Critiques of the Win Without Pitching approach to new business development fall into two camps. The first is, “This is just common sense,” and the second is, “This is heresy that I couldn’t possibly put into practice.” They’re both right, of course.
The secret that I’ve been harbouring until now is that I just preach common sense. Some see it for what it is and dismiss it as nothing novel (as they should) and others see it as a noble theory that can never be implemented (and they’re right – for them it cannot).
I just ask myself, what would someone with a moderate amount of self-esteem, who’s pretty good at what they do, and who’s not emotionally attached to their craft, do in this situation?
The answer is they would stand up for themselves, they would say no, they would push back, but above all they would look for another way. That, my friend is the key: looking for another way.
I Told You To Do What?
I remember with fondness working with a creative firm early in my consulting practice (late 2003 or early 2004). It was an interesting firm doing cool things and they had a fascinating dynamic between the many partners. A few years later when I was speaking to the CEO I looked back on the earlier engagement with a sense of having provided good value to her firm. (Even though today I find it hard to believe that I knew anything of value a dozen years ago.)
She said to me, “You would be proud of us. We got an RFP from a Fortune 500 company and I told them we don’t respond to RFPs.”
“Good for you,” I replied, waiting for the story to unfold to it’s delightful conclusion.
“What happened next?”
“Nothing – they went away,” was her answer.
The enormity of my impact on her firm hit me. For years since I had worked with them, they had seen their choices as just two: agree to pitch or walk away. How much had that cost them?
The Two-Door Dilemma
Most problems in life present themselves as either/or, in which you see yourself faced with two doors and your decision is a simple, if difficult, one: pick a door. It’s almost never that simple, however.
The eminently quotable Dan Sullivan pierces to the heart of this issue: “The problem is almost never the problem. The problem is how you’re thinking about the problem.”
If you think you have two choices – to pitch or not to pitch in this case – then you see the problem as a straight-forward decision rather than a creative exercise in identifying and navigating to another way. There’s always another way.
The Third Way
A friend of mine almost casually mentioned to me this idea that most people see their decisions as between two seemingly opposable options when there’s always a third way. He gave me numerous examples, taking pains to point out the third way was a creative solution unseen by most, and not a compromise.
From there I started to hear this idea in many places, often disguised in different language. A scientist friend talking about ecology said, “simple answers to complex questions are usually wrong.” In a discussion on selling and negotiating with a professional acquaintance, he expressed his third-way philosophy as, “‘No' is intellectually lazy.”
I began noticing the difference between people who lived in an either/or world and those who pursued a third way. (As an example, people at either end of the political spectrum – or any spectrum – tend to be either/or people.)
Third-way people get more of what they want. They seem more fulfilled. They’re the people that others look at and ask, “How did you do that?” or “What did you do to deserve that?” What they did is they solved a creative problem rather than simply making a choice between the options presented.
No Is Just The Beginning
The matching of clients and agencies together is often fraught with challenges and even outright ridiculousness. On the agency side, the decision is often seen as acquiescing to ridiculous demands or walking away.
There’s a better way to do this – a third way. Your job is to find it. It almost always starts with pushing back on a flawed selection process, but it doesn’t end there. You might be starting with no, but no is just the beginning of a journey to a more creative and glorious solution. Start thinking about the problem differently, believe that there’s a third way and go in search of it.