Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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Nine years into advising creative people on how to sell their services I have come to see that the variability of our individual hard-wiring not only predicts our likelihood of success, but it helps to identify which business development strategy we will select in our pursuit of success.

McLelland’s Theory of Needs postulates that people are motivated by three main needs: the need for achievement (to excel against others), the need for power (to orchestrate others) and the need for affiliation (to connect with others). These motivators impact not just our personality but also our job performance, as a widely accepted behavioral model for predicting performance explains:

Performance = Motivation x Ability

The most important element of the above model is the multiplier factor (x). Two people with the same abilities but marginally different levels of motivation will produce results that are potentially exponentially different from each other. But when it comes to motivation and job performance, it’s not as simple as more is better. It is the pattern of motivational make-up that predicts performance, and in agency business development the pattern for success is different from what most people think it is.

Can You Guess who is Most Likely to Succeed?

In a simple version of McLelland’s model, with only two outcomes for each need (high or low), what combination of high and low needs do you think makes for the most successful agency business development person? (Write down your guess – High or Low for each of the three motivators below.)


Achievement          Power           Affiliation

  H     L               H     L             H     L


There are eight permutations of possible scores in this simple model. Of those eight, I have learned, only two are hard-wired for success in agency business development. The other six are fighting themselves. That doesn’t mean they absolutely will not succeed, but for this 75% of the population if success is to be had in this job it will require exceptional skills and is likely to come at the expense of a continuing battle against ones self. So, who is hard-wired for success, and who is pushing the boulder uphill?

How Did You Do?

Those most likely to succeed in agency business development have high achievement needs (most people guess this correctly) and low affiliation needs (most people get this one wrong). The surprise is that high affiliation, which allows for quick rapport building and chemistry between buyer and seller, is actually a barrier to business development success in a long consultative sale where the product is advisory services. (The need for power is not a key indicator of agency business development success. However, in the un-simplified real-world model that I use to vet business development candidates, a person’s power needs say a lot about how he will go about the job. The relationship between power and achievement is also important, as are other variables not discussed here.)

The Implications of Achievement Need in Business Development

People’s need for achievement strongly implies their ability to get things done. High achievement (need) people have no fear of picking up the phone. They will do today what needs to be done to achieve success tomorrow. Low achievement people tend to default to the easier tasks of business development such as marketing. They’re often perpetually one tool away from being able to dial – a brochure then a website overhaul.

The price of high achievement is patience, however. Those with the very highest achievement need – in the 90th percentile or higher, often do not have the patience for a long consultative sale. The selectivity of an expert demands an ability to say no, and the super-high achievers who want to win every deal can struggle with this. Most managers, however, would prefer the challenge of trying to reign in a thoroughbred to that of whipping a mule. The net effect of low and very-high achievement might be the same (no sales), but one comes with a whole lot more effort that is easier for managers to live with. Generally speaking, high achievement people do a lot better than low achievement people in agency business development.

Implications of Affiliation Need in Business Development

The strengths of high affiliation people include the ability to quickly connect with others, easy rapport building, the ability to work in teams, and a helpful nature. These are social people who naturally seek out others and establish bonds.

The costs of these strengths include over-investing in an opportunity based on subjective gut feel (“We really connected. I think she’ll hire us,”) difficulty in extracting oneself from the relationship once the firm is engaged, and the need to meet with people face to face when a telephone call might suffice. Because of their need to be liked, high affiliation people also tend to be more compliant, and less likely to challenge or try to derail a prospect’s selection process. They’re also more likely to delay conversations around money or other difficult topics.

I have come to see a person’s affiliation score as a rough cost-of-sale indicator. The higher the need for affiliation, the harder it is for them to try to derail or influence the buying process and therefore the more expensive the sale. Through their connections, high affiliation people can generate lots of meetings and opportunities to pitch but many of these leave their bosses and co-workers wondering what they were doing there in the first place.

Like everybody on the planet, high affiliation people play to their strengths, working to build personal rapport quickly. This is an approach that can work well in a highly commoditized sale that comes down to chemistry (with expertise and price being seen as equal among all competitors). But it’s not conducive to selling expertise where success and profit require entering the engagement as the expert, in the power position. The high-affiliation approach of overt attempts at rapport building can also grate on low affiliation clients who want to keep the focus on business.

The Implications of Power Need in Business Development

The need for power is not a key indicator of business development success, but it does help frame a person’s overall competitiveness (power and achievement combined), so a slightly less than desirable achievement score can be offset by some power score. A person’s power score also helps to tell us how comfortable they will be with the Win Without Pitching approach that leans heavily on expert positioning and selectivity. High power people naturally jockey for the power position in their relationships and therefore take to this approach easily.

The cost of high power in employees however is ambitious career paths that see these people want to move through the position quickly. A business development person whose power score is considerably higher than his achievement score would really prefer to manage the job than actually do it. They’re often making the case for adding personnel beneath them, building a business development department, instead of just doing it themselves. Ideally you want the business development role filled by an employee who sees himself as a doer – someone who gets results for himself, rather than an orchestrator who gets results through other people, as high power people seek to do. The high achievement individual producer is likely to stay in the role a lot longer than the high power orchestrator.

When it’s the principal of the firm doing the business development, power needs become less important; they get met in the larger role.

All Strategy is Autobiographical; All Behavior is Motivated

Your motivational make-up is a great predictor of the business development strategy you will choose. High achievement people will reach for the phone. High power people will use the podium and the pen. High affiliation people will build and use their network. And each will say theirs is the right way.

The objective truth is that for selling advisory services the high-achievement, low-affiliation profile is the most likely to succeed. If you’re hiring someone for the role it may be worth sifting through a lot of candidates to find one that fits the profile. But if that’s not you or your business development person, don’t despair – just understand who you are, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and then play to those strengths. Let the networkers network. Let the power freaks spread their influence, and let the achievers smile and dial. And then provide the coaching to help them work on their weaknesses. The achievers will push too hard and bring in all kinds of the wrong type of opportunity. The power folks will bring the right types of opportunity but not nearly fast enough. And the affiliation people will run up the cost of sale by avoiding difficult conversations and objective criteria.

There is a best way to go about agency business development, but few of us are perfectly hard-wired for it. We’re all different and as long as we produce and are willing to accept coaching to help with our weaknesses, we should be allowed to play to our strengths.




Want to know how you are hardwired? The WWP Profiler is now available unbundled from consulting services. Contact us about learning your own profile and it's implications for business development.

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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