Before You Say No, Five Steps to Find Your Yes

After the final no, there comes a yes and on that yes, the future of the world hangs.    (Wallace Stevens)

A sales executive friend of mine likes to say that the selling only begins after you’ve heard the first “No”.  I always liked the expression, but it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking more about how great consultants move past a client’s reluctance to move forward on their recommendations… how they move past that initial No.  As I have thought more about it, I have begun to really appreciate the wisdom in my friend’s saying.

Salespeople call an early attempt to gain customer commitment a “trial close”. When the answer to that trial close is No, many (maybe most) of them decide that the deal is not likely to happen and they walk away. The skilled salespeople use that first “no” to energize themselves. They become intensely interested in understanding what it will take to get to the Yes.  And then, the real selling begins…

In many of his talks, Peter Block tells a story about a young man who asks his beloved, “Will you marry me?” She energetically says, “No!”   His response:  “Great, then we can talk!”   Inwardly, he is thinking, “Game On!!!”   He’s obviously been listening to my sales friend.

Block also speaks eloquently about the usefulness of well managed conflict to define the win-win crucial to effective consulting.  I love his quote, “Insight resides in moments of tension.” (Block 2011 )

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation and author of “The Power of A Positive No”(Ury 2007) , says it this way:

“Perhaps the single biggest mistake we make when we say No is to start from No. We derive our No from what we are against – the other’s demand or behavior. A Positive No calls on us to do the exact opposite and base our No on what we are for. Instead of starting from No, start from Yes. Root your No in a deeper Yes – a Yes to your core interests and to what really matters.”

Five steps to finding your Yes:

  1. When you first hear whatever it is that infuriates you and you want to scream “No” back, notice your emotions.  What are you feeling, and how intensely?
  2. Step back, and do whatever it takes to give yourself some time to recover and regain control. Feign a coughing spell, or decide to call a break for some coffee.  Whatever it takes.
  3. Remind yourself that managed conflict is the most positive step you can take to get to the outcome you want, to your Yes. This is a good thing!
  4. Ask yourself, what Yes are you seeking that is inconsistent with their No? Unpack and rediscover your most basic needs and the values.  Which are relevant, here?  Let these questions help you be clear about what you really want and need in this situation.  Your Yes.
  5. Distill your thinking down to a specific interest in this situation. When you get around to exploring that interest with your partner, it will give you confidence and it will make it easier for them to understand your Yes, and align it to theirs.

This series of steps has more moving parts that I can cover in a short article.  Check out Ury’s excellent chapter on Discover Your Yes (Ury 2007) for a much more complete discussion.

Epilogue: 

“A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble”      (Mahatma Ghandi)

The young woman in Block’s story begins the real courtship with her honest “No”.  Her suitor wisely recognizes that No as the beginning of the dialogue that he hopes will get him to Yes.

How will you handle it, the next time someone tells you No?  And why did you wait so long to ask the question?

Great Reads:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. New York, Bantam Dell.

The first question: What do you really want? (What is compelling you to act?)

Line of ForceI was frustrated.

Over several meetings, we had come to a detailed understanding of the learning outcomes the client hoped to achieve in a series of workshops on relationship building skills.

I had been able to draw strong lines between the pains they were feeling and the workshop designs.  We had talked in depth about how the programs would improve the outcomes her sales force was achieving.

As we wrapped the last meeting, the client seemed poised to close the engagement, and just asked for some time to review the proposal with the VP of HR.

And that was the end of the road….

Several months later, despite multiple attempts to revive it, the discussion had gone cold.  The client wasn’t responding.  The opportunity was dead.  Stone. Cold. Dead.

What had I missed?

One of the gifts we give our business colleagues (note that I didn’t say “prospect”?  See note below.)  is clarity about what they want, a realistic sense of where they are, and well their current actions are working for them to close that gap.  The transition of this opportunity from live and engaged to cold and dead, made me question if we had been as clear about the opportunity, and whether the benefits were as compelling as I had thought.

Question One:  “What change do you truly want?”

“What will be different?  How will you know?  How will the firm’s position be different?  How will your stature and success be different?”  Probe around every dimension of their future vision that you can think of.  Probe around the emotions:  “How will it feel to be in this future vision?”  (See my earlier blog article around empathy and emotion.)

Question Two:  “How well is your current approach working for you?”

This simple, open question lets them tell you in their own words, what their current state is.  If you have done your homework, you already have a working hypothesis of their business issues.  This hypothesis will serve you later as you probe around their initial answer.  But what you don’t know now is the inside story, the business impact and the emotional impact on them and other key stakeholders.

Question One minus Question Two equals The Gap

That gap between desired future state and their current state and current efforts provides the business case and emotional energy (think compelling event) for what they must do to bring the change to life.  Without that emotional energy, they won’t have the courage and the will to win (or even engage) the internal battle for funding, project priority, etc.

Salesmen, beware!

When we are helping clients articulate their future vision, it is too soon to reveal the future you hope for them, and your recommended path to get there. Once you assert your value proposition and unwrap your solution, you have ended the discovery discussion.

In my situation, I began to question whether I had moved to the close too quickly.  Or perhaps I had failed to accommodate the visions of other individuals who had to agree with the need and the value proposed.

True advisors have the patience and discipline to divorce themselves from their favored outcome and path at this point in the discovery.  They must trust the client to envision the outcome that’s going to work the best for them.  Further, they must trust themselves and their solution enough to believe that, at the right time, they can describe a realistic path that will be simple and compelling.

Epilogue:

As advisors, we use questions and dialogue to help our clients develop greater clarity on both current state and future state.   By doing so, we earn their trust.  That trust gives us permission, later, to help them inform, or even challenge, their vision.  Once the vision is clear, then we can help them evaluate a number of possible paths forward, including that offered by our solution.

By framing our prospect as a colleague, more than a potential buyer of our stuff, we are less likely to trigger the emotional resistance we all have, to being sold something.

This is much easier to say, than to do.  Credibility as a colleague means that we really do understand their business – lots (probably years!) of experience and personal homework on their industry.  Hard as it is to come by, that core business acumen is at the foundation of our power as advisors.

I never said this was easy.

Bullet-Proof Your Self-Confidence by Noticing Your Self Talk

SelfConfidence_600I had just been promoted to my first sales manager position. Among my competitors for the job was a salesperson with an impeccable sales record, and who prior to selling, had been the field support engineer for our manufacturing division. On paper, he was entirely better qualified than I was. To make matters worse, he now reported to me. He was clearly having a problem with the decision, and the tension was palpable. It was getting in the way of our mutual success.

We had very different styles, and to be honest, I found his entirely annoying. (As I was to find out later, so did the manager that promoted me.)   Yet, even as the victor, I would imagine arguments of every sort with him, in which I would create the position I thought he would take, and then mentally argue energetically against it. I would find myself being quite distracted by the back-and-forth of these imaginary arguments, and I could feel my own tension build.

Who was the loser in these imaginary debates?

Clearly, me. I was wasting my intellectual and emotional energy fighting an argument that only existed in my mind.

Here are some ideas that will help you become an astute observer of yourself, and to turn the observations and conclusions you make about yourself into ones that build up your self-confidence, not tear it down.

First step: Learn to have an “out of body experience” with yourself.

As you are out of your own body, notice yourself, your feelings and interactions. Take on the role of a third party consultant. Don’t make judgments. Just observe. Pay attention to what is happening around you, and notice how you react. Notice whether certain external factors are triggers for repeatable feelings or reactions.

Second step: Look for events that trigger a drop in your mood or self-confidence.

In my example, my teammate would often refer to his “extensive experience” and how that drove his proposal for any given situation. I realize now, that when he made those assertions, he would trigger me into having one of those self – generated “arguments” and I would go into my head to engage.

Third step: Ask yourself if you see any beliefs you are holding that would cause the feeling you experience when the trigger event occurs.

Looking back on it, I believe that when my colleague asserted his greater level of experience, it triggered a belief on my part that I really did not fully have the necessary experience and skills to effectively lead my team. That belief in turn put me “into my head” and I would start the debate.

Fourth step: Have an open debate with yourself as to whether or not the belief is accurate.

While my colleague did have a deeper technical background and more years of direct selling experience, his relating skills were weak, and it diminished the quality of his interactions with both his internal team and customers.

I was far stronger in that area.  I later came to understand that my relational skills were what earned me the promotion. If I had been able to have that clarity at the time, I would have been much less likely to get in my head every time he made those assertions. My self-confidence would have been stronger and of course that would have driven higher performance.

Fifth and final step: Once you have established the link between the trigger event and the limiting belief, ask yourself: “What new belief might drive a more productive reaction to that trigger?”

Once you devise a better belief and a more powerful response, you can train yourself to be aware of the trigger, and intentionally choose the better response.  Like any skill, that will take awareness and practice, but it will eventually become automatic.

Epilogue: What I needed at the time was the ability to “just notice” and not go straight to a judgment.

Research has shown that self-judgments are more likely to be negative than positive. By “just noticing” and delaying judgment, we give ourselves a better opportunity to illuminate and debate self-limiting beliefs and to create alternative beliefs that serve us better and enable our success.