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Sales Solutions
When to Hold 'Em, and When to Fold 'Em vol 6, issue #1
January, 2009

Sunday evening I was in the midst of reading Harry Beckwith's, Selling the Invisible, which had been on my ToDo list for only about eight months.  On page 29, under the title, "The Fallacy of the Decision-Making Process," I came upon the idea for today's column.  In a previous issue, I discuss in great detail the process that buyers go through when trying to decide which vendor to select.  Beckwith presents an interesting counterpoint to this process, and in reading it, I realized that in some situations, he's absolutely right.  His point is that while most people have a decision-making process that conforms to what's in my pair of articles, others have such strongly-held beliefs, preconceived opinions, or rock-solid loyalties that you could stand on your head and they would never change their mind.  In effect, they have made up their mind before you even open your mouth.

Beckwith used the example of the OJ Simpson case.  For our non-US readers who are unfamiliar with the case, OJ Simpson was a star American Football player from the '70s era.  On June 17, 1994, he achieved notoriety in an altogether different and unwanted way: a white van he was riding in was videotaped being chased down a California highway for several hours.  Simpson, it turned out, had reportedly murdered his ex-wife and her companion.  When the chase finally ended, Simpson was taken into custody, and a long trial ensued. 

As in any trial, evidence was presented by the prosecution, and rebuffed by the defense.  Throughout the trial, the American public's opinions were being formed, unfortunately, largely along racial lines.  Most white Americans - who had not seen a shred of evidence, but rather relied on what they heard and saw in the news media and late night talk shows - had made up their minds that Simpson was guilty.  Most black Americans - who likewise had not seen a shred of evidence, but rather what they heard and saw in the news media and late night talk shows - had made up their minds that Simpson was not guilty. I can recall comments I myself heard at the time that led me to believe that even if overwhelming evidence that the other side was right had been presented,  people weren't going to let themselves be persuaded.  If I thought he was guilty, he was guilty - regardless of what you tell me or show me.  If I thought he was not guilty, he's not guilty.

The parallel with selling should be clear: From time to time, you're going to encounter people at a prospect who have strongly-held beliefs, a bad opinion about your company (either for legitimate reasons or due to misinformation or a misunderstanding), and irrational biases.  Your job is to determine - before you get too deep into a deal - whether there is such an individual involved in the buying decision (and if so, how much influence that person has), and whether or not they're open to considering the possibility of changing their mind if they're convinced they're beliefs are unsupportable.

Action Item

Go through each of your existing deals.  If you have established a Champion at the account - someone who wants you to win - ask him or her if he or she suspects that there's someone on their committee who doesn't support you, or worse, actively supports someone else (including, and especially, the incumbent).  Jointly develop a strategy to deal with this individual, bearing in mind that if the person is not a significant influencer, doing nothing might be the best option.  If you have not established a Champion (your contact is keeping you - and possibly all reps - at arm's length), and you suspect things aren't going your way, take a chance and ask him directly if he's already made up his mind (in favor of a competitor)In addition to uncovering valuable information that could save you from spinning your wheels for the next 3 weeks, this is a good trial close question: it may reveal that yes, he's made up his mind, and you are the choice!  With new deals, ask this question as part of your initial discovery questioning (in a more discreet manner, since you haven't yet developed a deep enough relationship to do so more directly).  Based on the answer to your question, take the appropriate step: Execute the strategy, deal with any misunderstandings that may be at the root of your contact's leaning another way, or resolve to fold your cards, walk away from the deal, and find another, more promising one.

Good selling!

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