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5 Business Tactics They Don’t Teach at Harvard

May 31, 2009


Anyone can learn the rules of chess in an afternoon but it takes a lifetime to successfully march 20 wooden pieces across a 10 x 10 board with the skill of a conquering general.  Similarly, while a firm’s sales cycle can be neatly illustrated on a single sheet of letter-sized paper it takes years of human insight and heartbreak before a stranger will shake your hand for a million dollars, and why stop there when a billion is the new million?  This week we present five black diamonds that they don’t teach you at business school.  Are we inviting clients to a game of poker with a loaded deck or merely playing our cards to their legitimate limit?  As they say in your corporate ethics class: that is something that only you can decide.

  • Whose Idea is It Anyway?
    Your prospect wants to spend a lot of money with you.  You’re sure of it.   You go for broke, you ask for the order… for next to nothing.  Your team looks at you in disbelief, your client is puzzled.  And then he argues, he argues passionately and vocally why he should buy the mother load.  Never forget it’s easier for our egos to write a big check for an idea that we think is our own.  Consequently, we can get people to do what we want by putting them in control, or at least giving them a carefully staged sense of control.
  • Throwing Frank under the Bus
    Companies screw up. Sometimes screwing up is more cost effective than delivering, bordering on good business sense.  Especially when we can hold onto the client relationship and sign our next deal.  How so?  Mistakes happen – most clients are reasonable and as long as long as retribution is seen to play out then everyone moves happily on to the next deal.  If we can give the impression of tracking back and pinning the problem to a single employee then many client issues can be neatly resolved with a public lynching.  “We’re all terribly upset by Frank’s performance and are just as surprised as you; we have addressed this in his annual review and assure you it won’t happen again.”  Just be sure to look after our fall guy Frank and make it clear the public berating is merely a negotiation tactic and has nothing to do with his stellar performance. 
  • Dress Like the Man You Want to Be
    Inflating your annual revenue figures will make you look like a big boy when responding to a tenders but it will also likely have your sharing a prison cell with Mr. Madoff in the current business environment.  However, beyond financial figures it’s pretty much all fair games.  To become the company you want to be, you’ve got to pitch like the company that you aspire to be or you’ll never win the deals that take you there.  Sales pitches by their very nature are aspirational.  Just be sure you can deliver on your promises or your pipe dreams will be short lived.  (And as for that pesky request for financial data: sometimes revenue projections are sufficient and for smaller companies, audited statements for the past 12 months might not yet be available, especially if it was a rough year).
  • I’m Calling from Outside Your Office
    Agreeing to meet a new vendor can be a lot of pressure, especially if the supplier needs to fly a long way and your schedule look really busy next week.  Trouble is, if the vendor doesn’t fly a long way and meet you next week, there will be no deal. 
    Consequently the easiest way for me to get on your calendar is to schedule an informal introduction while I’m in town for another business meeting.  No expectations or commitment before I get on the plane – I’ll be there anyway.  Now just because I haven’t actually scheduled another meeting – that’s no reason for me to not reference this hypothetical get-together in your neck of the woods; it if it makes it easier for us to meet up then that’s good as it’s ultimately what we both want.  Besides, once you’ve agreed to meet, I will be a good salesman and contact other prospects in your neighborhood and mention that I just “happen to be in town.”
  • The Witness Stand
    I’m always amazed at the weight buyers place on client references as a meaningful measure of a company’s ability to deliver.  Too often, references are provided by a client who joins their sales representative for the occasional four-course dinner and evening of basketball entertainment, consequently they may not be indicative of a typical working relationship. 
    Still the most rewarding moment of my career came when a West Coast client took a reference call from a British prospect, on her cell phone while picking out a turkey for the family’s Thank Giving dinner that night.  Sometimes clients know what they want, companies exceed expectations and incredible people are involved.  And that is something to shout about.  The most useful insight you can uncover from a reference call is tips for getting the most out of a company that you’ve already decided to start doing business with.  As a method for selecting the recipient of a check for $10 million dollars, it’s somewhat sketchy.

In conclusion a carefully written business plan will only get you so far in the real world; no successful enterprise was built without breaking a few egg shells along the way.  The trick is to avoid ending up as the egg shell in another man’s breakfast burrito.  And so in the interest of objectivity, we’ll take a look next week at how buyers can play hard ball too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 2, 2009 5:53 am

    Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.

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