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!

Cease Fire! Five Things You Can Begin Today to Tighten Sales-Marketing Alignment

Cease-Fire-4There they were in the middle of my desk…

… a little stack of computerized forms which I had received from someone in marketing. HP had conducted a tradeshow somewhere in the world, and a handful of people from Dallas had wandered into their booth. The slips were a signal to me to call these visitors and inquire about the multi-million-dollar purchase they were clearly poised to make.

Marketing had done their job. They had planned and conducted the event, and had carefully collected the names and contact information of all the visitors, and put them on my desk. Now it was up to me!

I knew from experience that the vast majority of those slips had been generated because the visitor wanted to get whatever tchotchkes we were giving out, and not because they had any near term need for our products and services.

When I was a new salesman, I would feel guilty about the stack, and I might even call one or two of them. Typical response: Barely any memory of the trade show. No interest in more discussion. What a waste!

As I became more experienced, and more bold, I would let the stack sit there for about a day for before I moved it quietly, but directly, into the wastebasket. That was the view from my foxhole, in the passive-aggressive war between sales and marketing.

Of course, marketing had a view from their foxhole! They had worked very hard for months and spent huge amounts of money to conduct that event. The least “those salespeople” could do would be to follow up on the leads. No feedback ever came back. Why bother? Why spend all that money? What a waste!

Sound familiar?

There is a better way. But sales and marketing have to crawl out of their foxholes, and talk about it. They need to change what they talk about, how they cooperate, and the actions they both must take to build the company brand, and generate short term business.

In this video from my blog and several which follow it, my colleague Susan Tormollen and I discuss how sales and marketing can work together to win. … how to spend most of our time battling the competition, and not each other… and how we did it at a new business unit of HP.

Cease fire!

(See the blog history for  follow-on posts 2 and 3)

Coaching the people who are better than you are

Jane was a solid sales professional and leader, but as a coach she was failing her team.

During her ten years of experience as a sales manager, she had been regularly ranked within the top third of her company’s performance ranking system. She had routinely met or surpassed her sales goals, and she was well regarded among her subordinates and her peers.   As a strong sales leader, she was genuinely dedicated to coaching her team to higher performance, but she had two habits that held her back:

  1. When it came to coaching her two highest performers, she avoided it like the plague.  She felt that they were already far more intuitive and effective sellers than she, and she felt she had nothing to offer them.
  2. When coaching her core and low performers, she could not resist the temptation to jump directly to teaching one of her signature selling skills, once she sensed the faintest relevance to the sales reps’ selling challenges.

Jane had equated her value as a coach with her ability to impart some new skill or pearl of wisdom to help a sales rep elevate his game.  As the result of this misunderstanding of her role as coach, she was not able to effectively improve her team’s performance.

Her high performers did not seek her coaching because they (rightly) felt they were already more advanced sellers than Jane and they felt she had little to teach them.

And, her core performers often felt that she was getting too much into their business and offering skills that were admirable but irrelevant to what they felt they needed.

Both Jane and her sales reps were missing a chance to improve their overall sales performance because they did not understand that great coaching is not about teaching techniques or skills.  Tim Gallwey, author of “The Inner Game of Work”, says it this way: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own potential.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Virtually every top tier sports figure has a coach to help him improve.  About a third of all CEO’s of major corporations have coaches.   The coach’s value to both high and core performers is to help them “see their performance”.  Once they can get around their blind spots and see their performance clearly, most motivated learners intuitively know what to do to improve.  The coach’s role, then, is to be that “video camera” to reflect back thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that exist as barriers between the individual performer and the level of performance he is seeking.

Through advanced coaching training for sales leaders, Jane came to understand that the heart of her value to both high and core performers was first, her ability to help them clarify their own performance improvement goals; and secondly, her ability to help them accurately see the reality of their current mindsets and behaviors.

She found that, once armed with those insights, her team members were  able to see and articulate their own path to new and higher performing behaviors.  Her value moved away from her personal selling skills to her skillfulness as a coach.  Armed with that knowledge, she was able to engage performers at both levels with confidence, and make significant contributions to their respective levels of achievement.


Soft Skills Power the Challenger Sale

What are you doing with your sales teams to help them step up to increasing expectations from sophisticated executive buyers?

From my perspective, the worlds of selling, consulting, and coaching are converging in ways that are going to significantly improve the business outcomes we’re achieving and the human relationships on which these results are built.

These enhanced outcomes are enabled by the integration of knowledge and skills which are well known and deeply understood by the coaching community, who know how to use them and teach them.

This four minute video post is part two of a multipart series, “Is Solution Selling Dead?”

Read the Text of the Video:


Holding your own! Using Assertiveness to communicate with power and get your ideas heard.

Have you ever struggled to deal with a colleague or friend who is either aggressive or insistent that their approach is the only correct one? Did you consider either being passive, or maybe going over the top to be just as aggressive as they are? Modern research with over 4,800 individuals shows Assertiveness too be among the top five personal attributes most highly correlated to success in business and personal life. This program will make you aware of the habits and behaviors which foster strong communication and high levels of team work, and enhance your personal leadership brand. The program will also alert you to habits which inhibit others from really hearing you and supporting your critical ideas.

This is a link to a Slide Share version of the presentation I made to an webinar on Jan 22, 2014


How are you showing up for your people?

woody_allen“80 Percent of Success is Showing Up”    (Woody Allen)

I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1981.  My second level sales manager was a character named Bob Sandefer.  Bob had already been around HP for over 25 years and was a legend with our factories.  Over the next five years, I would be part of Bob’s team, both as a sales rep and later as a first level sales manager.  Over those years, I had plenty of disagreements with Bob on a variety of topics.  He was tough as nails.  As the years passed, and I got a little smarter, two things occurred to me.  First, on virtually all of the areas where we had disagreed, he was right.  Much more importantly I came to really appreciate how dedicated Bob was to “showing up” for his people.

On anything to do with the business, Bob had very strong ideas on how to take care of customers and through doing so, to grow the business.  He would be in your face in a heartbeat if he sensed anything less than total dedication to HP or the customer.  He had high expectations, and enforced them to the last inch.  On the personal side (after five, mind you), he showed a really remarkable ability to get to know everyone on his team (about fifty people), their personal strengths and shortcomings, but also their spouse, kids, and how big the new house had to be…  At 5:01, he would hold court, and the office was usually full until after 7, with one person or another going in for coaching.  We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.  It often involved a minute or two of those  intense “feedback moments” but that didn’t seem to matter.  He was like a candle to a moth.  The interaction didn’t just happen in the office.  If there was a wedding, a funeral, or any other kind of significant life event, he was there.  Period.  It didn’t matter where you were on the list of fifty.  You were one of his people.

As a perspective on coaching, Bob’s strength in building productive coaching relationships was his ability to show up on a variety of levels.  No one could touch his knowledge of our business.  Beyond the business, he put in the time to connect with everyone on a deeply personal level.  He expected you to have a plan and he had the audacity to remember it and ask you how it was going the next time he saw you.  If you fell short of your plan or his expectations for you, you learned accountability in a hurry.  After some of his accountability sessions, you might feel like you had been kicked around the block, but you knew that he knew you and loved you with every kick.  It wasn’t just kicking.  He celebrated with us, cried with us, and was very predictably there for us, 24-7.

A lot of coaching was delivered on that very firm foundation.

Give up the role of expert

professor500The sales effectiveness literature is full of descriptions of the benefits of coaching for sales leaders.  In a study of 2400 sales organizations, the Sales Executive Council found that sales teams that reported three or more effective hours of coaching per month also reported 17% higher quota attainment than teams who reported two hours or less.  Coaching works!  Yet, in the same study, senior sales executives ranked the coaching ability of their sales leaders to ninth in a list of ten key sales management competencies.  One step up from dead last!  What is preventing sales leaders from doing better in this critical skill?

As I work with sales leaders, one of the most common objections to coaching that I hear, is that many of their people are very experienced, maybe in some cases, more experienced and expert than the leader themself.    Both leaders and reps often view “coaching” as knowledge transfer, or skills transfer.  “Teaching”…  Neither of them want to engage in coaching unless both feel that the coach personally has specific knowledge or skills that the coachee doesn’t have.  An opportunity for learning (by all concerned) and better selling is lost.

How do we break this “deadly embrace”?

Here are seven key ideas to make coaching relevant and powerful for both coach and coachee:

1)  Begin by rethinking the definition of coaching.  Tim Gallwey, author of the “Inner Game of Work” says it this way:  “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching.”  There is a time to teach and a time to coach.  They are different tasks.  Use them when and where they fit.

2)  Redefine the core value that the leader-coach brings to the coaching dialogue.  Relieve the leader-coach of the responsibility to always be the subject matter “expert”.   Instead, make them responsible for being the best coach on the planet, executing  the coaching process in an excellent way.  The best athletes in the world have coaches.  Those coaches are hired for their value in terms of unleashing potential, rather than teaching a skill.  (The Gallwey book is an excellent read on this idea.)

3)  Helping the coachee develop “awareness” of the Goal, the rewards for achieving it, and the consequences of missing it.  Along the way, make sure they understand that they are the primary owner of their number.  Even though the sales manager’s attainment of their number depends on the rep attaining their goal, the coaching process should be based on the rep’s 100% ownership of their goal and 100% sense of responsibility for achieving it.  That ownership fuels their “commitment” to achieving the goal.  Coaching provides them a way to figure out how to do that.

4)  Develop a complete understanding of the current Reality, and the factors which create the gap between Goal and Reality.  Resist the temptation to begin strategy definition or action planning until the gap is very clearly defined.  This temptation is the toughest one I see sales coaches succumb to.  They go to action, once they see a connection between gap and their personal experience.  Be aware of the temptation, and hold your tongue!  Ask another question!

5)  Help the coachee create Options, a strategy for how to close the gap.  Help them think through the problem and formulate their own hypothesis for how to solve it.   Do pro’s and con’s.  Explore trade-off’s.  Don’t hand them the answer, even though the expert in you is certain you know what it is.  This is tough to do.  Hang in there!

6)  Help them develop an air-tight definition of next steps.  Be SMART, with Specific definition of task, Measure of success, confidence that the task is Achievable, Resources are clearly defined, and a specific Timeline for when this will occur.  SMART tasks facilitate accountability to the action plan, one of the key values of great coaching.

7)  When the action plan calls for teaching a critical skill that you possess….  Find the best teacher.  Maybe that’s you.  Maybe its not.  If it really is you, the sales leader, then, ok, teach it.  But teach with respect.  Ask permission to teach.  Make them seek the teaching before you force it on them.  Tough assignment:  Give them the safety and freedom to reject your offer to teach, while helping them stay accountable to their Goal.  It’s their problem.  It needs to be their solution.

Finally, as one of my coaching colleagues put it, “Don’t coach people that don’t want to be coached.”  As a manager you still have an obligation to develop your team, but if they they rebuff your help, they have made a business decision.  OK!  They own the results of their plan.  At some point, it’s best to say, “Okay, I’ll coach somewhere else.”  Like any other negotiation, the willingness to walk away always seems to strengthen your hand.  That builds your credibility.

Give up the role of expert, so that you can be free to play the role of coach.