I’m sure you can think of a client situation, either in the sales cycle or in the engagement itself, where you were granting concession after concession, dealing with obstacles and objections that just seemed to build. The smile painted on your face thinned with your patience at each inconvenience then finally, you snapped. You dropped all pretence of politeness and put an end to the silliness with one ruthless swoop.
How did you feel after? Probably a mixture of relief and guilt. Relief from the pressure that was building as you continued to do the wrong thing or allow the client to do the wrong thing and guilt from the way you treated the client when you finally mustered the courage to correct. To be clear, your behaviour was the source of your relief and your manner or emotional state was the source of your guilt, right? So let’s keep the ruthless behaviour and drop the angry or frustrated emotional state. Kind ruthlessness is what you are striving for. Say what you think and say it with a smile. It’s actually quite easy once you identify the source of the frustration.
How many times have you been in a sales situation thinking, but never asking any of the following…
We’re really just the filler – your third bid in this process, aren’t we?
That’s not enough money.
That’s not enough time.
Who are the other firms under consideration?
What criteria are you using to make the decision?
There’s a better way to do this.
We don’t work that way.
We’ll get started once we receive the deposit.
I’m not going to do that.
You’re treating our people poorly.
Most stress is caused by the things you don’t do. Your frustration in these moments increases with the gap between what you know you should do and what you actually do. Your anger is toward yourself over your own inability to behave properly. If you do the right thing early there is no stress, making it easy to be kind. Ruthless in your behaviour and kind in your words. Kind ruthlessness. Smile when you say it.
In any scenario where you find yourself thinking these things you’re far better off saying what you think as soon as it occurs to you than you are second guessing your instinct, giving the client a pass or waiting for a better moment. The sooner you can say what you think the less emotion you will attach to the words. The angst is created by the gap in time between when you have the thought and when you finally utter it. The longer you hold it in the more likely it is to come out as mean, bitchy or unprofessional. So just say it and say it soon.
Some Helpful Hints
A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell and have you think you’ll enjoy the journey. That’s what you’re striving for here. While diplomatic skills come easily to some, to many they have to be learned. I’ve seen the patterns over the years – give the same set of words to different people in similar circumstances and some will insult or even infuriate their clients with those words while others will have them thinking, “He’s right – I really should go throw myself off a pier.” There are many reasons why some can do this and others struggle, including self-awareness, emotional intelligence or language skills. If you find it difficult here are some techniques to make it easier.
Three Stars and a Wish
Commit to saying three positive things before you deliver the bad news or objection as a wish.
Thank you for thinking of us on this project. (1st star) It looks fascinating – I think my team could get excited about an engagement like this. (2nd star) And it looks like you’ve put a lot of time and thought into this RFP. (3rd star) I wish we had a chance to speak about this before you got this far, as we don’t typically respond to RFPs. (the wish)
Put the objection between two positive statements or benefits.
Your brother-in-law looks quite talented. (positive) We don’t do the creative concepts and hand them over to others to implement (the objection) but I’m happy to introduce him to other firms that might be better able to use his talents. (positive)
Where three stars and a wish is often followed by silence, don’t dwell once you deliver the sandwich – keep things moving forward. This technique is sometimes called the assumptive sandwich because your demeanour assumes that the objection is not a real obstacle and everything will work out.
The Policy Trump Card
Most of us don’t drop enough policy in sales situations and that leaves us battling clients’ procurement policies with our own preferences and inclinations – a battle we will aways lose. Let’s wield more policy.
It’s our policy that when our creative is being presented to anyone client-side, we are the ones who present.
Even soloists can wield policy, as it is simply a predetermined decision.
It’s my policy that I don’t begin assignments for new clients until I’ve received the deposit.
These techniques and others help. Personally, I’m a fan of what I call the Rainman approach. As soon as the thought comes to you, just say it and say it without emotion. It’s cathartic, especially if your natural tendency is to hold back out of concern for politeness or concern that your first instinct about the situation might be wrong. (It isn't.)
Say what you think. Say it early before stress and resentment build. Before you know it you’ll learn to automatically lean into the fledgling discomfort and eradicate it before it creates problems for you. You’ll make more money, you’ll have more fulfilling client engagements and you might just live longer.