Is Selling Too Hard? Maybe You’re Doing It Wrong

The Financial Trust PuzzleMost salespeople love athletic metaphors. For example, consider these well-known maxims:

  • No pain, no gain
  • The harder you try to hit the ball, the worse you do.

Note – these two platitudes express precisely opposing points of view. So – which is the right answer? Is it effort – or form? Is it grit – or ease?

Many sales pundits will tell you that an essential ingredient in selling—perhaps the essential ingredient—is effort. Gumption, grit, hustle, sweat—whatever the word, the image it conveys is that success in selling is tough. No pain, no gain.

This view posits selling as being like football: the team that exerts the most effort is the team that wins.

And there is a lot of truth in that viewpoint.

But consider another truth. Think about hitting a golf ball. As anyone who’s tried can attest, the quality of your golf shot is in inverse proportion to your effort. That pleasing “thwock” of a well-struck iron almost never comes from trying hard.

Instead, the “trick” in golf is not how hard you swing—it’s how smooth, relaxed, and “at ease” your swing is. If you’re swinging too hard, you’re almost certainly doing it wrong.

And there’s a lot of truth in that viewpoint as well.

But here’s the thing – most dichotomies like this are false. Selling isn’t only like football, or like golf. It’s both – in different ways. But that’s a different article. This article is about just one side—the golf side, if you will, where if you’re working too hard at selling – you’re doing it wrong.

Adam Smith, Competition, and Selling

Blame it on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, if you will. The Scottish moral philosopher and economist famously claimed that by the self-oriented struggling of the butcher and the baker, the “invisible hand” of the market makes itself known by balancing out all for the greater good. Out of individual selfishness grows the maximum collective good.

While Smith has been unfairly characterized as arguing against regulation and in favor of unfettered free markets, there’s no question that his powerful formulation rhymes with competition—individuals seeking their own betterment. Perhaps ever since, business has been full of metaphors from war and sports. And nowhere are those metaphors more prevalent than in sales.

Take just one sport alone: pitch, curve ball, hitting cleanup, bottom of the ninth, pinch hit, get our signals lined up, strike out, bases loaded, don’t swing at the first pitch, home field advantage, double play, we’re on the scoreboard, leaving men on base, pop-up, foul ball, home run hitter, shut-out, and so on.

Here’s the thing about sports metaphors: they’re all about competition. Real Madrid vs. Barca. Yankees vs. Red Sox. All Blacks vs. Wallabies. Seller vs. competitor.

And—most of all—seller vs. buyer.

Selling without Competition

It’s hard for most people to even conceive of selling without that competitive aspect between buyer and seller. Isn’t the point to get the sale? Isn’t closing the end of the sales process? If a competitor got the job, wouldn’t that be a loss? And why would you spend time on a “prospect” if the odds looked too low for a sale?

When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work—particularly because much of it is spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. And getting other people to do what we want them to do is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

There is another way. It consists in simply and basically changing the entire approach to selling.

The first approach is the traditional, competitive, zero-sum-thinking, buyer vs. seller—the age-old dance that to this day gives selling a faint (or not-so-faint) bad name. It is one-sided, seller-driven, and greedy.

Social media haven’t made this approach to selling go away—they have empowered it. Just look at your inbox, spam filters, LinkedIn requests, Instagram feeds, Twitter hustles, and pop-up ads on the Internet.

And boy do you have to work hard to sell that way.

The second approach is different. The fundamental distinction is that you’re working with the buyer, not against the buyer. Your interests are 100% aligned, not 63%. If you do business by relentlessly helping your customers do what’s right for them, selling gets remarkably easier.

You don’t have to think about what to share and what not to. You don’t have to control others. You don’t have to white-knuckle meetings and phone calls because there are no bad outcomes.

Selling this way works very well for one fundamental reason: all people (including buyers) want to deal with sellers they can trust—sellers who are honest, forthright, long-term driven, and customer-focused. All people (including buyers) prefer not to deal with sellers who are in it for themselves, and constantly in denial about it.

This is the golf part of selling: the part where if you lighten up, relax the muscles, let it flow, you end up with superior results. And there’s a whole lot of truth to that view. If you’re working too hard, you’re not doing it right.

The Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Twelve-step programs are commonly known as ‘recovery’ programs – a structured approach to getting out of a problem situation.  But what if you turned that perspective on its head? What if you saw a program – particularly one with twelve steps – as something to advance you from an already-good situation to an even better, new level of life, thought, and – relationships?

Below are twelve steps to take when looking to grow strong, trust-based business relationships. Easy? Yes. Simple? Well, see for yourself.

With much respect and genuflection to the original source…

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Rarely will you see someone fail in business who has thoroughly followed these simple suggestions. Those who do fail are typically people who are incapable of being honest – with their colleagues, their customers and their partners.

Other problems may temporarily deflect you, but the ability to be rigorously honest will prove immeasurably beneficial in all your business relationships.

Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Step 1. Accept that you have no power over people, that all your attempts at control have failed. Trying to get other people to do what you want them to do is doomed to failure, no matter how good your intentions, how right your cause, or how much benefit it would bring the other.

People just wanna be free. Go with it.

Step 2. Recognize that by yourself, you can’t succeed. Your success will inevitably be tied up in the success of other people. Not only are you not driving the bus, you are in fact just another passenger.

Step 3. Resolve that you’re going to stop trying to drive the bus – that you’ll start doing things to help other people – that you’ll focus on getting the group to succeed. When things don’t go your way, remember “your way” is what got you into this mess. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Step 4. Make a list of all the stupid, controlling, selfish things you do to others. Be specific about whom you do them to, and what harm it does to them. Stop at ten people.

Now add to the list a few good things you do. You are, after all, worthwhile.

Step 5. Go share your list with someone you trust. Listen to what they have to say about it and learn from what they have to say. Don’t waste time arguing with them.

Step 6. Get yourself ready to stop behaving in those old ways. Think about it for a while. Make a list of the new things you’ll do. Envision yourself responding in new ways; rehearse new “lines.”

Hint: your list should probably include listening. Also, listening.

Step 7. Pick a time of your own choosing to begin the change. It could be right now, it could be next week, but not next summer. Write that date in your calendar. When it comes, step out of your old ways and start working the new.

Step 8. Think about the customers, co-workers, peers and partners you might have tried to control and what you did to them. Think of what you might have done better and plan to do better next time.

Step 9. Go back to the customers, co-workers and partners you’ve tried to control, and tell them you realize what you have done. Acknowledge your responsibility in those situations, and tell them specifically how you plan to behave differently in future.

Hint: Don’t do this if it causes upset or harm to the other person. Also:  don’t confuse this with trying to get them to forgive you – see Step 1, above.

Step 10. At each day’s end, do a mental run-through of how you did in your new approach. Note where you fell short and what you could have done better.

Then let it go and get a good night’s sleep.

Step 11. Create a little mantra for yourself, to remind you that your job is to help others, not yourself. Get out of the transaction, secure in the idea that better relationships will float all transaction boats.

Step 12. Having recognized how to apply these principles to your business affairs, give it a shot at home and in the rest of your life.  You saw that one coming, right?

Escaping the Grinding Wheels of Sales

The plaintive question suddenly took me back a few decades. I remember feeling exactly as the person described it:

What am I supposed to do? On the one hand, I genuinely want to do right by my client. At the same time, my firm is depending on me to drive revenue there. They’re not asking me to do anything wrong, of course, but the pressure is there nonetheless; it’s on me to figure out how to do it, how to ring the bell. And I’ve got to make it happen; it’s my job.

I feel caught between two grinding wheels: everyone’s nice about it, but that just makes it worse.  I don’t know how to make both sides happy, and it’s just grinding me down.

Exactly. Boy do I remember that. And if you sell systems, or professional services, or complex B2B services, I bet you can relate too.

So here’s what I’ve learned that’s kept me away from the grinding wheels for a long time now.

What You Must Remember

Here’s the thing. Three things, actually.

Thing 1. You can’t make people do what they don’t want. Trying to do so just makes it worse. And much ‘selling’ rhymes with trying to do just that. (One of my favorite findings in Neil Rackham’s great work SPIN Selling is that attempts to teach ‘closing’ actually made students worse at closing).

Thing 2. If you help other people, it predisposes them to help you. And “help” comes in many flavors, including – very much including – just plain old listening. Listening to people predisposes them to listen to  you. And listening to you tends to increase the odds of their buying.

Thing 3. Principle-based behavior beats tactical behavior. If your actions are always based on short-term self-interest, others will not trust you. If your actions are based on principles, others will see it and trust you, including in the buying process.

If you accept Thing 1, you’ll lose less. If you start doing Things 2 and 3, you’ll win more.

If you think rightly about these three ideas, and act on them – you can escape that feeling of being ground down.  Here’s how.

Putting the Basic Things Together

In the happy event that your offering is better than your competitor’s, don’t blow it by over-reaching. Be calm, open, and natural. Be forthright, but confident that your offering can speak for itself.

If your offering is worse than your competitor’s, don’t blunt your sword. Admit it. Do what you can to help your client, including – yes, I’m serious – recommending your competitor (you’ll gain hugely in credibility). Then go back to your product people and convince them you’ve got a product problem, not a sales problem.

In the most usual case – your offering is comparable – you do not win by clever pricing, sexy presentations, or ingenious politics. And frankly, winning by adding more value or being cleverer at content is over-rated. Because let’s be honest: your competitors are more or less as smart or clever as you are. Expertise these days is a commodity.

Where you can win is by playing the long game, and the principles game. If you consistently aim to help your clients, being forthright at all times about what is in their best interest, they will notice. And you will get more than your “fair share” of business, i.e. more than just the share you might expect based solely on quality of service offering.

Because buyers prefer to deal with principled sellers who have their long-term interests at heart, rather than with serially selfish tacticians. For proof, just ask yourself and your firm how you behave as buyers.

Escaping the Grinding Wheels of Sales

Back to my workshop participant, caught between the grinding wheel of sales. How to escape it?

The answer is an inside job. It requires recognizing that all the tension comes from an inability to accept the Three Things:

  • We feel tension when we try to get people to do something we know they don’t really want
  • We feel tension when we try for what we want, rather than what helps the client
  • We feel tension when we try for the transaction, not the relationship.

So – don’t do that.

You must believe in and act on those principles. If you decide the principles need a little nudge, that somehow they’re not strong enough on their own, then you are simply willing yourself back into that space between the grinding wheels. If you can’t live your principles, you will not benefit from them. Nor would you deserve to.

But if you can believe and act on them, you no longer have to worry. Just do the next right thing. Be client-helpful in the long term. Don’t Always Be Closing: instead, Always Be Helping.

Work hard, but don’t spend an ounce of your effort on trying to get others to do your short-term selfish bidding. Let your competitors play that game, because it simply helps you play yours.

Answering Objections

What if your boss doesn’t buy it, you ask? Tell them you need 9 months to prove it. If they refuse to have anything to do with your view, then you must either come to peace with the grinding wheels, or accept that you’ll be happier in another place. The good news is, many managers are quite educable in this regard, particularly if you begin to deliver the numbers, and 9 months give or take is about enough time.

What if your clients don’t buy it, you ask? In my experience, about 80% of clients react the way I’ve described above. The others are either nasty people or monopolists, and they are the ones you should willingly cede to your competitors.

You can stop feeling ground down any time you choose to, starting now. Just choose to Always Be Helping.

Are Your Clients Lying to You?

Have you ever had that sinking feeling that your client—or your hopefully prospective client—is being less than honest with you?

Maybe they haven’t returned that call. The last three email exchanges have been one-way. They haven’t mentioned that meeting they were so eager about just last month. They’re talking constrained budgets. Is it possible your client is lying to you?

There Is Lying, and There Is Lying

I’m not talking about flat-out lies like, “We’re going to give you the project,” when they already signed an agreement with another firm. But consider a few other situations from your daily life:

How often do you answer “How are you?” with “Fine, thanks,” when you’re not fine?

How often do you answer, “No problem,” when, in fact, it is a problem?

How do you answer the classic, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

How often do you say, “Let’s do lunch,” meaning this is goodbye?

How about, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m booked on Friday?” Or, “Yes, let’s definitely stay in touch.”

I’m not trying to draw a sharp moral distinction (or to blur one). I’m not trying to justify or excuse any type or level of truth-telling or its absence. I’m simply pointing out the ubiquity of situations in which we, on a daily basis, are Less Than Fully Transparent. Let’s call it LTFT. And let’s recognize that it happens—a lot.

What You Mean When You Are LTFT

What about when you are LTFT? Do you have evil intentions? Are you attempting to hoodwink someone? Are you a swindler? A thief? A con artist?

Almost certainly not. Your motives are probably to be careful of and solicitous toward the other person. You are trying not to hurt their feelings. You want to spare them the embarrassment of being contradicted, rejected, or humiliated.

And oddly enough, the less you know them, the more you are likely to feel a need to protect them. After all, if you knew them well, you’d feel more comfortable having a heart-to-heart.

But from another perspective, this isn’t odd at all. The fact that you don’t know them well is precisely why you don’t want to get into uncomfortably specific details. You can afford to think “out of sight, out of mind” because you won’t see them much more—if ever—but you don’t want them to speak ill of you either.

And so we choose a strategy for handling difficult situations with not-deep acquaintances we don’t want to hurt—to be polite and give no offense.

And so, you are LTFT. Or, if you prefer, you lie to them.

What They Mean When They Are LTFT

Be honest: why should other people’s motives be any different, or any worse, than yours? Unless you’re a candidate for sainthood, odds are your motives are the same as theirs.

What, then, to make of the girl in high school who, when you asked her out, said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m busy Friday night,” before turning away? Do you really wish she had said, “Look, I just don’t want to go out with you at all?”

What to make of the prospective client you met at a networking event who said, “Yes, let’s do lunch one of these days.” Would you prefer he said, “Look, I’m just not interested in you or your offering, and I don’t want to waste any more time talking about it?”

What did your client really mean when they said you lost the bid on price? Would you really prefer they said, “Frankly, you were fourth out of five on most dimensions, and fifth on the rest, and we don’t want to invest more time in explaining it to you?”

Like you, your clients are trying to be polite, to spare your feelings, and to disengage without hurt feelings—or, at least, with the ability to say to themselves that there were no hurt feelings. They’re not “lying” to you; they’re just being LTFT with you.

The Solution to LTFT

If you don’t like being in an LTFT situation as a seller, you have two options.

The first option is appropriate when you really don’t have a viable proposition to bring to the table—when you know in your bones that you got solidly beat by a competitor or you just don’t have game. In those cases, your strategy should be simply to accept it.

In fact, be grateful for it. At least they liked you enough not to be “brutally honest.” Stop obsessing, stop feeling angry, and stop the self-pity. Resolve to either change your proposition for the next time you face this situation or not to get into that situation again.

The second option is preventive and prophylactic: drive sharply past the “friend zone,” and create a personal connection of trust. Use the “Name It and Claim It” approach and speak out loud the issue that everyone is dancing around. Give them an off-ramp, but be sure to put the issue on the table.

You don’t have to be a full-blown trusted advisor to have a trust-based connection. Nor does it have to take a long time. What you must do is speak a direct, unvarnished little piece of The Truth. Here’s what some “truth-bits” might look like:

  • Don’t send that third email pretending nothing is wrong. Say something like this: “If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll assume things have shifted or changed, which of course does happen.” Then if you don’t hear back, move along.
  • Instead of saying, “Let’s do lunch,” lean in while you shake the person’s hand and say, “Look, would you like to have lunch a week from Wednesday, or would you prefer to just get back to me at some later point of your choosing?” Then if you don’t hear back, move along.
  • Instead of meekly accepting that you “lost on price,” say, “Look, Joe, I just want to ask you one favor, just one yes-or-no question with no follow-up. I know we did several things wrong—was it really just price that determined your decision? Or was it several other things, too? I just want to know where we should focus our efforts going forward, and that yes/no would be a huge help to us.”
  • Better yet, before the bidding results are announced, say, “Look, Joe, I know we may win, and we may lose. I’d like to ask you one favor. If we were to lose, could I ask you to be honest with me about the main reason we lost? So often people give just a nice ‘So sorry’ and then we go off and make the same mistake again. You could really help us learn going forward. If you’d be so kind, I’d really appreciate it.”

Instead of meekly submitting to the LTFT ritual, be the one to break out of it. You can’t force other people to break out of it with you—you always need to give them the LTFT off-ramp—but you can lead by example.

You can show them that you’re willing to speak directly and truthfully, and you’ll appreciate the company—if they’re up to it.

 

Integrity: What’s Up With That?

Like trust, integrity is something we all talk about, meaning many different things, but always assuming that everyone else means just what we do.  That leads to some vagueness and confusion. But a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.

Integrity and the Dictionary

Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”

If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer.  That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.

In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.

Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).

Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.

Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?

Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.

Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?

Integrity – Your Choice?

So which is it?  Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?

Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.

But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.

For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.

What do you mean when you think of integrity?

This post first appeared on TrustMatters.

To Live Outside the Law You Must be Honest

Years ago, O best beloved, there lived a musician, both popular and influential. His name was Bob Dylan. Some of you may remember.

Dylan’s lyrics grace the lists of most popular lyrics of all time, including my favorite, “the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face…” from Visions of Johanna.

But some lines were more than just poetically evocative – they also hinted at serious truths. One such line was today’s title: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” The lyric is from Absolutely Sweet Marie, from (IMHO) his greatest album, Blonde on Blonde, recorded in New York and Nashville in 1966. As with all Dylan songs, who knows what the artist meant, he’s not talking – but here’s what I take it to mean.

It’s easy to color within the lines. It’s easy to paint by numbers, fill in the check boxes, meet the specs and follow the regulations. In short, to follow the law. But when it comes to issues like trust and ethics, balancing social responsibility and profits, navigating between government demands and consumer demands – it’s not enough.

It’s tempting, taunting, tantalizing, to look to the law (or corporate guidelines, or regulations) for guidance when faced with a difficult issue in client relationships, customer satisfaction, or ethical issues. It’s also a copout.

Issues of ethics and trust demand a higher order of resolution. When faced with a client demanding to know the truth about some matter, how much truth do you share? The ‘law’ will clearly tell you what truths not to tell; and if you want to argue from omission, what truths are therefore not restrained. But your client – or your constituencies, or your legacy – isn’t going to be satisfied, in part because all you’re doing is citing ‘the law;’ you’re not taking any responsibility.

Being Honest, Being Principled

In this situation, I’m equating “be honest” with “be principled.” Principles apply to more than just honesty, but honesty will do fine as a stand-in for other principles. The point is – you’d better have something more than chapter and verse at hand to satisfy a demand for trust or fairness, whether from clients, employees or society at large. The statement “but it was legal” doesn’t cut any mustard in the higher courts of human interaction.

If you’re looking to be trusted, compliance is de minimis; by itself,  even inflammatory. “Sorry, that’s the law” is only slightly more satisfying than “Sorry, that’s our policy,” or, “Sorry, that’s not how we do things around here.”

Instead, you need principles – rooted in human nature and human relationships. Principles like service to others, or collaboration, or transparency, or don’t treat others as means to your ends. It’s principles like these that provide better guidance to tough decisions. (It’s also principles, that in the long run, must undergird the law itself for the law to be seen as legitimate.)

Your client wants to know what principles are driving you to be opaque and malleable about your pricing. Passat owners and VW dealers want to know what principles, if any, justify the slow drip of revelations about accountability. Apple shareholders and customers are very much vested in wanting to know the principles behind Tim Cook’s position on security – and the government makes its case best when it challenges Apple on principle grounds, e.g. arguing that the real motive is brand enhancement.

Living Outside the Law

To “live outside the law” doesn’t mean you’re a criminal – but in Dylan’s meaning, it does mean you’re an outlaw. You operate in part outside the narrow proscriptions of the law; you find affirmation by others of your actions by grounding them in broader principles.

That’s ultimately what makes others trust you. We live our daily lives by universal principles that others recognize as legitimate as well. We don’t trust people whose ‘ethics’ amount to rote checkbox compliance. We trust those who come from someplace deep, a place where connection to others and relationships with them are bedrock. People who feel their principles and are confident enough in them to re-compute them in every situation, as if for the first time.

If you’re going to live outside the law – and you should – you’d best be honest.

 

The Single Fastest Thing You Can Do to Increase Trust

Trust takes time.

Well, as I’ve said countless times – that’s the biggest myth out there. Trust can be built in a matter of moments. It’s all about how you go about it. And I can share with you how you can build trust…fast.

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That’s quite a claim. But I think I can back it up. (This thing also requires little time or money, meaning it’s also high ROI).

First, let’s define terms.

• By “increase trust,” I mean something Person A can do that increases their probability of being trusted by Person B;
• By “fastest,” I don’t mean easiest, nor most powerful. I mean least elapsed time between interaction and resultant trust.
• By “trust,” I mean legitimate trust, trustworthiness on the part of Person A. No fakery.

It’s simple, though not easy. Let me tell you what it is; then give you 11 reasons why it is indeed the single fastest way to increase trust.

It is simply this:

Return calls and emails really fast.

That’s it. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But let’s explore further.

First, here’s the basic template for doing it:

Joe, I want to let you know I got your message. I may not get to it until Thursday, but I want to let you know I’m on it. I’ll be working it between now and then. It’s on my to-do list, it’s in my mind first thing in the morning and last at night. You can take it off your worry list, I’m on the case.

Now let’s explore what this does for you and your client.

1. It immediately removes FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) from your client’s mind. All those concerns (did he get it? why hasn’t he answered me yet? was it something I said? Is he avoiding me? is he fighting me?) are gone. Cut off. Stopped cold. You have committed to engage.

2. It allows you to proactively schedule things out to Thursday. (Don’t worry—if they actuallydo need it Tuesday, they’ll be back to you about it).

3. By making a commitment to engage, you create a chance to improve your perceived reliability and integrity—by proceeding to do just what you said you’d do.

4. It demonstrates your attentiveness to the client’s issue.

5. It demonstrates your sensitivity to the client’s time needs.

6. It forces you to address an issue. The tougher and more difficult the issue, the more important this is. How many people have not returned your call in the last three days? The more uncomfortable an issue is, the more likely we are to delay, or avoid, facing it. Unfortunately, the other person knows it. They in turn silently accuse us of passive-aggressive avoidance. And they’re right.

7. By dealing with tough issues—putting them squarely on the table—we show that we are not afraid to constructively engage. The work of John Gottman in marriages shows the enemy of relationships is not confrontation, but disengagement. Returning that difficult phone call forthrightly builds relationships.

8. By scheduling it for Thursday, you show that you’re in charge of your schedule, therefore an efficient server of clients.

9. By scheduling it forthrightly, you show confidence that you can deal with the issue, and confidence itself is confidence-inspiring (I’m assuming here you can back it up).

10. By responding quickly and directly, you validate the client’s sense of the issue as being accurate and timely.

11. You’re going to have to deal with this thing anyway. You can do it efficiently, effectively and confidently and gain all the above benefits; or you can put it off hoping either the issue will die, the muse will descend from the heavens, or the client will forget about it.

Do the right thing. Return that call or email really fast.

Four Principles of Organizational Trust: How to Make Your Company Trustworthy

Here’s a “Golden Oldie” post from 2011. Has anything changed in the passage of five years?

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iStock_000018524776XSmallTrust, in case you hadn’t noticed, has gotten “hot” lately. But much of it sounds very vague—soft, fluffy, nice-to-have, the buzzword du jour.

I’d like to do my part to make it real.

To me, that means breaking it down and making it sound; tapping into the strategy and mysticism, but also staying grounded in the tactical and the practical.

So let’s review some context; then talk about four specific operating principles a business can hone in on to improve its trustworthiness.

Putting Trust into a Workable Context

I’ve suggested elsewhere that “trust” is too vague a term to work with. To do something practical, we need first to identify the trust realm: are we talking about personal trust, or business/organizational trust, or social/institutional trust?

The next question is about the trust role: are we working on being more trusting? Or more trustworthy? They are not the same thing.  And “trust” is the result of them both interacting.

Building a Trustworthy Business

In the realm “personal” and the role “trustworthy,” we can point to personal beliefs and behaviors as indicated in the Trust Quotient. But in business, trustworthiness is built through a set of daily operating principles. Trustworthiness is built from habitually behaving in accordance with a set of commonly shared beliefs about how to do business.

I suggest they can be boiled down to four.

The Four Trust Principles

1. A focus on the Other (client, customer, internal co-worker, boss, partner, subordinate) for the Other’s sake, not just as a means to one’s own ends.  We often hear “client-focus,” or “customer-centric.” But these are terms all-too-often framed in terms of economic benefit to the person trying to be trusted.

2. A collaborative approach to relationships.  Collaboration here means a willingness to work together, creating both joint goals and joint approaches to getting there.

3. A medium to long term relationship perspective, not a short-term transactional focus. Focus on relationships nurtures transactions; but focus on transactions chokes off relationships. The most profitable relationships for both parties are those where multiple transactions over time are assumed in the approach to each transaction.

4. A habit of being transparent in all one’s dealings.  Transparency has the great virtue of helping recall who said what to whom. It also increases credibility, and lowers self-orientation, by its willingness to keep no secrets.

Executing on the Trust Principles

What are the tools an organization has at its disposal to make itself more trustworthy? Any good change management consultant can rattle off the usual suspects, but for trustworthiness, the emphasis has to shift somewhat.

The usual change mantra includes a heavy dose of behaviors, metrics and incentives. Some of that works here, but only to a point.

For example, Principle 1, focus on the Other, is contradicted by too much extrinsic incentive aimed at leveraging self-interest–it undercuts focus on the Other.  And Principle 3, relationship over transaction, forces metrics and rewards to a far longer timeframe than most change efforts employ.

Another great shibboleth of change is that it must be led from the CEO’s office. But with trust, it ain’t necessarily so.  Trustworthiness is a great candidate for infectious disease change strategies; guerrilla trust strategies can work at the individual level, and individual players can lead. Behavior in accord with these principles cannot be coerced; the flipside is, it can be unilaterally engaged in.

The most powerful tools to create a trustworthy organization are things like language, recognition, story-telling, simply paying attention to the arenas where the principles apply—and the will to apply them.  Role-modeling helps; some skill-building helps.  But most of all, it is the willingness to notice the pervasive opportunities to work in accordance with this simple set of four principles.

Trustworthiness breeds trusting (the reverse is true too); the combination is what leads to trust. Which, by the way, is quite measurable in its impact on the bottom line.

The Problem With Lying

We learned in grade school not to lie (probably just a bit after we’d already learned how to lie – sometimes you have to know a vice before you can see the virtue that counteracts it).

But even if we learned it – the lesson didn’t seem to stick. (Check daily newspaper headlines). As we see headlines about LIBOR, Volkswagen, drug pricing and you name it, are we losing the ability to be shocked by lying?

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When in doubt, look to humor – particularly sarcasm.   Here’s Dilbert on trust and lying:

dilbert

Scott Adams nails it.  And with a surgical sledgehammer, as usual. The pointy-haired boss is ethically clueless, and blatantly so.

We all get the joke, much the way we get the old George Burns line, “the most important thing in life is sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

But sometimes it’s worth deconstructing the obvious to see just what makes it tick.  So at the risk of stepping on the laugh line, let’s have a go at it.

Lying and Credibility

The most obvious problem with lying is that it makes you wrong. Anyone who knows the truth then immediately knows, at a bare minimum, that you said something that is not the truth, aka wrong.

The shock to credibility extends even to denials. Think Nixon’s “I am not a crook,”  or Clinton’s “I did not have sex…” or the granddaddy of them all, the apocryphal Lyndon  Johnson story about getting an opponent to deny having had sexual relations with a pig. In each case, the denial forces us to consider the possibility of an alternate truth – and the damage is done.

But credibility is the least of it. There are two other corrosive aspects of lying: evasiveness and motives.

Lying and Evasiveness

When you think someone is lying to you, you likely think, “Why is he saying that?” Evasive lying is rarely as direct as the Dilbert case; more often it shows up in white lies, lies of omission, or lies of deflection. “You know, you can’t really trust those damage reports anyway,” “I wouldn’t be too concerned about the service guarantee if I were you,” and so forth.

If the first response to a lie is to doubt that what is stated is the truth, then the second response is to wonder what the truth really is. And we sense evasiveness as we run down the list of alternate truths, each more negative than the last.

Lying and Motive

But the most damning aspect of lying is probably the doubt it casts on the liar’s motives. We move from “that’s not true!” to “I wonder what really is true,” to “why would he be saying such a thing?”

To doubt someone’s motives is to add an infinite loop to our concerns about the lie. First of all, motive goes beyond the lie, to the person telling the lie – who is now incontrovertibly a liar.

Second, the rarest of all motives for lying is an attempt to do a  greater good for another. Despite frequent claims that “I did it for (the kids / the parents / justice), almost all motives for lying turn out to be self-serving at root.  (Including the lies we tell ourselves about why we’re telling lies). Why would he do such a thing? Because there was something in it for him, that’s why! It’s almost always true.

And if people act toward us from selfish motives, then we know we have been treated as objects – as means to an end and not as ends in ourselves. This is unethical in the Kantian sense.

Worst of all, bad motives call everything else into question. “If he lied about this, then how can I know he was telling the truth about that? Or about anything else?” This is why perjury is a crime, and why casting doubt on someone’s character is a common way to counter their statements.

Recovering from Lies

We’ve all told lies. At least, everyone I know has. Okay, I have. We can often be forgiven, just as we can forgive others their lies to us. To forgive and to be forgiven, the liar must express recognition and contrition around the full extent of the lie, and then some.

This can be done more easily for the wounds of credibility and evasiveness. “I was wrong to do that, I know it, and I am sorry.” It is harder to forgive the part about motive, because it goes to something much deeper. How can someone be believed about changing their motives?  How easily can you change your own?

This post first appeared on TrustMatters.

And the Winner Is Low Price. Wait – No…

It’s a time-honored business strategy – low prices. Michael Porter codified Low Price as one of three generic competitive strategies, but it’s not like it wasn’t already commonsense in  every business culture. Still, it’s remarkable to see the over-reliance on this particular strategy in our “modern” times.

Which leads me to ask: Just what is it with low prices?

You see products and services being sold on the basis of low price every day, all around you. Yet you’re also well aware that you shouldn’t compete on just price—that price competition is ruinous and that low prices suggest the absence of larger value.

But just what does that mean for your business? Don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself. Are you in a vicious, cut-throat, price-gouging business? Or are you in one of those cushy, big-margin, fat, dumb and happy businesses that doesn’t have to worry about price competition?

You may be surprised at where you fall on the continuum.

The 3-Question Price Competition Quiz

First, make a subjective estimation of where your business stands on a price sensitivity scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “price ranks very low on the scale of our customers’ concerns” and 10 being “low price is just about the only item our customers care about in this business.” On which side of 5 does your business lie? And how far over toward the end?

Second, make a list of the last 25 competitive bid jobs your company bid on—and lost.

Third, make a list of the last 25 competitive bid jobs your company bid on—and won.

Now, for the “lost” list: in how many of the 25 cases where you lost the competitive bid did the client say something like, “Nice job. Thanks for bidding, but, well, you were just a little too far out of line on price.” In other words, how many jobs did you lose on price? What percent is that of the 25?

And finally, for the “won” list: in how many of the 25 cases where you won the competitive bid did the client say to you, in effect, “Congratulations, you won the job; looking forward to working with you. By the way, the reason you won was you were the low bidder.” In other words, how many jobs did you win on price? What percent is that of the 25?

And the Winner Is …

Let me guess: your percentage lost on price is larger than your percentage won on price.

Let me guess again: your percentage won on price is closer to zero than it is to 25%.

Another guess: your percentage lost on price is less than half.

Another: the ratio of your percentage lost on price to your percentage won on price is 2.5:1 or more.

And finally: looking at your subjectively estimated ranking of your business’s level of price competition, does it fall on the same side of 5 as your estimated wins and losses based on price?

Now, if those guesses are wrong, please write me. I want to know what business you are in! Because for most B2B businesses, particularly those with larger, more complex sales and services offerings, those guesses are well-based on historical data (my data, that is, from giving the quiz in classes).

The Pricing Conundrum

Assuming your results look like my guesses, that raises several conundrums.

One conundrum is this: “If we’re such a price-competitive business, why do both wins and losses appear to be less often based on price than on something else?”

The other is this: “Why do we seem to lose on price more often than we win?”

The answer to both conundrums is that price is overrated as a factor in buying decisions. The real question is why? The answer has mostly to do with buyer psychology.

How Buyers Think about Price

One level of buyer psychology is available to us simply by asking, or by envisioning, what goes on in client organizations. Many consultants and accountants I talk to (and nearly all lawyers) have a tale about how the client’s procurement process is destroying quality—”all they care about is price.”

That is not what the procurement people will tell you, however. Procurement specialists have little interest in incurring the wrath of internal clients with legitimate quality concerns just to be able to say they got the lowest bidder. Value and quality are hardly irrelevant to their concerns.

And assuming your data is like I suggested above, the low bidder doesn’t always win. In fact, the low bidder, it would appear, wins considerably less than half the time, even judging from the higher of the two numbers you estimated (percentage of time you lost on price). And considering the number of times you won on price, one has to wonder how the myth of price competition arose in the first place.

The answer goes deeper into buyer psychology. Suppose you worked for a client and were charged with telling the losing bidders the bad news. How would you deliver the message?

Perhaps you’d prefer to do nothing and just skip the unpleasant task. But you know someone has to do it, and you owe it to the bidders to give a decent explanation.

You don’t want to share too much about the decision process, however, for a variety of reasons—chief among which is you chose the winning firm because, frankly, “we just feel more right about working with them.” You can’t saythat, for heavens’ sake!

So, you end up with several generalizations. Your team wasn’t quite as qualified, the winner had a really strong track record, and that game-ending no-appeals-allowed reason—your price was just a little too high.

Price is an enormously appealing excuse. It’s quantitative (and we all know numbers are good, right?). It’s completely opaque—the proposer has no way of knowing anyone else’s price and would never ask (and only partly because of legal issues).

But most important of all, the bidder wants to believe price was the reason they lost. Because the alternatives are unpalatable: they don’t have good people, they don’t have a good reputation, they don’t appear trustworthy, and so on. No selling team, particularly a team that would be involved in delivering the work, is interested in a message like that!

So, price becomes their refuge. “Darn! If we just could have priced it a little lower. I knew it. The market is tough out there; next time we can’t afford to be so choosy. We need to get in there and fight. And if we have to lower prices to get the work, well maybe we need to do just that.”

And that’s how the myth of low prices gets perpetuated. The moral of the story: if you think you lost on price, think again. Price is just the most convenient excuse for something more fundamental.

 

This post originally appeared on RainToday.