The following exert is taken from “small is the new big” by Seth Godin. This particular chapter chirped into my mind during our recent UX meeting where a colleague remarked about his difficulties with getting clients to embrace change.
Susan Storms belongs in the Salesperson Hall of Fame. In 1998, I sent her to Seattle to make a sales call on a very well-known company. As often happens when you’re selling a new idea, there was a lot of resistance to what Storms had to offer. No one wanted to make a commitment one way or another, All they had to offer was “maybe.”
…”But, as I said, Susan Storms is a great salesperson. She was so sold on our product, so sure that this potential client needed the solution that we were offering, that she refused to take “Well, maybe, but not now” for an answer.
So she reached into her briefcase and took out a sheet of paper. Then she turned to the group and said, “Folks, I’m excited about this opportunity. And I’m so sure that it’s right for your company that I flew across the country to present it to you. You’ve heard my presentation. You know how this product could change the way you do business. If you were to decide that this isn’t right for you, I would totally understand. If you were to decide that you want to go ahead with this right now, then that would be fantastic.”
Then she stopped, looked the senior manager in the eye, and asked, “What would you like to do? Go forward or say no?”
And the manager repeated his weasel words: “Well, we really have to look at this more closely and run it by some people, and then we’ll get back to you.”
Storms knew that they’d do no such thing. She knew that the manager’s response was a technique to make her go away without really making any decisions. So she turned the paper over.
“Here’s the thing,” she said. “This is obviously a time-sensitive program, and if you don’t commit today, then we’re going to have to offer it to one of your competitors. So all I need you to do is initial this sheet of paper that says that you heard the presentation and that you decided not to take advantage of our offer.” And she handed the paper to the guy from Seattle.
Guess what? He refused to sign it!
Saying yes was a risk, Saying no was a risk. Signing the release was a risk. In his mind, every single option meant some sort of change. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to zoom he saw it as a threat to his position at the company. So he did the one thing that he could do without having to take a risk: He threw Storms out of the meeting.
This snippet may be a bit lengthy, but it illustrates perfectly some of the challenges that we face as creative professionals. This scenario rings true especially when we try to convince clients on taking risks. From this passage, several questions come to mind: How will we adjust our presentation styles to enable our clients to say yes to our solutions? How will we hold them accountable for delays and inabilities to make any decision? How do we encourage the bravery that it takes to be a leader in a new fast paced economy?
As creative professionals, we are inherently endowed with the sensibilities of great imagination, forethought, and bravery. We routinely tap into these sensibilities when making new discoveries or finding new solutions to old problems. We have to realize though, that the business world is not made up of creatives. So we must use those innate abilities to bring them on-board with us.
The next time you have a meeting where a new idea is going to be presented, make a list of missiles (ways that they will shoot down your idea) and shield (defenses against the attacks). Don’t accept “Maybe” for an answer. At the beginning of the meeting, ask the client, “Are you open to a fresh idea?” This is sort of a leading questions; after all, who is going to say, “No, I’m happy with old stale ideas.” This mentality works in your benefit. If they agree to being open, then you’ve won half the battle. The rest is dependent on your enthusiasm, business acumen, and the bottom line (how much money is this going to make me). Finally, hold someone accountable for making a solid decision. Yes or no is acceptable, maybe is not acceptable. If no is the answer, have them send their reasoning for denial in an email. Be like Susan Storm. Good luck on your next presentation.