The Self-Justification Lens

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Here’s a tidbit I took from a recent mistakes have been made trope.

You’ll likely be familiar with this style of non-apology apology.

Mistakes have been made, lesson’s have been learned, we move forward better for it.

Vacuous corporate-speak evoked with the recent “transition” in Zimbabwean governance. (“We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny” :: opposition politician David Coltart.)

Plus ça change.

You’re kind of reminded of the infamous quote attributed to Stalin, “the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions a mere statistic”.

This though does hold an insight into the Boardroom.

I note that those who deride this current quasi-mea culpa fashion do so in part because they suggest that one key factor to take into account is the degree of need for self-justification.

Apparently, in this regard there’s a pair of circumstances when it is highly advisable to not ask for an opinion. When discussing the 2007 book that began this debate, I heard Arts broadcaster Harriett Gilbert put it like this;

they say that you should never, ever take a recommendation from somebody who’s just done something either;

very difficult, or

very expensive

I also noted, “no one thinks they’re the bad guy”. As well as the delicious quote “If mistakes were made, memory helps us remember that they were made by someone else”.

Even when police charges get dropped by irrefutable forensics, a doctor is proven to mis-diagnose or any scientific theory is totally debunked, the supposedly most intelligent of people cannot come to terms with the ‘new truth’. And sadly spend most of their time sticking to their guns in some (dare I say, sometimes revanchist) way.

And so it is in solution selling. Or ought I say, solution buying. Which we must be alert to.

Is this perhaps an additional lens through which it is necessary to view your prospect landscape?

If there has been a previous decision made considered either ultra tricky or pricey – crucially one that now you’re hoping to overturn in some way – then who was most invested in it who sees fear in its erasure?

The converse can also apply. If such a decision somewhere is recent enough that it’s legacy cannot be yet measured, them to see it blossom as promised there may well be scope to add around the edges. Although I feel that in my experience the urge to ‘throw good money after bad’ can outvote the desire to ‘secure the investment’.

Do you know who is most likely to exhibit this type of self-justification in your prospect accounts?


A Pair Of Winnning Negotiating Lines From Present Brexit Round

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Brexit. My oh my. Any Brit who voted in favour of the UK staying in the Euro supra-state must be wincing at how Brussels approaches the so-called ‘divorce negotiations’. Quite apposite that Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF is all over the news at this time. Many must be feeling that where Mugabe is a model African it appears Barnier and Juncker are proudly model Europeans from similar mould. The shame.

As a lone, late-night quasi-adult voice from the “Despite Brexit” Broadcasting Corporation put it on Newsnight, “the EU default position is to not move”. Ouch. How that can be called proper negotiating is anyone’s guess. Then again, when it comes to the British view, hasn’t that been their stance since even before 1973?

I noted insight into the current round of negotiations. Which reminded me of one of my favourite answers in such scenario. Born from my frustration that salespeople and negotiation are seldom recipes for success. Everyone thinks they can negotiate. Just like everyone thinks they can sell. Until they meet a pro on the other side of the table. The results do not tend to be pretty.

Which is why so many firms these days bring in a bespoke negotiation team to do contracts. Culled from Legal, Commercial and Exec posts. Many salespeople hate this. I myself lost a huge deal in my youth to the absence of creativity of just such a unit. But when you are selected as preferred supplier it’s for the best, all round.

the price is the price

I can’t tell you how happy I was to learn this line. It is not salespeople’s fault that negotiation can flummox them. We are not, as a rule, schooled in the very specific skillset. Nor do our natural traits that help make us stellar sales performers apply on a negotiation. In fact, they sadly actively hinder.

The “I’m sure we can talk about that” discount prelude is a disaster. I love it when I hear a salesperson steadfastly defend their price. It is what it is for a reason. There is value. If you want a discount, go buy from elsewhere and prepare to be heavily penalised in the time honoured “buy on price, pay twice” way. Or worse still, think that you can do whatever it is yourself. That really is a career-ending turn, mister customer.

if you … , then I’ll …

Another area where salespeople can fatally trip is not appreciating the quid pro quo nature of grown-up negotiation. You want a discount, hey? Just because otherwise you will not buy? Pur-lease…. As in accounting (ask your local eminence the Pharoah of the Beans) every transaction has two sides. Double-entry book-keeping has been a staple since, I believe, Pacioli in 1494. And so it is in negotiation. Each currency has its yin and yang. No concession should flow solo.

when we jump, we jump together

A delightful phrase. From the mouth of Remainer turned brexit-means-brexit PM May. This really gets to the heart of the winning mindset when faced with barefaced intransigence. Thou shall not kowtow. This is a team game. Partnership must ensue. Long-term sustainable success only ever grows from a negotiation where both sides put the joint endeavour above their own ego-filled bullying singular priorities.

nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed

Another wonderful set-up. I gather that this cornerstone is borrowed from the World Trade Organisation framework known as the “single undertaking”. In the current context, it means that there are a trio of first-stage points to resolve. Only when each is agreed in their separate fields can the next round commence.

This is unlikely in a solution sell situation. Yet it is something that you could keep up your sleeve especially if in a sole-selected evaluation phase. Although if it is new to you as a concept, I’d recommend getting assistance on the nuts and bolts.


4 Presentation Tips From Oneliner Master Ken Dodd

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My happiness to catch a 90th birthday career retrospective fronted by the man himself, legendary comic Ken Dodd.

I remember him as a child and the crazy world he created. From his native Liverpool town of Knotty Ash with his Diddy Men and their ‘jam butty mines, black pudding plantations, moggy ranch, treacle wells, and broken-biscuit repair works’.

Whatever your generation, to watch him perform is to witness someone at the top of their craft.

One of the many surprises was the degree to which he honed his art. Stories emerged of him meeting Oxbridge philosophers, hitting dusty libraries and relentless fine tuning in search of comedy knowledge.

One such classic emanating thus;

Freud said that the essence of the comic was the conservation of psychic energy.
But then again Freud never played second house Friday night at the Glasgow Empire.

Given this self-aware focus on his profession, specific insights into ‘performing’ arose.

Firstly, I must point out that the most successful salespeople I encounter all share this trait of being self-aware. This means that they know why they succeed (and fail) and are constantly seeking to refine and improve upon such.

Secondly, many in Sales reckon their performances are akin to a stand-up. In many respects, this is undoubtedly the case. Often one person standing alone in front of a possibly sceptical audience hoping not to be booed off. In one critical sense though, it is not the same; you are not a rapidfire gagsmith seeking Ken’s seven-laughs-a-minute chuckles aplenty.

So what can our presentations take from a true master of the stage? Here’s four:

  1. You can perform either with an audience or at them. With them is best. (Note one of his immortal sign-offs; “You’re the audience I’ve had the most most honour and privilege to perform for, to, at, .. with, …. Against”)
  2. You need a bridge. (He suggests this must be done in the first thirty seconds). Your audience are part of the cast, they can even be your straight man.
  3. His famous ‘tickling stick’ evolved from a court jesters prop. It was mainly to stop you playing with your hands when you first come on. As you can look like a windmill, hands everywhere and distracting otherwise.
  4. You have to find a style of your own. Ken recalls, “I tried being myself and it seemed to work”.

Knowing Numbers To Avoid Zimbabwe Style Sell Oppression

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The world hopes. (Mostly). Can another despotic regime be about to see the beginning of its end? [update: Mugabe at last quit just after I posted this, yet amid the euphoria bites the crocodile-type fright that we’re merely seeing Khrushchev succeed Stalin…

…so] Expectations of real change might not be all that high. Despite any deviation from the jackbooted norm being welcomed for Zimbabwe.

These stains on humanity persist. All-too slowly fading. Many totalitarian hegemonies hiding behind a cloak of cronied capitalism which surely cannot last. Can it?

One journalist nobly tried to bring context with her list; Zimbabwe: 10 numbers that will help you understand what’s actually going on.

Which begins promisingly;

1 = the tally of leaders in the last 37 years

Then sadly tails off into the irrelevant and punchless.

Where was the like of such as;

0 = time in hours, days, months, years of true democracy

2 = (2008 & 2013) number of rigged elections fixed through ballot tampering and military bullying to prevent the actual vote winner becoming President

75,000 = typical lavish US$ spend by the dictator’s wife “Gucci” Grace on a 2003 Paris shopping trip

1.35 million = US$ value of wedding anniversary diamond ring reportedly ordered by Grace Mugabe

5 million = one estimate of Zimbabweans exiled in S Africa (Polzer 2008 – 2017 population c16m)

7.6 million = US$ value of a home of Mugabe’s involved in a dispute in Hong Kong, part of a portfolio that also includes vast property in Malaysia, Singapore, S Africa and possibly Dubai & Scotland

4 billion = promised in 2016, US$ amount of further Chinese aid/investment (¼ of GDP)


This is a selling technique to note.

There are buyers aplenty that like numbers. And not just those esteemed counters of beans. They listen when they’re announced. They remember them. And the stories attached to them.

An exercise I conduct on occasion with a salesteam asks them to create interesting figures around what they sell.

It often reveals a couple of corkers. Both highly memorable and with unique messages brought to the fore.

Avoid the traditional “spec-sheet” style “speeds and feeds” technical data that fills the backs of glossy product sheets. Go for the unusual. Amounts derived from the human impacts. Then you can generate a host of new angles with which to not only impress prospects, but also stop getting browbeaten by the standard competitor “top trump” card game style figure traps.


Should We Suggest The Architect’s Dream Scheme?

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It’s a game played every First Meeting.

What would their ideal, perfect, magical purchase entail? In long(ish) form, you hear words uttered something akin to;

“If you could have everything and anything, what would your solution look like?”

I recently learned that those fancy architects have a name for this trick.

Dream Scheme.

They deliberately seek to uncover the “money-no-object” end of the spectrum. Specifcally upfront, as early as possible.

Here’s how one English telly architect describes this, when renovating;

Design something beyond anything you could have possibly imagined. Something really special. But to get the very best out of an “ugly” house, means you often come up with early schemes beyond what a client can actually afford. We even call it The Dream Scheme. Compromises need to be made. Clients have to make tough decisions about whether to commit more money. But that is all part of the design and build process.

All part of the process.

And so should it be in solution selling?

As you might deduce from my pic up top, google appears unfamiliar with this technique.

Yet many a seasoned Sales pro will recognise this form of words;

“What’s on your wish-list?”

The same kind of query.

In one way, a route to classifying by the traditional “nice to have” against “must have”. A solution essential of prioritising decision criteria.

The danger perceived is that your freshly hatched prospect then rattles off all the features you lack, but which alas, your competition revel in promoting they can offer.

Put that down to qualification? Reveal such desires as not actually necessary (and as such, wasted time/money)? Better to start off with “core” requirements, then build on a secure platform (when presumably, your development team will have all those bells and whistles and more to happily add)?

I sense the approach today is more about saying that you’re not after selling to their dream scheme. Best to pinpoint precisely what is needed now, add in a sprinkle of future-proofing, and deliver exactly that which is essential to fix/improve on today’s situation.

One element of the architect-stroke-flashy-designer tactic I like is positioning. They don’t really seem to think that any dream scheme will ever get built. It seems more a tool for understanding an unreachable pinnacle, then all about finding (and managing from a position of authority) the compromises. Ones which put them as supplier in the driving seat.

In which case, evoking a ‘dream scheme’ yourself can be useful as either a negative or positive spin to further your ambitions as your position warrants.


3 Sales Tips From Budding Nation Branding Boom

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I recently trawled through a (disappointingly partial – to the Left) so-called ‘long read’ on what should have been a fascinating (and more balanced) insight into the nascent Nation Branding industry.

I did though, manage to rescue a trio of pertinent solution selling pointers from trailblazers’ efforts.

a) Why Projects Fail

Number one has to be the shared pain of seeing a sell that everyone then loved dwindle into nothingness. As one practitioner mourns, “Most nation-branding strategies fail, and they fail miserably”. I daresay there’s a particular sale many of us could knowingly substitute into that sentence for ‘nation-branding strategies’.

Their list of reasons why ought act as a checklist for us when qualifying a bid;

  • the client lacks the capabilities to manage the strategies required
  • those later new in-post soon erode any predecessor plans
  • superficial, mandated adherence discourages engagement
  • the far-removed sharp-end don’t feel any connection

b) Psychoanalytical Questions

I warmly applauded the depths one team immersed themselves within a community. Another mini-tip there alone. Specifically here, I liked the questions posed to understand perceptions;

Tell me the first thing that comes into your mind when I say _______

If your _______ were a car, what kind of car would it be?

If _______ were a man, what kind of job would he have?

What’s your favourite _______ joke?

Sketch your _______

For the blanks, you could insert any number of nouns; project name, goal, department, company, product, industry, task, process.

On the face of it, the kinds of word association game so beloved of Hollywood scriptwriters. Simple, yet complex. Unobtrusive yet revealing.

So long as your prospect doesn’t feel like you’re putting them on the doctor’s couch, these – carefully crafted – can be a real winner.

I feel compelled though to offer a warning. I regularly use these for quickfire workshop sessions with salespeople. At best, I must report that results are usually “mixed”.

The most frequent one I deploy is what their new product could be. ‘If it were a car’, like above, I have asked in the real world. Pizza topping, drink, movie, animal and even colour I’ve also used. All I can say when dealing with salespeople is, they must tend to be more right-brained than I imagined.

c) Misleading Fixation

Possibly the most intriguing topic revolves around the visuals. “Inevitably, countries demand a bespoke logo”. The place-selling paradox appears that clients seem to put all their stock into the new fancy logo and clever accompanying strapline. Whereas those paid to design such emblems view them as a largely unwelcome, irrelevant distraction. “I always want to tell them: ‘It’s not about the logo!’”

This reminds me a touch of my early days of people complaining about the colour of a server. Or more broadly, the erroneous focus on Day One Cost, rather than On-costs.

In addition, I actually consider you being able to ‘brand’ up your bid as a differentiator. Your distinctive visuals and slogans undeniably help in this regard.

The thrust of this though remains valid. It has to run more than skin deep. If it only scratches the surface and has little to do with the ongoing success of an install, then it is indeed meaningless.

+) Identity

A graphical bonus. Despite the wish to shift clients away from paying undue attention to the glossy imagery, I did like the work surrounding the visuals for the new logo shown for Paraguay. If you are into this kind of design, then it’s worth delving into a little further. It feels like a decent case study into how such icons and the like get developed.


Where’s Your Even Posher Product

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A weekend brunch in England’s scenic Ribble Valley. My pleasure being the delicious “Bacon & Black Pudding Rosti served on a bed of spinach & topped with poached egg”. Alongside an extra side of – how could you not add it on – fried bread.

It wasn’t only my food that was noteworthy.

Above I’ve shown a small section of their menu. Soft drinks. In England, the fizzy of this category gets called ‘pop’.

Food dining menu engineers might well have something to say about this.

So too should solution salespeople.

There’s a fair amount of choice here. From the criminal Big Pop poisons, to juice, to diluted concentrates. And then to the ‘posh’.

Which would you choose?

The salesteams I’ve always worked with never sell the cheapest item in their marketplace.

Here is an example from independent eating-out retail where they embrace stocking items dearer than the norm and supposed sector leader.

Not only that, but they do this double.

Forget just having premium. They’ve super-premium too.

“Posh. Even Posher.”


As soon as I saw this, I reckoned the ‘posh’ outsold the rest. It’s also a safe bet that diners bought a pleasingly large amount of ‘even posher’.

Just a couple of simple labels. Revenue and profit uplifts.

So often, solution sellers get stricken with paranoia about offering high (and specifically, higher) ticket items. I’ve never understood this.

Be like this quaint village deli.

And also see your overall success ‘pop’ upwards.


Less Is More Sweet ‘not Sour Ben Franklin

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When you feel like Mr Creosote, as the final sweet selection arrives after the most filling of multiple course chinese banquet, here from Singapore’s Sentosa Island.

I used the above pic when helping an Asian tech team fine tune their pipeline management. We aimed to make their funnel full of sweet, not sour, deals.

I was reminded of it when the following table was promoted to my feed by instagram. From one of many (aargh) self-styled “selfhelpers”. Thank goodness she appears to have an actual succeeding startup (toddler educational toys).

This type of columnar approach has a proud Sales history.

As far back as 1980 Tom Hopkins proposed what he termed the Ben Franklin Close. Always close to my heart as said Founding Father is an honorary Brummie.

You draw a line down the middle of a page. One side you work with the prospect to list all the reasons why they ought go ahead. You fill the entire column. Then you turn to the other, now blank. You ask them for a reason why they ought not go ahead. But unlike the previous side, where you actively encouraged and helped with the filling-in, now you stay silent. They soon run out of steam. And you’re closer to the sale.

In the fervent UK business software sector of the 90s along the M4 corridor, Misys were famed for having a similar procedure at their internal reviews.

They put a tick and a cross at the top on a flipchart.. Sometimes a plus and minus. Or even ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. The “team” then shouted contributions on the subject of the day. From general monthly performance to drilling down onto a micro-specific.

The point is that the simplicity of this 2-col format can be adapted to many a sales situation. Especially where you seek agreement then action in your direction.

I chose to highlight the above list because in today’s often deliberately less-febrile meetings than darker decades, a discussion around Less versus More appeals as a gentler (rather than aggressive) couching of an (any) important Yes/No distinction.

Yours needn’t contrast contrary pairings like hers. Nor must it necessarily only be a closing mechanism like with Lunar Ben above.

Also terrific uncovering true needs. Both decision-making criteria and process, at an early get-together.

Try it, and sift the good from the bad.


Where Our Selling Should Heed Screenwriter Learnings

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Here’s a quartet of winning insights from the world of screenwriting;

They are that we should; focus on endloading, unveil the carnival of opinion, know who is the third and beware dilettantes.

I came across them after hearing the always entertaining London film reviewer, Jason Solomons. Upon suggesting Kenneth Branagh in the updated Murder on the Orient Express A-List ensemble “sounded like Peter Sellers”, he then tackled the issue of why you’d watch a movie when you already know the finale.

He suggested that the whydidtheydoit is more important than the whodunnit. The journey rather than knowing the ending is what the viewer likes.

After all, what could you possibly think might be different this time? “E.T. might stay. Hamlet doesn’t die. The Titanic won’t sink.”

Happily with a good movie there’s always things to do along the way.

Then he delivered this fascinating view on our strange relationship with ‘endings’, especially given that they tend not to exist any more to leave it all open ended for franchise sequel stretches;

there’s a saying in screenwriting:

there are two parts to every movie;

the ending and everything else

Is it also true that there are two parts to every sale? Let’s hope your buyers don’t snap back with “the signature and the firefighting”. Leaving broken promises out of this, you could mine the trope of ‘the problem and everything else’. Or go slightly cryptic, with ‘the open and close’.

You could even turn this into a qualification mantra. Isolating that one specific exhibited need that means you can pursue the deal. Even better, relate this to the unique element of your process. Knowing what our ‘ending’ entails may well require us to make our bid “endloaded”.

This led me to discover the experience of Oscar nominated writer David Hare. How’s this for solution selling parallel;

For every hour you spend writing a screenplay, you spend 10 hours defending it. Because you are the person who first proposes what the eventual film should be, you are likely to have to deal with 50 people who, usually from the best intentions, imagine something else. A film is a carnival of opinion, and if your view is to survive, you need the skills of an advocate.

A carnival of opinion. What a lovely expression. And so apt on a complex bid. How festive are the differing views you encounter?

The “Who is the third…” technique is also a belter. This is opposed to what he calls the “bell jar” approach, where each scene obsesses around its own themes. Rather, there is always someone else involved. No conversation is a stand alone, untainted event.

Finally, a great sales manager/consultant metaphor (see also tip 6 from this recent debut novelist ).

Producers fall into two categories. The great ones make suggestions to help you realise your work more fully. The annoying ones tell you at length how they themselves might have written the story, if only they could write. I have one simple rule. Only those who are invested in the outcome are allowed to give advice.

Spot on.


Disarming An Alarming Prediction

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I’m no Denier. Far from it. Yet I cannot understand the slant of truly zealous eco-warriers.

Made-up stats and preaching portents of armageddon surely hinder, not help, their worthy cause.

Then again, nor do I follow how Big Oil and their brethren fail to see what is coming and aren’t acting faster. Go Disruptors. Do to them what happened to all previous behemoth Canutes across all industries before them.

This Autumn’s main environmental news was that scientists have admitted to a mistake. As The Times put it, “As egg-on-face moments go, it was a double-yolker”.

in 2015 they proclaimed we had no chance of reducing carbon emissions in a timely manner. James Delingpole gleefully recounted their statement that to do so would be “incompatible with democracy”.

Yet come 2017 and, miracle of miracles, we are told the world now has a two-in-three chance of nailing the promised land of only raising temperatures by 1.5°C. Far from the impending doom of two years prior.

It turns out that all predictions since 2000 have been “too hot”. By quite the margin it seems.

Which got me thinking. These are some of the most clever people on the planet. If they’re out so wildly on this central point, then how dreadfully amiss are their predictions in general?

Near top of the search list was this delightful site; climatechangepredictions. Happily listing opinions delivered as foreboding fact.

Then there’s this pair of truly inspiring forecast resets;

In 2013, the International Energy Agency expected coal-burning to grow by 40% by 2040 – today [Nov ’17] it anticipates just 1%

The oil cartel Opec has increased its estimate of the number of electric cars operative in 2040 by five times in the past year alone

Hail solar, wind, tidal and all things renewable. Alongside battery technology making giant strides and green electricity taking over.

You can’t help dwelling on the fact that if our Sales forecasting was as way-out as that deep-pocketed pair above, then we’d be shown the door. Sharpish. (& don’t get me started on the anti-Brexit Project Fear.)

Yet we encounter many a gloomy view of the future. Often from ‘opponents’ of ours within a prospect.

It pays to gently question the rationale behind their assumption.

Indeed, wikipedia even has a page logging famous historic incorrect predicitons. I also enjoyed these 15 tech examples from a Forbes piece early 2015; “Predicting the future is easy … getting it right is the hard part”.

Unless your prospect arrived at work by jetpack, if they question your alternative view then this Arthur C Clarke wisdom may come in useful to show you can be even-handed; “If by some miracle, a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would so sound so far-fetched, so absurd, that everyone would laugh him to scorn.”



My selling blogs this time last year