How to Conduct a Black Hat Decision Review

black-hat-500A Black Hat Decision Review is a great way to get all the perspectives, pro and con, on the table and to enable your team to make the best possible decision, with your most important risks considered and mitigated.  (By the way, “your team” can include you and your customer.  That’s the best way to become an “advisor”.)

This process is based on the notion of parallel thinking, popularized by Edward DeBono, in his book, Six Thinking Hats. A brief description of DeBono’s ideas follows below.

Here are the steps in a Black Hat Decision Review:

  1. The proponent for a decision presents the case for moving forward. Chances are they will present a logical and optimistic case, include the new thinking involved, and highlight the emotional side of a positive outcome.
  2. All but one member of the reviewing team then meet separately and brainstorm every possible risk they see that would inhibit success. They meet for about 10-15 minutes, and focus on defining the risks, represented by DeBono’s black hat.
  3. The proponent and one additional team member meet separately and also consider all the possible risks.
  4. The whole team comes back together. The proponent and partner present all of the risks they saw. The remaining team members present their decision killers, one at a time, taking turns, one issue at a time.
  5. The team rank orders the risks from greatest risk to lowest risk.
  6. The teams split up again, this time considering the actions they recommend to mitigate the most significant risks they discovered in the first phase of the exercise.
  7. After 10-15 minutes, the teams reconvene. The proponent and partner present their action plans first. The remaining team members present their actions next.
  8. With all risks visible, and lots of input on ways to mitigate the risks, the entire team decides whether or not to move forward with the proposal, and what detailed actions they must take to optimize the probability of success.

Here’s why it works:

DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats model discusses six “thinking hats”: White (facts and figures), Yellow (optimism), Red (emotion), Black (risks of failure), Green (innovation) and Blue (planning) hats.

Instead of ping-ponging around between facts, optimism, pessimism, emotion, logic, and planning aspects of a decision, the team synchronizes their thinking to consider one perspective, or “hat” at a time, until all perspectives have been examined and all team members’ inputs have been considered. The approach makes it much safer for all concerned to name the risks and deal with them, instead of sweeping them under the rug under the onslaught of optimism.  The Black Hat Decision Review shortens the due diligence process by focusing primarily on the Black Hat, or risk.

Why just focus on Black?

Advocates for a particular decision, will instinctively focus on the positive aspects and the path forward. Because they are advocating, they may often short change or ignore entirely the topic of risks and probability of failure.   The black hat focus makes it easier for team members to feel safe in expressing critical or contrarian ideas, and thus allows for more complete “due diligence” and a better, more-informed decision.

Credit where credit is due!

Thanks to Brad Milner, Managing Partner at TechCXO LLC, for allowing to me adapt his Black Hat Deal Review for a broader audience.  Brad wows consultative sales teams with this approach, and invariably they are excited about its power and relevance to their success.

Cease Fire: Part 3: Collaborate to create an integrated set of metrics

Cease-Fire-4Hi, this is Jim Cooper and welcome back to “It’s not just about the numbers!”

This is the third post in our series on increasing alignment between sales and marketing.  In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

I have lost my wing-man, as Susan is in the middle of a job change and a city change. But I’ll continue the series in a text copy of the dialogue Susan and I had as we were building this piece of the series.   Here goes:


Our second initiative involves the marketing and sales executives collaborating to create an integrated set of metrics

By bringing sales and marketing together to create metrics, it ensures both organizations are laser-focused on the same goals and marching to the same drummer. But, building these metrics requires three things:

1) agreement and alignment on the objectives, both short and long term, 2), a common language, and finally 3) shared service level agreements to be very clear what we will do for each other


The days of sales being only focused on short-term revenue goals and marketing being focused on long-term branding are gone, thank goodness. Yet, there are still many short term realities. The most immediate goal for both sides is the need for sales teams to meet quota. Looking longer term, sales and marketing must take the broader perspective, to map and support the full customer experience with our product or service.


Once the sales and marketing leaders are aligned, they can begin to develop the metrics needed to ensure that all objectives are aligned and metrics are in place for measuring success. Examples of shared metrics include: short term revenue growth; new logo goals, and lead generation,hand-over, and qualification metrics.


To ensure success, both teams need to use a consistent language for the sales process. When one team speaks of “opportunities”, the other team must know precisely what that means. For example, does everyone understand precisely what an MQL  (Marketing qualified lead) is? What criteria are required for that lead to become an SQL (Sales qualified lead)? What does “nurture” mean and who owns which parts of it?


Which brings us to Service Level Agreements, or SLAs. Sales and marketing must be precise in understanding the process in which leads, and feedback, go through the system. For example, marketing must get a lead into sales’ hand within 24 hours. Sales must follow up on the lead within 24 hours.

Along with an agreement of when and how hand-offs occur, building accountability and governance in to the process is essential for long-term success.

Susan, what do you think are the critical actions at this point?


Take the time to be very clear on roles and responsibilities. Beyond the metrics and agreements, sales and marketing must work together to clearly articulate each organization’s responsibilities and then build individual performance measurements based on these responsibilities.

Most importantly, sales and marketing executives must sit down to evaluate how both sides are performing against their performance and service level goals.

As we all know, performance objectives strongly influence behavior.


So here are the five questions we invite you consider and discuss, when creating an integrated set of metrics: [supporting images for each question]

  1. Have you identified which objectives should be shared between sales and marketing?
  2. Have you established a common language?
  3. Are SLAs in place?
  4. Do you need training materials and communications habits (e.g. coffee talks) to ensure new team members understand the common language, SLAs and processes?
  5. How will you drive acceptance and commitment?

That’s it for this post! We hope you’ll continue the discussion with responses to the post.

In our next post, we’ll explore the second strategic initiative, which deals with creating an integrated set of metrics for the strategic alliance between marketing and sales.

So this is Jim and Susan signing off, and reminding you, that…. It’s not just about the numbers!

Lead with Empathy

empathyFamous marketing executive Bruce Turkel tells the story about a magnificent piece of business that was won, and then lost, in the space of an hour. It was a really, really, big opportunity ….

And it was lost because of a key question they failed to ask.

The presentation of the conceptual proposal was perfect. The client was thrilled with the advertising concepts. They gushed on and on about how well they liked the assigned account managers and the creative team. The customer was leading the discussion about next steps and asking how quickly the contracts could be signed and the work begun.

As high fives were being exchanged all around, the president of the client firm complimented Turkel and his team on their level of competence and commitment. And then it happened….

In a moment of self-effacing humor, Turkel minimized his role on the team, saying that the team was so strong, there was practically nothing for him to do. (Cue the sound of a ship crashing on the rocks…) The deal died on the spot.

What Turkel and the team had missed was that this client had recently completed a project where the consulting firm they chose completely failed in executing their vision. In the client’s eyes, the consulting executives had not provided the committed hands-on leadership the project required. It foundered and ultimately failed miserably.

What Turkel and team failed to understand that the client’s team had been emotionally devastated by the previous failure. His single ill-considered remark brought all those ugly emotions back, in high definition and Dolby sound.

Said another way, they failed to understand the emotional issue and show empathy to the client.

They hadn’t made the critical connection because they had not asked enough questions and uncovered what the client felt, where they were emotionally. Instead Turkel’s team went to their own comfort zone, by emphasizing the technical details of their proposal, impressive as they were.

The rational side of the client was very impressed. But, on the emotional side, Turkel’s remark inflamed them. And that was the deal breaker.

What could have turned this sad story into a success story?

Emotional intelligence expert Steven Stein defines empathy as the “ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others.”

Empathetic consultants are able to read others’ emotions and describe them accurately from an objective, non-judgmental perspective…   even if they personally don’t agree with the emotions. As a result, the client knows their emotions have been heard and understood.

Here are five tips to help you lead with empathy and get the back-story you need to gain your client’s trust:

1.  Remember that most major decisions are driven by emotions and not the facts of the matter.

I watched a military service make a $25 million bad vendor selection because the decision board had an emotionally charged fear of software risk. The wrong company won because they had understood that fear and they played to it. Game over.

2.  Respect the rider, but convince the elephant. 

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes a model that argues that humans have two sides:  1) An emotional/automatic/irrational side (the elephant), and 2) An analytical/controlled/rational side (its rider). Authors Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, “Switch”, build on Haidt’s theory and describe it this way: “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched. “

3.  Ask “excavating questions”

Turkel’s team might have asked questions about previous successful and unsuccessful projects. How did the project leadership make a difference in the success or failure of the project? That question alone would have probably prevented the disastrous outcome they experienced.

4.  Talk about you and your advantages only after you have talked about the client, their needs, their dreams, and their fears.

Of course, they need to know about what you bring to the table. But usually the “elephant” (emotions) will run away with the “rider” (logic and facts) because it is so big and powerful.

5.  Put your own emotions and beliefs on hold.

Our own emotional reactions have a huge impact on what we see, how we use our beliefs to acknowledge and interpret it, and the conclusions that we form. It’s hard to get into our clients’ shoes, if all of our inputs are so heavily filtered by what we feel and believe.

Don’t make it about you!  Keep the focus on the client, and what they care deeply about.

Lead with empathy!





Cease Fire! Part 2: Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives

In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

1. Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives
2. Create an integrated set of metrics to measure your degree of alignment
3. Show a united front to the organization on your business planning and budgeting
4. Use a consistent data set that tracks to both organization’s individual key performance indicators, as well as the integrated metrics for your partnership
5. Assign key team members from both teams to work together to win the battle in the market for new revenue

Click on the video below to listen to Susan and Jim discussing the first of those initiatives, establishing a highly visible partnership between sales and marketing executives to alert the entire sales and marketing team that both sides will either succeed together or fail together.

Thanks for watching!