So do you have The Shocker in you?
Can you come up with a surprise in the biggest pitch, say the unsayable in a fraught meeting, cut through the crap with something memorable during that mind-numbing networking event?
Before I get to personal examples, since we are not politicians trying to topple a Prime Minister, let me tell you why you need to be able, at times, to be the challenger: on occasion you need to go for it to give yourself a chance of success, to wake the other side up, or just to be visible in the stultifying, grey-suited environment you find yourself in. The Challenger Sale can give you more empirical evidence - they essentially show that challengers close the most sales - but in lieu of reading the book just know that at times saying what could be describes as “out there” is something you have to have in your locker.
The Shocker in a pitch can be dynamite. Boris did it the other week with his Blonde Brexit Bombshell. Robin Cook did it over the Iraq war. Geoffrey Howe did it concerning Mrs. T’s lack of support over Europe. Leo Amery did it at the dawn of World War two, an intervention that led to Chamberlain’s resignation and Churchill taking the reigns of power.
In all four instances the protagonists said what they did with the idea of shocking front of mind. They wanted to create drama and were in were fully cognisant of the effect their words would have, because they had planned them in advance and expected them to have such an effect. It is interesting to note the debate around whether Boris Johnston intended to shock those receiving the Brexit message.
Does he know he has daft hair and his shirt tail sometimes pokes out? Does the Pope have a pointy hat or three?
Of course he did, just like the others.
Leo Amery stood in Parliament on 7 May 1940 and said “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. in the name of God, go.” with the intention of shocking to provoke a reaction, as did Cook and Howe. In Howe’s case the furore was all the greater because it seemed so out of character. Denis Healy had memorably said debating with Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep". Howe was the catalyst for Thatcher’s demise, Cook came across as the most principled of politicians and Amery played a major part in sealing the Churchill for PM deal. The value of the Shocker is self-evident in these cases, but it is not without its risks.
In the biggest pitch of our young lives I opened by throwing a book down the Boardroom table (one with the Leo Amery speech in it) and with our "Neechaman"*** image on a flipchart. We did this to differentiate ourselves from the other businesses, for sure, but also to create drama at the outset: Why? Because we were outsiders for the job. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
It’s not just at the formal pitching end of things that a shocker can be useful.
At a posh networking doo a while back discussion turned to opera. A quartet of us was doing what one does over the champagne, canapés and posh frocks and it was all getting a bit “meh” when I said soprano singing was a perfect example of the adage “just because something can be done does not mean it ever should be done”. What followed, after a sharp intake of breath, was a decent chat about opera (Gilbert & Sullivan at school for me… does that count?), musicals (Phantom every time, makes me cry), music (from The Carpenters to Iggy Pop) and polystyrene on school bus windows.
And, of course, a couple of business cards for follow up actions.
Two things worth noting to finish with:
Firstly, we won the big pitch and the Shocker opening unquestionably played the biggest part.
And secondly it is worth saying that if you are comfortable being The Challenger and always have a Shocker up your sleeve remember it should not be your default. Use it sparingly, like you would a precious metal, because it’s not tin. And it can pure gold.
*** Frederick Nietzsche said that our emotions are a huge blind monster that goes where it wants, and our intellect is a tiny, sighted being that sits on the emotion’s shoulder, justifying everything that it does.
This is our "Neechaman".
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.