stress, worry, neediness, bullying, manipulation, and deceit. It is more accurate to consider that we are negotiating each time we are trying to influence another person or group to make a particular decision or a series of decisions. They have to agree to make those decisions – including the decision of whether or not to buy, for what price, when, how much of what etc.
2) Minimizing, overriding, avoiding, or being afraid of the right to veto
The destructive impact of overriding this right is acutely seen in the world of sales because of the voluntary nature of the exchange, and the voluntarily reached agreement required to bring the exchange about. On account of all the pressures that a sales professional is subjected to, and those to which they subject themselves to – by chasing numbers, outcomes, and results – it is easy to rush past this right without even being aware of its existence. The ways in which people are taught to push for a “yes” and to close the sale; the push for numbers and results; the rush to compromise or the effort to build “relationships” or “trust”; go for (or require) “win-win”; display enthusiasm for one’s product or solution – can all become manifestations of a fear of the exercise of this right by the buyer. Every form of manipulation or deception necessarily does violence to this right.
Each time a sales professional (and indeed any human being) attempts to override this right, it provokes resistance and emotional pressure in the person whose right is being overridden. This pressure then fills up the interaction and all kinds of barriers go up. Objections and resistance abound. Often, on account of the baggage and stereotyping in sales, these barriers are already in place and sales professionals find themselves crashing against them, repeatedly. If this is the case, they will then be forced to absorb the pressure of a sale gone bust, or a sale that gets stuck. It is therefore very easy to get trapped in a bubble of emotional pressure.
It is not only the buyer’s rights that can be overridden. Unscrupulous and predatory buyers can seek to override the right to veto of sellers. It is also just as easy to override the right of people on the same team or the same side of the table.
When negotiation is seen, understood, accepted, and embraced in the way it is defined above, human beings can become exquisitely aware of the times they are tempted to override this right. Whenever they experience fear, anxiety, or irritation over the exercise of this right, it is a good moment to reflect on the underlying causes of such emotion. Such emotions are a sign that we see such a right as a threat. It is also good to consider what we feel and experience when our right to veto is undermined or overridden.
It may help us to know that numerous individuals don’t fight this right. Instead, they work with it. Certainly all such people are not trained in the Camp System of Negotiation. In sales, working with this right – anticipating it, inviting it, encouraging it, embracing it – always help dissolve most barriers, drains most interactions of the pressure that exists, or that constantly threatens to develop, and moves the sale/negotiation forward. The right to veto is and provides solid ground on which we can advance.
3) Some sales are complex negotiation projects
Recently, I bought and read a book on account of its intriguing title – “Mastering The Complex Sale: How To Compete And Win When The Stakes Are High” – written by Jeff Thull. This is certainly one of the better books on selling that is available. A Camp-trained negotiator will find much to agree and disagree with. He/she will also see some things that are missing. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the author’s view of proficiency in selling comes very close to Jim Camp’s view of mastery in negotiation. Though the author does not refer to “learned human performance events”, he describes selling as something that can be mastered using “systems”, “skills”, and “disciplines”. Expectedly, he defines these terms differently.
Many sales professionals fail to see the complexity of some of the sales they are involved in. Failure to see such complexity, and the inability to master and tame it, will repeatedly overwhelm or stymie the sales efforts of individuals and sales teams. When complexity encounters the economic pressures that abound in the world of selling, and is coupled to the behaviors, activities and decisions of sales team that are driven by conflicting priorities, interests, numbers, results etc., these pressures are magnified many fold. When such an individual or team encounters the world of predators in the business world, they simply fall apart. More accurately, they are picked (or torn) apart.
The complex sale, as Mr. Thull rightly notes, must be “mastered”. At CNI, the hinges on which everything else revolves are:
i) Negotiation is a learned human performance event that must be mastered using a valid System of Negotiation.
ii) A negotiation is often a complex project that must be carefully managed using a valid Negotiation Management System.
By definition, a project depends on the efforts and decisions of numerous people. Sometimes a single decision may require numerous negotiations. At other times, many decisions may be reached during a single negotiation engagement. Learning to make and influence effective decisions as a team lies at the heart of negotiation management. Learning to make and influence effective decisions as an individual lies at the heart of individual negotiation mastery. The entire negotiation project will move forward only if both work in seamless harmony. Managing the larger negotiation project such that your side makes and influences effective decisions is what enables you and your team master the “complex sale”, and manage it effectively.
(CNI’s latest product offering, Negotiator-Pro, attempts to combine both and put them at the disposal of individuals, teams, and organizations. Negotiator-Pro enables everyone master the complex sale in a simple and straightforward manner.)
4) Understanding how human beings make decisions and how to influence decisions in others
This is one area in which sales people are sharply divided. Of course the division extends far beyond the boundaries of the selling profession. It’s the central disagreement I have with Mr. Thull as I read his book, and the central fault line that runs through it. He seems to agree that facts and figures don’t carry the day, and that customers buy based on what they see as a solution to their needs. However, he doesn’t make the leap into how to discover what they see, or how to influence what they see. There’s not concept of discovering or building “vision”, nor no acknowledgment that vision drives action, decisions, and agreements.
This might seem as though it is just some unimportant difference between those who believe, say, and behave as though decisions are logical; those who believe, say, and behave as though decisions are emotional; and the last group that says, believes and behaves as though it is a bit of both. It might seem harmless, but it really is not. I remember someone saying in my presence “If you don’t believe that people buy for their reasons and not yours, and that that decision is an emotional one, stop wasting your time in sales. Just get out and save yourself and many others a lot of trouble.”
Not understanding that human decisions and decision making is based and rooted in vision which is ultimately emotional has far-reaching consequences. It is the difference between spending individual, team, and organizational budgets and resources in convincing and persuading customers instead of discovering the vision behind the status quo and the vision required to change the status quo. Replacing the vision of existing pain/problems with the vision of a solution to that pain/those problems is what either results in the sale or doesn’t result in one. The inability to work with vision lies at the heart of needless frustration and wasted efforts. It is of supreme importance in sales that I will devote the next piece to it.
Killing many birds with one stone
It becomes easy to see how the voluntary exchange of goods and services based on an agreement that is voluntarily reached is not some fancy and unreachable ideal once we
- See every sale as being a negotiation
- Work with a valid definition of negotiation and
- Use a valid System of Negotiation and System of Negotiation Management
- Influence decisions by patiently and calmly discovering the vision behind the status quo and build the replacement vision of a solution to the pain/problems associated with the status quo.
It becomes possible to sell without feeling under emotional pressure; putting team members, prospects, clients, or customers under pressure; or without opening oneself or one’s team to manipulation. It becomes possible to experience genuine teamwork. Over a period of time, it becomes possible to reverse/prevent the emotional and psychological damage that people undergo in the world of selling. With a valid System comes confidence and control. When people use it and achieve results they value, their self-confidence and self-image improves. It becomes possible to elevate performance without falling under the tyranny of numbers, results, and outcomes.
In my previous piece, I raised the issue of a perceived conflict of motives arising from the fact that a sale involves the exchange of money and the profit motive. The prospect of gain and benefit spurs a great deal of human effort, ingenuity, and innovation. “What’s in it for me” lurks, consciously or unconsciously, in most of our dealings with others, and most of our efforts, decisions, and choices. In my next piece, I will attempt to show how this can be harnessed in order to build the vision that ultimately drives decision, action, and agreement and helps individuals and teams make the sale, in a repeatable manner.
2) The exchange of money, and the real/perceived conflict of motives.
Any person who writes about being careful about the impact of money in influencing our decisions runs the risk of sounding “preachy”. However, after each scandal, we collectively wring out hands and enact legislation to make the unrestrained pursuit of profit difficult. Humanity seems to have a “love-hate relationship” with money. Often, in situations that are invisible and not deemed “newsworthy”, we don’t see that the forces that money, combined with the profit motive, unleashes, and that in turn, drives certain behaviors, decisions, actions and activities.
Aside from sales, money exchanges hands, voluntarily, in many other settings: gifts, donations, inheriting/bequeathing money and economic assets, and getting paid for one’s work are just some examples. Though all these can and do involve effective decision making and sometimes involve negotiation, these are not nearly as troublesome as the voluntary exchange of goods and services for money, driven by the motive for profit. The exchange of money/economic value and the profit motive cannot be removed from a sale. It wouldn’t be a sale if these were removed. Both are part of our perception and understanding of sales and selling.
Impact on decisions and decision making
Money’s impact on decisions and decision making is deep and pervasive. The impact is either distorting or beneficial. This means it can either blind us to/distort reality or it can help us perceive, interpret and respond to reality better. Examples of the former include the decisions made by entrepreneurs to start certain businesses; decisions regarding job offers; decisions regarding what we spend our time and energy budgets on; decisions around “what” and “how” we respond to the challenges and needs of those around us.
The blinding and distorting impact of money is well known and I am not going to dwell on it, here. The only point I make is that when a particular person’s decision making is compromised by money, it can become impossible to build vision. A seller driven by money – by “making the sale” – is certainly not interested in discovering the nature of a potential buyer’s pain and how best to relieve it. Here we come to the fact that the impact of money on decisions and decision making often contributes, directly or indirectly, to the challenges faced in sales.
Money is also essential for survival and the ability to live a dignified life. The emotional and psychological distress of not being able to earn what is necessary to meet one’s needs and responsibilities is extremely frustrating and debilitating. As if all this were not enough, people are conditioned to believe that more for you means less for me. The next step is to believe that one person’s success is often at the expense of another’s.
Money and the profit motive “complicate” the selling interaction
Given the role and importance of money and undeniable presence of the profit motive in sales, it is important for us to understand the impact that money has on behaviors, decisions, actions, and activities during a sale. “Buyer’s remorse” is just one example. This impact is spread across buyers and sellers. When money becomes the only or most important criteria for decision making, our decision making and judgment becomes severely compromised. Many people believe that if they pay a cent more than the basic minimum – with which to get what a seller offer them – they have “lost” and the seller has “won”. The converse is also true. A large number of negotiations end up being a song and dance over “price”. That’s when it doesn’t end up as a fight. In the preceding piece, I wrote about compromise. The mindset of compromise is most often demonstrated and demanded in terms defined by the price (denominated in money or other suitable measures of economic value) that is charged and paid, for a particular sale.
The entire sales training industry has as its raison d’être, the challenges encountered in facilitating transactions involving money. The perpetual tug of war about price, the fear of being taken advantage of, the role money plays in our self-image, and the conflicting motives driving buyers and sellers can often, though not always, be traced to the impact of money on skewing sound judgment and effective decision making.
Conflicting motives and the “cloud of suspicion”
When a sales person passionately asks you and I to try something out, or buy it, how often have reacted instinctively against it? How often has this happened after we felt we had been suckered? When confronted with similar situations, how suspicious does it make us about the other person’s true motivations? Few things destroy a person’s credibility than tainted or conflicted motives, or a suspicion over a person’s true motives. Even the law frowns on “conflicts of interests”. This puts sales people in a bind because they (or their organizations) will make money on each sale.
With the passage of time, we all accumulate baggage. Buyers become increasingly suspicious of sellers and vice versa. Sellers who are “sale-driven” will be unable to hide it successfully. A person who is “sale-driven” will react – in speech or behavior – the moment the sale appears to be slipping away.
The basic challenge and difficulty arises from the perceived opposed motives of buyer and seller. A seller has an incentive to sell for the highest price and a seller to buy for the lowest. This introduces the “bargaining tension” and provides the impetus for manipulation and deception. It makes both parties unwilling to reveal the realities of their respective worlds that is essential for effective decision making. It makes them suspicious of each other, and causes emotional reactions to predominate during the entire process, and prevent both parties from seeing the realities in each other’s world, and sometimes,
All of these can be solved. Money and the profit motive need not compromise effective decision making. They also do not have to cause/create an unresolvable conflict of motives. But the existence of these in the world of selling must be acknowledged. Then, the way around it appears that much more effective and powerful. The frank acknowledgement of the deep, powerful, seen and unseen forces that the presence of money and the profit motive causes or amplifies, is a necessary first step in understanding what drives a lot of what happens (and doesn’t happen) during a sale.
7 things to keep in mind when thinking about sales
1) A sale often occurs between people who up to that point were strangers to each other
One of the dogmas in the world of sales is that it occurs (or according to some versions, it occurs best) within the context of a relationship. The emphasis on win-win, trust, emotional intelligence, and lots more is directly derived from this perspective. The narrative built up is that the sale will progress smoothly if only we focus on building great relationships where both parties emerge winners.
This is well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided. This perspective has wrecked innumerable careers and organizations. Sales gurus (and a large number of negotiation gurus) wax eloquently about it in books, blogs, workshops, and pieces for publications that are regarded and regard themselves as authoritative. The attempt to challenge that dogma is, for some, definitive proof that we at CNI represent and advocate the very essence of human excess and egocentricity.
Few things are as jarring to relationship-centric people as the position taken, taught, and coached by Jim Camp:
(i) There’s no relationship without shared risk.
(ii) Relationships take time – sometimes years that may even stretch into decades – to develop and mature.
(iii) You do not require or need trust to make the sale.
A number of negotiation authorities are willing to concede on the last point, but the first two, along with Jim’s teachings about using “no” are particularly jarring to some individuals.
These perspectives about relationships and all that is associated with them have extremely complicated roots. I would like to mention three which to my mind are essential.
(i) An inability to distinguish between human relationships and human interactions. Over the course of a career in sales, the vast majority of sales that a person makes will be within the context of an interaction and not a relationship. Seen from this perspective, numerous differences exist between relationships and interactions.
(ii) Relationships and interactions always involve decisions and decision making. Being able to accurately perceive, interpret, and understand the interior and exterior structure and dynamics (in time and over time) of decision making helps us understand relationships and interactions better. From this perspective, numerous similarities exist between both.
(iii) Both relationships and interactions involve dealings between and among people. Given that we all have experience of the hard edges surrounding the dealings people have with each other, a bias for relationship appears to be a way of softening those edges. An unseen consequence of this is that it blinds people to developing an accurate perception and understanding of what effectiveness is and involves – in both relationships and interactions. By learning what such effectiveness involves, we are better able to see and understand what it is not and what it does not involve.
Interactions and relationships
An interaction is just that. It is often, though not always, voluntary. It is possible to interact, regularly, with a person or a group of people without having a relationship with them. Some tenants have lived in the same house for years without ever having a “relationship” with their landlords and vice versa. A large number of freelancers work and get paid without ever knowing who they are really working for. Cold calling is called cold calling precisely because the person making the call does not (a) know the person he/she will be speaking with (b) does not know if that person is willing and able to buy what he/she is selling. Of course in a large number of calls, both (a) and (b) are true.
When young sales professionals tout their new found wisdom about relationships, I inevitably ask them questions such as
- When, if ever, have you had lunch or had a drink with the person you are trying to sell to/have already sold to with no desire to talk business?
- If you or your boss miss your quota this month, which of you will make up for the loss in pay suffered by the other – on the basis of a “relationship” between the two of you?
With more experienced ones, I ask them one question:
- How many times have you and your oldest clients shared each other’s profits and losses? Do you do that with your own suppliers?
- How many times have you and they shared the time, effort, and money required to bring a new product out into the market, and make it succeed? How often have you assisted your own suppliers’ efforts in this regard?
- If you were facing bankruptcy, how many would pitch in to rescue you? Would you pitch in to rescue your own suppliers?
The path to oblivion
Jim Camp rightly points out that society is strapped and trapped in a compromise mindset. Read many of the standard books on negotiation, sales, or conflict resolution and you will realize that hardly anyone writes or accepts that compromise causes rather than resolves conflicts. When the invitation to compromise is rejected, the person who rejects it can be labeled with all sorts of colorful names. The path to oblivion could be given another name: compromise.
Many people believe that compromise is expected in sales. They therefore puff up their prices and then discount them – without realizing that this destroys their credibility. Buyers who are focused on price and price alone don’t realize that by seeking the lowest cost product/service/solution, they could put their organizations in serious trouble further down the line. When they start with a low figure and move upwards, it again sets up doubts in the minds of the seller as to exactly how much they can go. This song and dance around relationship and compromise (in price) makes the sale more difficult, not less. And it destroys the trust that people falsely tout as being so important in sales.
The invitation to compromise is always an invitation to give up something that you value. This is often not done brazenly. That would be too hard edge. It’s often done with either vague promises of the future delivered with pseudo-friendliness, or by the popular tactic of trading so much of “this” for so much of “that”. This doesn’t do away with the need for compromise because ultimately, such a trade might not exist. It also makes decision making harder as people now have to evaluate various tradeoffs and the implications of each one. In complex decision making environments, this can be demand enormous amounts to time, effort, and money. In some situations, it can even be impossible. It assumes that people can rank issues that pertain to this negotiation clearly, and decide which – within the negotiation and beyond – is more important than the other.
The invitation to compromise is bad enough. The eagerness to compromise – in sales as much as in everything else – is the act of sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s problems. The greater evils of deception, manipulation, and even bullying find fertile ground in that eagerness and willingness. When trust and relationship are used against you and used to make you compromise, and to compromise “once more”, “one last time”, and “one last and final time”, what is happening? Where’s the “win-win”?
“Who should I compromise with?”; “In which order?” and “When should I stop compromising?” are questions that no self-respecting sales guru or negotiation guru or conflict resolution expert will ever write on. So, they’ll write about the stuff that appears and sounds right in a world where we are all enjoined to “go along to get along”. At the end of the day, it’s an unpleasant but harsh truth to realize that what is happening is a world in which sales, negotiations and conflict is an enthronement and manipulation of feeling and feelings. Focusing on relationship may make us feel good in the moment. The one who benefits from compromise and “win-winning” (believe me that one party “won” and the other party “lost”!) will feel good now, and each time that the game is played. But it will end up destroying careers, organizations, and in the process, the lives of individuals and families. To me, the truth of the saying “The path to hell is paved with good intentions” is clearly illustrated by this emphasis on relationship and all that is associated with it. Even in the most intimate relationships, people let each other down. In the closest and most intimate of relationships, one witnesses deception, manipulation, abuse, bullying, and more. Even in those relationships where there is no desire or intention to manipulate, deceive, or bully, people become forgetful, overwhelmed by other pressing priorities, get distracted, become irritable, and resist being told what to do. How then can it be a mark of a lack of realism and sound judgment to ask and truthfully answer the question “How possible/necessary is it to trust strangers?”
I started this series quoting an article that appeared in a Harvard Business Review blog. I also mentioned some of the other influences that spurred me to write it. Who should Rick and Jim, the two central characters in the HBR blog piece compromise with? Who should the young sales professionals I interacted with, compromise with? When your boss is breathing down your neck to hit your quota, and your customer is pressuring you to cut prices (which of course cuts away your margins), where does that leave you? Do those who teach “relationship”, “win-win” and “trust” know how easy it is to use these to manipulate others? Do they provide them with any real tools to identify and counteract such manipulation? When they teach people to build relationships and the other party wants you to cut your prices in order to build relationships, what options to do you have if you still wish to make the sale without cutting prices and without coming across as intransigent or hard-headed? Recently, I started reading a book (on negotiation) that introduces the concept of “Strong Win-Win”.
“This isn’t about relationship. It’s about dollars”
When somebody states that calmly and in a friendly way, what do you do? If you don’t know what to do, or you stumble or stammer through it, or you concede and compromise, you have just demonstrated why you should choose a career other than sales. If your decisions and decision making is not solid, and you are not wholly committed to a valid M&P and consequently wholly detached from “this sale”, you will be taken for a ride again and again. A person who tells you it’s about dollars has shown you that he or she is driven by invalid goals. When you are attached to a particular sale – when you “need” that sale – so are you.
What of the other variation of “Let’s cut to the chase. What’s your best price?” What do you do when your “best price” becomes a bludgeon with which to beat your competition and their “best price” is then used to beat you up with? In the free market and in the absence of monopolies, must you not take it for granted that your buyer is talking to other sellers? Don’t you, as a seller, talk to other buyers? Doesn’t your organization do so when dealing with suppliers? (Mind you, by “talking to”, I mean “negotiating with”.) If this playing of people off each other catches you flatfooted, that’s a very bad sign. Something is wrong with your product, your prospecting, your ability to influence decisions, or all of these.
I wholeheartedly believe and advocate world class, courteous, customized, and even winsome and endearing service. Like every other person, I prefer to be treated with courtesy, respect, and warmth. I try to do that with all those I interact with, always aware that I might fail to do so, and that I actually do fail to do so. When I do so, it is not because I intend to build a relationship. I do it because it is the right and proper thing to do. As kids, we were all taught to say “please”, “thank you”, and “I’m sorry”. When I fail, I realize I failed to do the right and proper thing. That it oils the wheels of both relationships and interactions is part of the reality of human existence. When we subordinate it to the purpose of making a sale, the door to all kinds of manipulation (from both sides) opens up. Does asking for what we deserve and refusing to compromise on it make us egocentric and lacking in empathy? Some people have sadly been conditioned to think so. Some condition others to think so.
The complications arising from “building relationships” becomes even clearer when we turn our attention to other things that are peculiar about this human activity called selling. In my next post, I will turn my attention to one distinguishing factor: a sale always economic exchange. Typically this takes the form of an exchange of money whereby one person pays and the other person gets paid.
Let me start this series by describing the chain of events that led me to write it. Most of the specific events happened over the past 72 hours. Of course the foundation and deepest influence of everything is what I have learnt, and now coach, at CNI.
1) The first influence was a piece blog piece by a person whose work I read closely, and who I admire deeply – Dr. Mark Goulston. The piece I am referring to is titled “How to give a meaningful apology” which appeared in the blog he writes for the Harvard Business Review. Everything Dr. Goulston writes provokes me to engage him seriously. My interactions with him online, and the thoughts and ideas he shares on linkedIn have led me to conclude that he is a gentleman with a heart of gold, who is driven by a valid M&P, and is committed to building the kind of world that all of us prefer to live in. (I warmly recommend all his books. The one he refers to in that piece – Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone – is the best book I have read on improving one’s ability to listen better.)
The piece alludes to but does not focus on some issues – the destructive impact of invalid goals and invalid M&Ps along with the enthronement of numbers, outcomes, and results – that I have repeatedly raised in numerous previous pieces. This is understandable because the thrust of his piece is different. In this series, I will attempt to show the unseen roots of the events he describes, and a way to tackle the problems at the roots. We will all be better, more effective, and more authentically human if we learn to truly give a meaningful apology when you and I lose it. But that alone will not prevent the blow ups he describes from happening. The roots lie much deeper. Exposing those roots will not prevent blow ups. But they will make them far less frequent.
2) The second influence was a couple of email exchanges with a young man who recently discovered the work we do at CNI. He has just started learning the Camp System of Negotiation. This is part of what he wrote me:
“I work for a company that has a mission and vision that is internally focused i.e. to be a billion dollar company by 2018 and to have a 4% return on sales. Now that I am making an internal shift through CNI should I be looking for another place to hang my hat soon? I feel there may be a clash of belief and procedures the more I move forward with the Camp System.”
In another mail, he wrote
“Your writings have an impact of deep wisdom. Maybe CNI is a program of wisdom? Thank you for helping me with clarity early in my studies.
Yes I will set aside the time to invest in a life M and P to guide these big decisions and I will keep in mind the goal of desiring to be effective and respected.”
3) The third influence is a conversation I had with a young friend just started working selling insurance. After 2 weeks of training, he was sent out into the field. Shortly afterwards, he came to meet me. During our conversation, he described
- The dysfunctional competition that he perceives between his colleagues, and between his branch and other branches.
- How the industry was battling for credibility and the uphill battle he and others face as a result of the baggage that has arisen as a result of the ways in which insurance agents have conned customers in the past.
- The prevailing attitude in his firm being that the only thing that really matters are his results. As long as his results come rolling in, he’ll be left pretty much alone.
- How a substantial percentage of his pay is linked directly to the results he produces. He will not get paid in full if he doesn’t produce what is expected of him. (This, of course is standard practice in sales, across industries.)
This person is just setting out in the world of sales. He has been taught a few tricks and techniques, but neither he nor his organization are aware of the existence or importance of a valid System of Negotiation to succeed in sales. That being the case, it is not surprising that they do not see the link between mastery of such a System and consistent superior performance. The approach being used is one I described some time back in a piece I titled “Sales Quotas and the Great Jackass Theory of Human Motivation”. I also wrote extensively about this when I wrote about “Quota Land” in my Negotiation and Cold Calling series.
4) The fourth and final incident that triggered this piece was a video that a fellow training professional sent me, yesterday. When she sent it, she included a brief comment: “Thought of you when I saw this.” The video is a presentation made by the celebrated author, Daniel Pink and is titled “The Surprising Truth About Moving Others”. There’s a lot in there that is worth listening to. However, I am convinced that Mr. Pink makes a very good (but incomplete) diagnosis and does not offer a very effective prescription.
All these triggers relate, directly or indirectly to sales. Dr. Goulston’s piece (which involves a Senior VP, a sales manager and the team the former leads and the latter belongs to), the emails I received from the young professional who has just set out on the road to mastering the Camp System of Negotiation, my interaction with the young professional selling insurance, and watching Daniel Pink’s presentation combine to reveal what goes on in millions of organizations across the globe.
One last trigger
Despite the fact that the voluntary exchange of goods and services is an essential feature of human existence and contributes to human prosperity, some people have a lot of baggage with sales. They have had too many unpleasant encounters with pushy, manipulative, or deceptive sales professionals. The young insurance agent brought that to the fore when he mentioned the struggle he and his colleagues face in even getting people to listen to what they have to say.
To me, all these reveal that there’s something amiss in the world of selling. What lies at the root of this, the consequences of this, and how to fix it is the basic thrust of this series.
Sales is a challenging profession
The key words in the sub-title above are the adjective “challenging” and the noun “profession”. It is challenging and those who are unwilling to rise up to the challenge ought never enter it. It is precisely because it is a profession where mastery takes substantial effort that the stripes earned in sales are treasured – and rightly so. Those who enter it and are unwilling to rise to the challenge will eventually leave it. However, for far too many people, it is challenging for the wrong reasons. I will explain this, in detail, further down.
Denying that selling is a profession that takes as much effort, learning, and perfect practice to master as does any other profession reveals ignorance, prejudice, or perhaps, both. Part of this ignorance and prejudice is on display when the gung-ho extroverted sales person who makes things happen is contrasted with the sweet and quiet person who builds relationships and is willing to compromise to ensure that everybody walks away a winner. In relation to true effectiveness, both caricatures are just that – caricatures. Of course the stereotype that is propagated – even within the profession – is that the successful sales person is an extroverted (and sometimes hard charging) person who is willing to do what it takes to sign the deal. (In the video mentioned above, Daniel Pink states that empirical evidence shows that such gung-ho go getters are not more likely to succeed in sales than their introverted/quiet counterparts.) To my mind, this stereotype is what allows all kinds of charlatans to enter and thrive in sales – once they discover the way to game the system. This cannot last indefinitely, but for the period it does last, they end up causing grave damage.
The consequences of the pressures inherent in this profession make the dark side of sales appear really dark. Too many people in the profession undergo emotional and psychological abuse, deformation, conditioning, and scarring. I have met hundreds of them and I’m sure you have too. After a significant time spent selling, some sales people seem to acquire a persona and personality that is often completely at variance with their true selves. This in itself is tremendously damaging because a person cannot live in a state of conflict with himself or herself for the greater part of the work week and still be happy and fulfilled.
Another source of damage arises from the fact that selling is often an arena where power and leverage is sought and used – in order to “make the sale happen”. The search for, and use of power often makes it an emotionally charged interaction. The using of power is intimately connected with seeking to control others – to get them to make decisions they don’t want to take, or don’t feel emotionally safe and comfortable taking. The dynamic of power of course varies across the spectrum of those involved in the sale: buyers, sellers, middle men, competitors who are trying to upstage any of the previous three, regulatory authorities who have vested interests, or those who engage in rent-seeking behavior and can thereby prevent or derail the sale. The emotional and psychological pressures of dealing with all these can be very great.
Yet another deep challenge that sales offers is that of measuring, elevating, and rewarding effectiveness in a way that is not psychologically and emotionally deforming. Since results in sales can be easily tracked and measured (absolute values, percentages, ratios and more can be easily computed), those involved in sales can and often do develop an ineffective and destructive mindset that enthrones numbers, outcomes, and results. The manner in which performance is tracked and rewarded creates unhealthy, dysfunctional, and toxic competition. The pressures that people in it face daily to produce those “easily tracked and measured results” – is often strong enough to cause many otherwise good and decent people to engage in manipulation and deception – all in an effort to “close the sale”/“sign the deal”. Others who don’t like this cold-blooded approach swing to the opposite end and build relationships, go for win-win, and open themselves to all kinds of manipulation. They are often manipulated, repeatedly. When they become aware of it, they become embittered and psychological and emotional damage results, yet again.
There are dozens of other ways in which sales people are either exposed to emotional pressures and damage of all kinds, or expose themselves to such pressures and damage. The pressures arise from within and outside the team. To perceive one’s own team members as rivals defies the basic premise of teamwork. An organization that lumps people together so that it becomes easier to manage, track, or reward their performance, or one that seeks to grow while playing off one team member against another (or one branch, business unit, or operating geography against another) is essentially clueless about what teamwork is and what it is not.
Challenging dominant paradigms
When challenging conventional wisdom, it is important to keep in mind the existence of the backfire effect. This cognitive bias is one that all of us can easily fall into without realizing. An attempt to show a better, more effective, or more accurate way of perceiving reality can be deeply threatening to the narrative and the version people have built for themselves. Reality ends up as our nemesis only when we work at variance with it. When we work in conformity with it, it becomes our ally.
Too many sales professionals consider the damaging emotional and psychological effects to be “normal”. What this means is that they don’t even consider these effects as “damaging” or “abnormal”. They consider it to be part and parcel of sales, and the price that must be paid to excel in it. Sometimes, I even get the feeling that the implicit reasoning is “If you can’t bear the heat, get out of the kitchen”.
Many sales professionals are very defensive about the aspects of sales that I have raised in the preceding sub-section. This is not surprising. Many of my colleagues in my field of training and coaching become defensive when the issue of the effectiveness of training and coaching is raised. I know that those in the HR profession similarly become defensive when HR is called to provide justification for the budgets they demand/require or the initiatives they champion. Likewise, those in the legal profession become defensive when the issue of the excesses of lawyers is brought up; as do many doctors when the issue of medical malpractice comes up. Even teachers who make tremendous amounts of sacrifice in teaching young children become defensive when parents express concern about their teaching methods and/or how to improve learning in the classroom. Only a small minority of professionals in every field are willing to make the distinction between acknowledging things that are going wrong in that profession, being open and willing to take a hard look at the root causes and systemic impacts of what is going wrong, and not feel that this is a smear on the basic goodness and integrity of the people who are engaged in that profession. The backfire effect is universal.
In many negotiation situations, we humans act on the basis of what can best be described as an intuitive sense regarding who wields decision making rights in a group setting. After identifying such people, we often initiate the negotiation with that person through an intermediary. This implies that we identify those (we believe) wield influence with those who possess decision making rights with regards the decisions we seek. Examples abound:
Children learn at a young age to get mom to speak to dad about something that dad might not support, initially. (I’m certain that in certain situations it works the other way round too.)
Many subordinates speak to immediate superiors when when they wish to make a request to a superior’s superior.
Sales people sometimes speak to lower level employees in a company who they hope may be able to give them insight into the mindset, character, behavior, or priorities of those they intend to negotiate with.
Informal diplomatic channels are sometimes opened up by one of two parties who are in a state conflict, to see if the other is interested in direct formal negotiations. Those who are approached for these “pre-negotiations” are often people who possess a certain degree of influence (and credibility) with actual decision makers.
When we attempt to negotiate with someone we don’t know, we seek out friends or acquaintances who know that person or know someone who knows that person.
Very often, the effort to initiate a negotiation through an intermediary is an expression of a lack of negotiation mastery. In other situations, it is actually an expression of negotiation mastery. In all such situations, we make our decisions based on what we “see” regarding the intermediary’s knowledge, influence, standing, or credibility with the decision maker. Sadly, in complex negotiation projects, our intuition can be wrong, and we can easily be led astray by our own assumptions, expectations, neediness, or invalid goals. They blind us to reality and prevent us from seeing the actual decision makers, and negotiating with them. A decision making process that is not built on reality necessarily leads us to waste our budget in negotiations with phantom adversaries.
The inadequacy of formal decision making processes
In many complex negotiations, the formal decision making process must be seen and understood. It must serve an important orienting function – to provide us with certain landmarks to assist us get our bearings with regards the lay of the land. It may serve as a guide, but that cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty at the outset. This is simply because the formal decision making processes in business, politics, and in many other group settings cannot, by rule, be designed with a view of every conceivable situation that may arise. One such conceivable situation that was not foreseen might well be the negotiation you are involved in.
The organizational chart or a formal decision making process provides perfect cover for those with real influence to hide and exert their influence from behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the dutiful negotiator may be negotiating with a host of people, blissfully unaware of who is calling the shots. This is something that can be seen clearly after a complex negotiation project has ended in agreement. If you retrace your footsteps, you may be surprised to see how the actual decisions emerged, who made them, who influenced them, and how the decision making process diverged from whatever was on the organizational chart.
Finding the forces of influence and building the decision making process for an agreement is one of the most demanding challenges that negotiators face. Doing this in a conscious way requires negotiating mastery. It is also one at which most people fail. They then render their own efforts useless, and squander their own negotiation budgets. Given how taxing this can be physically, mentally, and emotionally, it’s a double waste – wasting your budget on a misguided/ignorant effort that was doomed to failure from the outset.
The failure to identify and negotiate with the real adversaries
One sees how regularly splinter groups seek to derail an agreement that is being negotiated by warring parties. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the current instability sweeping numerous parts of the Middle East; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the state of tension and conflict between India and Pakistan; the conflicts that wracked Northern Ireland; the conflict on the ground and the proxy wars being fought in Syria; the conflict raging in the Great Lakes region of Southern Africa, and many more, show, among other things, the reactions of those impacted by decisions taken at the negotiation table. They may then feel provoked to undermine or oppose those decisions.
In business/organizational settings, ignoring or excluding those who have a stake in the status quo, are impacted by a change to the status quo, or are feeling rattled by the prospect of a change to the status quo, will create tomorrow’s problems, today. The temporal aspect of negotiation – negotiations occur within the continuum of the past, present, and future – means that far more people than those at the table are impacting, and impacted by, the negotiation. The agreement reached today will be implemented tomorrow. Remember, too, that the pain that the adversary is facing may easily be the result of ineffective decisions taken yesterday. Nobody likes to be held responsible for such decisions. Even fewer will actually own up and accept responsibility. In an era where CEOs of multi-billion dollar concerns are replaced regularly as a result of the adverse consequences of the decisions they took or did not take, everybody else necessarily feels insecure and expendable. This can have very grave consequences for the agreement being negotiated.
The revengeful “no”
If a person or group has a stake in a negotiation and feels excluded from it, they can feel like their right to veto is being overridden. They will then express that right to veto how, where, and when they can. Count on it!
This “no” might be expressed in the negotiation you are currently involved in but might have its origin in another negotiation you are unaware of and which may not have had anything to do with you. Such business deals may never come to fruition because those who are saying “no” have not been identified or negotiated with. As a result, the vision driving their “no” remains unknown while simultaneously preventing this negotiation from moving forward.
Such a “no” might also be expressed during the implementation of the deal. An M&A that is announced with much fanfare might fail when those who live with the reality of conflicting work cultures express a very individual and collective “no” that undermines the rational justification for the deal in the first place. If you don’t welcome a “no” you will crash against it.
Once these emotional reactions kick in, every rational justification made by those who “created” that change will fall flat, and perhaps, even increase the intensity of the. This is regardless of whether that change is the fruit of a negotiation or not. It is often a reflex action that drips with emotion. Essentially, these reactions are a “no” that ought to have been engaged at the negotiation table, but were not. Every “no” that is not acknowledged will create emotional pressure that will manifest somewhere or the other. Such a “no” is driven by vision – a vision that inspires fear, uncertainty, stress, increased effort, a feeling of being controlled, a feeling of being excluded or devalued, a reaction against harm that may befall them etc. Many of these reactions may be the fruit of assumptions and expectations that have no basis in actual fact. But the fact that those at the negotiation table did not engage these adversaries means that they are left to negotiate with their own phantom adversaries. This in turn affects everybody else. Thus, if you end up negotiating with “phantom adversaries” your real adversaries may also end up, simultaneously, negotiating with “phantom” adversaries.
If you don’t fall prey to your neediness and your own expectations and assumptions, you will be able to discover and see “who” and “what” is standing in the way of each “yes” and “who” and “what” is driving each “no”. In the process, you will be both discovering (perhaps fractured) vision, and building unified vision.
The building of unified vision is mandatory if you wish to get an agreement that sticks. Many negotiation settings are complex. They may or may not be devoid of politicking and dysfunction. Even if they are not driven by the competing visions born of dysfunction, they will likely be composed of people working with the “partial vision” of their immediate situations, circumstances, and priorities. Many people therefore have their plates full. When you show up, they are not going to drop everything and give you their undivided attention and/support. How often does that happen when someone appears to negotiate with you, your organization, or a group you are a part of?
You must identify those who ought to say “yes”, those who can say “no”, and those whose “maybe” ought to be converted to a definite “no” or “yes”. If the “maybe” is converted to a “no”, it must subsequently be converted to a “yes”. If you don’t engage those who must say “yes”, those whose “no” must be converted to “yes”, and those whose “maybe” is holding things up, you cannot get to the agreement you seek.
Vision drives decisions. In complex negotiation settings, you must think: “Unified and harmonized vision drives decisions”. This is what will lead you to seek and find answers to “Whose vision?” side by side with answers to “What vision?” As you seek to build unified and harmonized vision, you ought to constantly ask yourself:
1) Who is responsible for a particular decision?
2) Who is impacted by a particular decision?
3) Who may be attempting to influence a particular decision?
4) Who is living with the pain of the status quo?
5) Who is benefiting from, responsible for, or defensive about the status quo?
6) What am I missing?
7) Who am I missing?
Reality dictates what the decision making process ought to be
We must base and build our efforts on reality or crash against it. The nature and extent of the problems that bring parties to the negotiation table; negotiating with those who are actually responsible for decisions; involving those who have influence over decisions or who are impacted by decisions – all these are what defines the reality that comprise and compose the answers to “Whose vision?” and “What vision?”.
Ultimately, reality dictates who your real adversaries are. If you are attentive, it will point them out to you. If you are not, both you and your real adversaries may end up negotiating with phantom ones.
Please share your thoughts with us and comment below.
The link between individual and team effort
When I started this piece, I deliberately did not plunge into a description of the difficulties and challenges encountered on a call. These are important – and I daresay most people will readily admit to the existence of those difficulties and challenges. I also suspect that many will agree that a number of the prescriptions out there simply don’t work as well as they claim to – or don’t work at all. This informed my decision to take the longer route of diagnosing the realities of the paradigms and mental maps at play which shape organizational life, and which directly or indirectly impact an organization’s cold calling efforts. It is also why I decided to emphasize that the efforts to fix an organization’s cold calling efforts cannot be done in isolation. Everything is indeed connected to everything else. When offering prescriptions, I try to constantly keep those words attributed to Einstein, in mind: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” I have attempted to offer a holistic picture of the problems associated with cold calling. This also informed my decision to share thoughts, ideas, and prescriptions from guides whose judgment I trust. It is also why this series bears the title it does.
I have dedicated the last 5 posts listing out a number of problems that individuals engaged in cold calling encounter or cause. These are undoubtedly not the only problems that can be encountered. It’s more than a bit silly to learn a martial art, flying, or a team sport by listing out a catalogue of the problems that might be encountered and then creating a similar list of “If this, then that” solutions. The solution is to master a valid System related to whichever human performance event one wishes to master. For a System to be valid, it must, above all, be based on the principles that govern that human performance event.
I have repeatedly pointed out that cold calling is often a team effort. If the outcome you seek from cold calling depends on the efforts of more than one person, it is a team effort. The only situation in which it is not a team effort is if you are the only person responsible for placing the call and delivering the benefits that you are offering. By any stretch of the imagination, this is unlikely. Perhaps if you are looking for a job and decide to call up prospective employers, or you are a freelancer working from home without any other support staff to assist you, this may be the situation you are facing. Aside from that, cold calling is always part of a larger team effort.
A team composed of individuals who don’t accurately perceive, interpret, and re-react to the realities associated with that human performance event will necessarily devolve into a group of people working at cross purposes with each other. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. One or more untrained or poorly trained individuals can cause the entire effort to unravel. If the entire team is composed of untrained or poorly trained individuals, the consequences and results are what they are, and will remain what they have been. Unfortunately, untrained or poorly trained team members are not the only danger. Dangers also arise from exceptionally well trained individuals being driven by conflicting visions, don’t focus and coordinate their efforts, or who – to use the cliché that has gained currency in most team/group environments – are “not on the same page”. A group of exceptionally well trained negotiators can still make a mess of things as a result of miscommunication, a lack of communication, differing and conflicting visions, forgetfulness, and, above all, a valid System which enables them prepare, execute, and debrief each negotiation, as a team. Negotiation is a learned human performance event. But, very often, it is a learned human performance team event. Individual mastery is a necessary but insufficient condition for team and organizational negotiation mastery. That is why mastering negotiation management is indispensable.
Cold Calling and Negotiation Management
At CNI, we refer to a negotiation as the “negotiation project”. The number of people whose decisions, behaviors, activities, and efforts have to be coordinated – so that you can make and influence the decisions that move you towards agreement – makes this a very apt name. CNI’s students come across this statement during their training: “The word “project” is appropriate because the players, budgets, timelines, research, events etc. require orchestration and management.”
Without a Negotiation Management System to guide every aspect of the sales effort, the entire sales effort becomes a gamble. Everybody must know what the effort is focused on –in real time. Otherwise people begin sabotaging each other’s efforts. This more likely happens out of ignorance rather than malice. It also happens because of the effects of “Quota Land” which I have written about, extensively, in previous pieces.
The solution: The Camp Checklist and Log
The Camp Checklist is the tool that enables a disciplined, coordinated, focused and unified way to prepare and execute a negotiation, regardless of its complexity. It is built on a valid M&P which is directly derived from the valid M&P of that organization. Those who are engaged in the negotiation – a business unit, a business function, a cross-functional team, or multiple teams in multiple geographies who are separated by time, space, and culture – gain the means to work as a single cohesive unit during the preparation and execution stage. Each team member knows what their personal tasks and responsibilities are at each stage of the negotiation, see how their efforts help or hinder the efforts of others, and are aware of the efforts, tasks, and responsibilities of each of their other team members. The Checklist ensures that you negotiate an agenda for the next engagement before that engagement. It helps you build the (negotiated) “tracks” on which decisions can “run”.
The Camp Log offers a systematic way to debrief each negotiation. This Log is then used to build the next Checklist for the next negotiation engagement in the negotiation project. The cycle of Checklists and Logs then continues to guide the negotiation and aligns every person’s efforts, behaviors, activities, decisions, and re-reactions to whatever is encountered during the negotiation. It creates an excellent documented history of the negotiation. But that’s not all.
The Checklists and Logs are internally generated tools for learning that cannot be “created” by management, the learning and development function, external (training) consultants, or anyone else. It is self-generated by the team, during the event. It is a document that is custom-made and custom-built to the realities facing that organization at that point in time. Individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole get the opportunity to track and evaluate their performance, identify areas of strength and weakness, and set out on an ever upward spiral of learning and growth.
Checklists and Logs, Cold Calling, and the overall sales effort.
The Checklist that has been executed and the Log that is created after the Cold Call is the communication and collaboration tool that builds the same picture in the minds of each team member with regards where a particular negotiation is, at any one point in time. Checklists and Logs that are prepared together are an excellent way to get rid of blame games and dispersed efforts. They are also a tool to identify weaknesses and mistakes, acknowledge them in the next negotiation, and move the negotiation project forward. They are also the link between internal and external negotiations. If the internal negotiations are going badly, the external negotiations will go just as badly, and often, much worse. In such instances, it becomes a return to gambling.
When the entire sales effort is founded and becomes guided by one valid M&P and is aligned to the effort to influence the (clearly identified) decisions required to move the negotiation forward, guessing, wishing, hoping, praying, blaming, or winging it are not merely discarded. They are actually replaced with something that is much more superior and effective. Slowly, teamwork is “created”, and leadership is demonstrated, seen, observed, and learnt. Cohesion and engagement replaces dysfunction and disengagement. A sense of personal responsibility and mutual accountability are built into the entire effort. The roles and efforts of individuals become clearer: those who do what is required of them; how well they do it; and those who don’t. It is a good way of identifying every team member who is coasting along – including managers.
Performance improvement efforts can be targeted and delivered to those who stand in need of more training and coaching, and the kind of training and coaching they require. Mentoring becomes easier because you and your subordinates see each other in the thick of action. Finally, those who refuse to improve can be asked to leave. Not everyone is a right fit for every team. Others can be reassigned to other roles that might be more suited to their personality and/or interests. Performance at both individual and team levels rises. Organizational performance improves, sometimes in a very dramatic manner.
Seeing and treating Cold Calling as the professional (and professional’s) work that it is
The story of the three stonecutters is well known. Each of the three stone cutters is an apt description of the way in which individuals, teams, and organizations see cold calling. Some are cutting stones, others are building cathedrals, and some are in between.
Those who engage in cold calling are sometimes treated as those at the lowest end of the pecking order. It doesn’t help that those who engage in cold calling see themselves in such a light too. It’s also a severely distorted view of reality. When (and not until) cold calling is seen as part of the effort to put your best foot forward (as an individual and as an organization), will you begin to “see” how carefully it must be done. You also see that it must be done with the same degree of professionalism and deep expertise that you require of any or every other aspect of your organizational efforts. If your organization chooses to use cold calling, the effort to do it well costs a lot more than the effort to do it badly. The rewards are also far greater than whatever you gain by doing it in a haphazard, number-crunching, mind-numbing, and quota-driven manner.
When all is said and done, the decision to rely on cold calling as part of your sales effort is one that must be directly aligned to your valid M&P and fit in with your strategy to win in the market. It’s not a fit for many organizations. But if it is, what stops you from doing it well?
Please share your comments below. We’d love to know what’s on your mind.
22) You agree to a follow up call or secure a face to face meeting without negotiating an agenda
In the previous post I wrote for this series, I concluded with the point that your adversary asking for a presentation can actually be a problem that you encounter or cause. To conclude it is an “opportunity” or that it is bound to move you in the direction of a favorable outcome is a sign that a person doesn’t understand the dynamics at play. One must be exceedingly careful in in all situations whereby the cold call is followed by a face-to-face negotiation. Here, you encounter another problem that totally escapes the attention of many people: every face-to-face negotiation requires a negotiated agenda – and agenda that is negotiated before the face-to-face engagement and as part of the decision to meet.
Many of those engaged in cold calling pass on the appointment as a lead to their colleagues. Others who are engaged in both cold calling and meeting face-to-face with the prospect often get excited that they have at least been able to get a foot through the door not realizing that a negotiation without a prior negotiated agenda has no tracks for the decisions you and the adversary will make and ought to make. Everything becomes ad-hoc and chaotic. It is a good way of opening yourself up to manipulation: you provide them with the information which they use to beat your competition, and then use the concessions extracted from the competition to beat you on the head and in turn, extract concessions from you. Your meeting becomes a round of shadow boxing in which you and the competition slug it out without even being in the same room, while the adversary sits back and enjoys the show. Yes, during that time, he or she may be talking the language of “win-win”, “strategic partnership”, “long-term relationship”, “vendor of choice”, or may say they are “unhappy with their current vendor and/or are looking for a change (provided the price is right)”, and more.
Not negotiating an agenda – negotiating and agenda is a negotiation within the larger negotiation and you must demonstrate the same level of negotiation mastery while negotiating the agenda as while negotiating any other decision – is a much bigger problem than is apparent at first. It is not simply a question of whom you will talk to, what you will talk about, or in which order you will talk about them. It’s actually about building the decision making process for that negotiation. I doubt if any B2B negotiation has ready-made tracks. I find it exceptionally unlikely.
It is the “tracks” that you build with a negotiated agenda that help you discover what problems stand in the way of a negotiated agreement, the decisions that ought to be made to solve those problems, who will make those decisions, and how best to widen the negotiation to include those people – so that they become a part of the negotiation – and so that you can actually negotiate with them. By widening the net to include blockers, influencers, and decision-makers, you ensure that you fully engage the pain of the adversary. You introduce a degree of openness and transparency that might be genuinely surprising to the adversary. It may act as a brake and may slow down the negotiation. But that is because you are seeking to make and to influence effective decisions that stick.
It is by negotiating with all these people that you can gain insight into the real issues driving the negotiation, get a clear picture of the adversary’s world, and build unified vision. Without this, you will be negotiating blindly. The appointment you get will often be worthless. The negotiated agenda therefore also helps you surface the problems associated with the decision making process for that particular deal.
This point is important enough that I will repeat it here: the agenda must be negotiated, not imposed. Thus, the right to veto – to say “no” – must be respected. You must build vision, must nurture, be unokay, listen, ask good questions etc. as and when required.
I shall not show in detail what the agenda looks like. The agenda that is taught at CNI consists of 5 parts and is part of the Checklist prepared prior to each negotiation, and executed during each negotiation. You can read up a detailed explanation in either of Jim’s books – one of which is available on this website for free download.
23) Not knowing how to identify the real problems holding up this negotiation
I consider the most elementary rule of problem solving to be that of solving the right problem from its roots. Solving the wrong problem or the right problem in the wrong way or solving symptoms instead of root causes is a good way to waste everyone’s time and waste precious resources.
In every negotiation you are engaged in, you must learn to identify the real problems that are standing in the way/preventing this negotiation moving forward. These problems can be anything or everything. They will often – though not always – revolve around decisions, decision making, and decision makers. (Some negotiations can be held back as a result of events and circumstances that the parties at the table cannot solve.) Problems can also arise from lack of clarity about the adversary’s pain, lack of awareness of their budget, lack of a decision making process, not having access to the decision makers and to everyone who either has a say or has influence over the decision. The lack of unified vision may be a problem. Any dysfunction (turf wars, politicking, unresolved conflicts etc.) on their side can prove to be a problem that effectively prevents you from discovering and building unified vision. This is why the agenda you negotiate must include the real problems that are standing in your way, and the decisions that are required to solve them.
Not knowing this when you are negotiating an agenda is to set yourself (or your team member) up for failure.
25) Not knowing how to re-react to the adversary, and to the moment, in the moment
The inability to re-react calmly, confidently, and appropriately, is one of the biggest handicaps of a negotiator. Negotiations arise as a result of, or in order to bring about, change. And change provokes behaviors and decisions of every conceivable kind.
In point no. 8, I wrote about the ability to “the ability to remain fully in the moment and fully responsive to the moment”. I tied it to the ability to blankslate – to rid oneself of all assumptions and expectations. Without blankslating, one often ends up negotiating against oneself, or more accurately against the “phantom adversaries” of one’s own expectations and assumptions. Rare is the person engaged in cold calling who places the call with a completely blankslated mind. However, assumptions and expectations are not the only things that prevent you from re-reacting to the adversary and to every kind of change, in the moment.
I am not surprised that in the same article, the sales guru I quoted in point number 5 writes: “You have made a significant emotional investment in the sale. Your emotions rise and fall with the decisions of other people. Sometimes you score. Sometimes you don’t. Either way, there’s an overflow of emotional energy.” After all, the piece is titled “Fifty shades of sales. Putting Emotion First and Price Second”.
I must admit that I agree, partially, to what the author states. The emotions of untrained negotiators or a team of untrained negotiators do rise and fall with the decisions, words, tone, and behaviors of their negotiation adversaries. It is because they are untrained that this happens. That’s why they don’t act or re-react in line with the principles, rules, and laws that make it possible to reach agreement, and that makes them to negotiate blindly. Just as such people might easily end up negotiating with the “phantom adversaries” of their own expectations and assumptions, they could also end up reacting to their own emotions – fear, neediness, anger, jadedness etc. – rather than negotiating with the adversary. Adversaries who are expert at manipulating emotions then have a field day. Such people are also totally unprepared to re-react to objections, brush offs, manipulation, threats, ultimatums, or any other thing thrown at them from the person or people on the other side of the call.
26) Look to yourself as the root of all problems
The second point I raised in this long list was titled “Baggage that arises at any point during a cold call”. At CNI, you are taught to start by taking a hard look at yourself as the source of all problems. This includes, but is certainly not limited to baggage.
The starting point is to assess whether or not you have mastered negotiation. Negotiation mastery is something that is not acquired even after years of repeated practice. After all, practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Negotiation and sales are learned human performance events that require mastery. To master any such human performance event, each person requires two things: a valid System, and a coach. Without a systematic way to effectively prepare, execute, and debrief each cold call, each call will end up being a gamble. There is simply no way around it. Mastery is not achieved through tactics, techniques, tricks, or gimmicks, or piecemeal approaches.
The lack of a System that helps you acquire mastery and develop the mindset associated with mastery robs you of the opportunity to learn from failure, replicate success, and set out on an upward spiral of learning and growth. Above all, it means you don’t know how to solve the problems you encounter and how to avoid causing or creating problems during the negotiation engagement.
The lack of mastery spawns a huge number of challenges at the level of the individual and wreaks havoc at the team level. Even if all individuals in the team are excellent negotiators, without mastery of negotiation management, that team’s performance will be way below what it could be. In my next and concluding post of this series, I will address this aspect of mastery.
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A rule of the Camp system is to never make assumptions. Actually, it instructs us to almost never make assumptions. When creating a checklist Camp negotiators will make some assumptions about baggage that our adversary has with us, so that we raise it when appropriate and find out if it is indeed a problem and solve it if necessary. But otherwise, the Camp rule is not to make assumptions.
The word we often has a lot of assumptions embedded in it. If I say to someone standing next to me, “We are standing here”, I am not making an assumption. I can verify it, so it is not an assumption. But if I say to that same person, “We are better off sitting down”, I am making an assumption that it is better for them to sit down. It seems harmless enough to insert we, but it really is no different than saying to them, “You are better off sitting down”. The assumption made is more obvious when you use you than when you use we, but it is there nonetheless.
Using precise language, and asking negotiation team members and adversaries to use precise language, helps eliminate dangerous assumptions.
For example, asking a client after they sit down in your office, “Why are we here?” muddies the waters. They will have to guess why you are there in addition to sorting through their own reasons for being there. But if you ask “Why are you here today?, you have framed an opportunity for them to share something that is actually within their grasp. It is a very important to your negotiation success to pay attention to these details.
Look at some examples of different levels of precision in language: “What problems are you facing?” vs. ‘What problems are you facing in your business? Vs. What marketing problems are you facing in your business?”
The habit of being precise in language is well worth forming. People often wonder what holds them back in their negotiations and personal interactions, and very often poor word choices are what create the sticking points. My good intentions mean little when they don’t reflect the world of my respected opponent and what they are able to see. The road to negotiation hell is paved with these good intentions. I tread most effectively in the world of my adversary with careful attention to my word selection, not just by having faith in what I intended my words to mean. Words that paint the clearest pictures in the world of the adversary are going to be most safe and effective. It starts by recognizing that you and I will be easier to define and more beneficial to focus on than we can ever be.
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19) What is the next decision you seek?
A characteristic feature of the way untrained negotiators speak is to think in terms of a favorable outcome or event.
How many times have you heard these or similar things?
“I want to get that job”
“I want at least a 20% hike on my current salary”
“I want him/her to start/stop doing ______”
“I want him/her to leave me alone”
“I want to speak to the decision maker”
“I want to get _______”
“I want the bank to agree to give me the loan”
“I want to buy (sell) it from (to) him/her”
“I want him/her to do his/her homework”
“I want them to be a bit more punctual”
“I want them to take _______ with a bit more seriousness”
“I want him/her/them to make a serious offer”
In cold calling, one hears:
“I want to get past the gatekeeper”
“I want to talk to the decision maker”
“I want to make the sale”
“I want to set up a meeting”
“I want follow up with ______”
“I want to find out their timelines/budget/issues etc.”
“I want to find out their requirements”
(An “I want _______” mindset instead of an “I need ______” one is in itself a huge advance in not conditioning oneself into a habitual state of neediness. But even that “I want _______” will not provide you with the clarity about what the next decision is, who must make it, and how it will move the negotiation forward.)
For us human beings, it is just as easy to lose our focus as it is to focus on the wrong thing or to focus on the right thing in the wrong way.
The statements above are rife with a number of negotiation errors. Two stand out: these are your-world centered statements and they contain no reference to what you want in terms of a decision from the other side.
Clarity regarding what you really want
When I first encountered Jim’s teaching that I ought to think of “What I want” from a negotiation in terms of a decision from the other side, it made perfect sense. Of course what I want from a negotiation depends on a decision that the other party makes or ought to make. If I can influence that decision, the negotiation can move forward and I can either get what I want or move closer to getting what I want.
What I really want is something that I cannot get without a decision from my adversary. If I could, I wouldn’t be negotiating. I wouldn’t be calling this person if I can get what I want without making this call.
This is one more reason as to why a valid M&P is crucial. Since a valid M&P is built from the problems in the adversary’s world, it helps you see those problems and see clearly the benefits that your efforts are bringing to the adversary. Whether your efforts can help to turn a bad situation around; help the adversary profitably use an existing or emerging opportunity; solve a problem/challenge; or overcome a constraint that is hampering his/her efforts etc., a valid M&P ensures that “what I want” does not trap me in my own world. From that valid M&P, you can derive an M&P that focuses your efforts on discovering whether or not you can actually benefit the adversary. At the start of a cold call, you may only have a broad or vague idea (and sometimes, no idea at all) about the adversary’s exact issues and circumstances. A valid M&P that helps you discover that you cannot help a particular adversary ensures that you don’t spend your budget on this negotiation.
The more focused a person is on chasing invalid goals, the harder it is to develop the clarity of thinking of what one wants in terms of decision that the adversary ought to make. In such instances, the pull of “Quota Land” means that I think of what I want in terms of my world, my quota, my sale, my bonus, or my whatever.
When you see what you want in terms of a decision you want the other person to make – which you must always give the opportunity reject or accept – you gain tremendous focus with regards the reason you are placing this call, talking with this person, and want that person to agree to something or the other. This in itself is tremendous advantage in terms of clarity of thinking, but it is not the only resulting benefit. Simultaneously, thinking in terms of a decision that you want the other to make helps focus your efforts in building vision in terms of that vision, and then of focusing the adversary’s attention on that decision. In this way, you help reduce the clutter or muddle in the adversary’s world and help focus his/her attention on the implications of that decision. Hidden problems may emerge which you can then make the effort to solve. By respecting the right to veto (meaning you are not even thinking in terms of closing); speaking and behaving in a nurturing manner; by being willing to be unokay with respect the other person; and by being and remaining in a state of emotional calm, the person can see what you are asking for – and make a decision that he/she takes responsibility for.
In the Camp System, “what you want” forms part of the agenda you prepare for each negotiation, which in turn forms part of the ultimate tool at your disposal for perfect preparation – the Camp Checklist. I shall write about when I have finished addressing this list of problems that individuals encounter or cause, during cold calling.
20) Inability to calmly navigate those delicate moments when you ask a tough question
Every interaction can take a sudden turn when you feel an intense desire to ask a particular question of say some particular thing but are afraid to. You don’t know how the other person will react to it. (It is infinitely more difficult when using the written medium.) During a conversation in which you cannot see the other person and so cannot observe non-verbal cues, this can make such moments even more trying. You can’t just ask any question you want or say just about anything simply because the other person is sounding calm and relaxed, is listening deeply to what you are saying, or is providing thoughtful answers to your questions. However you slice and dice it, some questions or statements are like a magnifying glass that focuses the sunlight onto a piece of paper sufficiently to cause it to burst into flames. At such moments, even nurturing, being unokay, listening deeply, asking good questions, respecting and encouraging the other’s right to say “no” etc. may still fall short. This is the moment for the tool that you enables you negotiate and pass through those moments, and helps the adversary pass through them too without provoking emotional turmoil. It’s called the “mini-agenda” and it is negotiated in the moment.
Every mini-agenda is a “mini-negotiation”. Using it effectively demands everything that applies in the larger negotiation: nurturing, being unokay, respecting the right to veto, using the 3+ rule etc. Above all, you prepare the other person – emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. You ask if you may ask a tough question of say something that is hard, that may sound self-serving, or that may not be pleasant to hear. This preparing the other person actually cushions the blow. It’s then not something that comes out of nowhere. Only then do you ask that tough question or make that tough statement.
The very fact that you use the mini-agenda prevents emotional pressure from developing – at least as much as is humanly possible. It acknowledges the power and autonomy of the other person – to decide, freely and without compulsion. The person is free to answer or to make any decision that may be required.
The nature of such delicate moments will obviously vary from one situation to the other. But if you don’t get past them, that call is going nowhere, and that negotiation is as good as dead.
21) They want a presentation
In relation to cold calling, many people will consider it crazy that their “wanting a presentation” is a problem that is “encountered” or “caused” during cold calling. I can hear people “Hey, you know what? You really are crazy. If they agreed to a presentation, it implies the call went well.” (Of course if another person is going to make it, the implicit assumption is also that “I hope Joe/Pete/Jan/Jane doesn’t screw it up”.)
A number of training gurus are discovering that presentations are not the great ally or tool they were once thought to be. Of course a large number are still caught up in helping people to make increasingly better presentations. The number of people who earn a living from teaching people to make presentations that will knock the socks off their attendees is not insignificant. I run the risk of drawing their ire by reiterating what we teach at CNI:
(i) The greatest presentation you will ever make is the ones the adversary never sees. This of course happens only if you learn to build vision.
(ii) As much as is humanly possible, get them to present to you.
In cold calling, agreeing to a presentation just because the other person asks for one is a problem that is encountered or caused – and reveals as much naiveté as ignorance. It might even be a sign of underlying neediness.
How do you know that the presentation is not designed to get your side to divulge information which can be used to beat you and your competitors on the head? (If they ask you for a presentation, they are probably asking many others. Then, they can watch the unfolding death spiral – to get a deal and any deal regardless of what it costs you.)
How do you know that you are presenting to the right people – those whose vision must be built in order to drive the decisions required to move the negotiation forward? How do you know who these people are?
How sure are you that the presentation is set in, and tailored to, the adversary’s world, and addresses their real issues?
Above all, how sure are you that the presentation will build vision? If it doesn’t it’s a waste of time, effort, and probably lots more.
By definition, a presentation delivers intellectual information. Recall is poor. It also puts people in the intellectual mode. They are agreeing and disagreeing – as the presentation is made. It is a perfect tool to build objections and cause disagreement – which you then have to negotiate. It can easily set up a dysfunctional cycle.
On a cold call, you must negotiate and see if you can get them to present to you. Such a presentation will give you an insight into their challenges and priorities. It might not always be possible, but you must try. If you simply must make a presentation, you must negotiate what it will and won’t contain, to whom your side will be presenting, and what happens after the presentation. Thinking that their agreeing to a presentation has moved the negotiation forward betrays ignorance about how human beings make decisions, and how to discover and build vision. It’s a great tool to hide behind. Compared to making a presentation, building vision (the presentation you don’t make) is demanding.
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Over the past few months, I have become fascinated by a reality I have come to term “dangling decisions”. I have noticed that this particular “variety” of decisions is a staple feature in our individual and collective lives.
By dangling decisions I am not referring to the mistaken decisions we make. We can’t avoid making mistakes and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am also not merely referring to decisions made on the spur of the moment. Some decisions made on the spur of the moment end up being effective precisely because that decision is followed up and reinforced by other effective decisions in a “focused and coordinated” manner – a manner of description I picked up from Richard Rumelt’s book “Good Strategy Bad Strategy”.
By dangling decisions, I refer to decisions that give birth to an effort that is supposed to help a person or a group achieve something good, important, or worthwhile, but which doesn’t do so because they lack valid reference points and/or are not followed up in a “focused and coordinated” manner with subsequent effective decisions. When people make such decisions, they are like a ship or a plane whose navigation systems have shut down. They are not necessarily at a standstill. However, they are also not very clear (or sometimes are very muddled up!) regarding where they are, where they are headed to, and where they are coming from.
Personally, I have discovered that the distinguishing feature of such decisions is an inability to answer two questions: “Why am I doing ______ , _______ , and _________?” and the corollary “Why am I not doing ________, ________ and ________?”. The Toyota Production System asks “why” 5 times to determine the root cause of a problem. You can adapt it to determine why you are engaged in a particular effort. The inability to answer this is why I stated that such individuals or groups appear like ships or planes that are lost.
If you look closely, you will see dangling decisions are a staple feature of people’s lives. If you and I are honest, we will see those moments when we have made or continue to make such decisions. Ultimately, like all ineffective decisions, a dangling decision is one that is made on the basis of not perceiving or facing reality as reality is, or not responding to it as it is.
Safeguards against “dangling decisions”
To clarify to myself if I am making a dangling decision, I have come up with this set of questions. You can agree or disagree with any or all of them. I do hope that you will engage them before agreeing or disagreeing.
1) What sincere and committed efforts am I making to see, to the best of my ability, the realities connected to this decision? What is the link between this decision and previous, current, and future ones?
2) To ask the above question from a different perspective, it is useful to ask “How does this decision fit into a plan that helps me identify, understand, engage, and solve the real problem(s) that I, my team, my family, my organization, or my near and dear ones are facing? How does it help me implement this plan?
3) How does this plan move me towards a specific desirable, important, or worthwhile objective?
4) What is the link between that objective and my valid M&P?
5) What is the link between this decision and my valid M&P?
6) What negotiation – that I am engaged in – does this decision moves forward? OR What negotiation will I become engaged in as a result of this decision? How prepared am I to prepare, execute, and debrief those negotiations? How aware and centered am I if I have no time to prepare it? (This happens quite often so it’s good to become aware of the fact that one is involved in a negotiation even when one has not had the time to prepare it.)
7) Am I trying to, or attempting to try to control what I cannot control? Am I attempting to achieve something important to me by trying to control what I cannot control?
Question 5 is essential because our decisions are intrinsically connected to the decisions of others and to the realities in their lives. A person or group can make very few decisions which have no impact or influence on at least one other person or group of people. To make a decision and to be unprepared for, or unaware of, the negotiations that follow from it, is a good way to make dangling decisions.
What we sow is what we reap
Many times, we may not be able to see the full import of a carefully thought out and well-planned decision that is in line with a valid M&P, specific objectives, and is part of a plan. We may have to keep “readjusting” our efforts as we come to see reality better and better – especially as it unfolds. Every decision comes with one or more consequences – not all of which may be or even can be clear at the moment we make it. We may have to make decisions in the face of incomplete information, change, risk, uncertainty, insufficient resources, constraints of every conceivable kind, and more. That is not going to change. But how much are your efforts and mine worsened, diffused, hampered, or thrown off track on account of “dangling decisions?”
Of its own, making dangling decisions cause more than enough trouble. But it’s also important to be on your guard because the dangling decisions of others may drag you into negotiations with them. After all, if your dangling decisions impact others, theirs are just as likely to impact you too, right? Maybe that can be called “the democracy of dangling decisions”.
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