October 19, 2012 Leave a comment
In his blog series Leading While Naked, Paul Shultz, Slalom Consulting’s Dallas General Manager, reflects on leadership and the lessons found in Patrick Lencioni’s business fable Getting Naked and Charlene Li’s work Open Leadership. As Paul says: “Leading and managing a professional service firm in today’s connected times, with heartfelt attention to the absolute fact that people matter, proves to be a remarkable journey.”
We’re losing this business!
I haven’t closed many sales pursuits by selling. And most buyers haven’t bought much consulting work by buying. Uhhhh, what? Read on.
We encounter lots of opportunities to develop business from RFPs to extensions of work at existing clients to that random encounter with friends when the topic of “what do you do for a living” comes up. And all shades in between. And in those pursuits that have moved smoothly and successfully from “help me” to “I’ll trust you to do that” pure selling and buying played minor roles. If any. I’m not talking so much about the formal process – I’m talking about the reality of the decision maker’s mind – and heart.
It’s funny how when we fear losing the business (Patrick Lencioni’s first mentioned fear in his book Getting Naked) we fall into deadly behaviors that unless cured, seem to drive us into exactly the result we fear – we lose the business.
It was a really big deal – a “make it” kind of deal – and we were leading and pulling away. Cruising along in the race executing our selling approach – dotting i’s, crossing t’s, step left, step right, check the box, etc. And then this little birdie said “how is life when losing?” Reaction? You know the feeling – looking in the mirror, heart pumping, irrational thoughts, splash some cold water on the face. Later after checking and feeling a bit, it was true – we were not winning this business.
Some say “change the game” when you don’t think you can win with the buyer’s rules. Sometimes works. Risky. Depends on a lot of factors. Didn’t agree that those factors existed here and I’m not sure I like the classic approach to that strategy much anyway.
Lencioni offers the same notion – but from a deeper-seated relationship perspective. Paraphrasing a bit: prove you are more interested in helping people in their business and not preserving your own revenue stream – and thus, you are likely to preserve your revenue stream. Ergo, act like you are not afraid of losing the business or you likely already have.
Much gnashing of teeth and wearing sackcloth on our part. Well, sorta. Knowing we were behind and confident in our abilities, we asked for a meeting to discuss our position, our thoughts, and our potential to withdraw from the fray. They agreed. Almost surprisingly. But that is another story.
We shared some kind truths, expressed our understanding and feelings about our current position, and asked a simple question: “do you really know what it is like to experience working with us?” Like asking someone do you really know what jalapeno jelly tastes like: you read the ingredients, you know what jalapenos are, you get the concept of jelly – but unless you have tasted it, you really don’t know what it tastes like.
That is what we were really asking them. Wouldn’t you like to “taste” what working with us is like? To experience that, we suggested that right there we do a little consulting about one of the processes they needed help on – with the risky bet that if they didn’t like our way, feel, aka “taste” that we would not be a good fit for them anyway. Better to know now and move along than to drag out the process any further. That was our pitch.
So we worked openly with them – digested, diagnosed, and developed some conclusions about one of their problem areas – and at the end, checked in with them on the experiment. Telling sign was that they were so engaged that none of them realized 2 hours had passed. Funny to watch execs scrambling with quick emails to apologize to others for their tardiness.
Not instantly but shortly, we won the work. What had happened? Paraphrasing Lencioni again: start serving prospects as if they were already a client. Find a way to meaningfully help – and if they don’t hire you, they must not need you or the fit isn’t right. That is what happened. Consult. Don’t sell.
100% effective? I think so if you can get the conversation turned that way. Artful and risky and some higher order skills. And a lot of fun. I guess for me it’s about rubbing off on a prospect like we rub off on clients. If we can help and our ways look and feel and “taste” right, we likely win. Almost as if that is an altogether better approach for buyers too. Hmmm.