BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 28 OCT 2016


For as long as we can remember we get "play nice". Good advice, since we need to get along to get along; to be likeable and empathetic, as winning friends is how to influence people. But in the coming weeks we are given license to play not-so-nice. In fact we are encouraged to scare the living daylights out of our friends. Mostly children indulge, of course, but some adults never grow out of the habit. Clowns.

Do you see yourself in a full-on gore-fest or something more subtle; Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Twin Peaks? Do send the selfies.

When it comes to sales we all have different things that scare us: the follow-up call, small talk at networking, board room pitching or asking for the business. One of the scariest zones is challenging or disagreeing with a prospect. Doing this runs counter to our relationship building instincts, especially if we are naturally empathetic and keen to get along with people, or the relationship is embryonic, or we are at a sensitive stage of a sale and worried our behaviour might queer the pitch.

There is no doubt that relationship building is fundamental to persuasion. That likeability matters; always tip the bellboy is good advice. But being one of the good guys is far from everything and in a complex sale the strategic disagreement is essential. If you are nice by nature it can be easy to confuse empathy with sympathy and simply agree just for a quiet life.

Of course if you are going to do the strategic disagreement it has to be shown to be effective. In "The Challenger Sale" Dixon and Adamson found that Challengers closed by far the most deals in complex sales and Relationship Builders least. I could take issue with that assertion, especially early on in the process but it chimes with my own experience, as a sales Rainmaker and trainer, as you move towards the selling zone.

Dixon and Adamson talk about tailoring messages to the client and openly pursuing goals in a direct way, which is hardly revelatory: if you are unable to do that you are unlikely to have read this far. Phrases like “constructive tension” and “the teaching pitch” resonate much more clearly and imply something more than what might be called consultative selling. These are essentially models for Action Learning in an effective classroom session, when there is a constant two-way dialogue that raises energy levels and creates its own momentum. The challenge goes both ways, there is much open debate, bags of creative thought and people saying the unsayable with the most difficult places visited by all. No stone is left unturned and when you are in it just go with it for a while: there will always be time to close.

Now that is something worth aiming for, a vibrant discussion that ricochets and crackles and fronts up even when the going gets tough. It’s a scary move, though, if it is not your natural communication style. You should know that constructive tension can be a spontaneous outcome of debate but is more likely to be planned: in fact it is better planned. Envisioning beforehand where tensions may arise - or where you want them to arise - is a powerful way to anticipate what might come up and what approach you might take. Knowing what you think and how you feel about assertively dealing with constructive tension is important if it does not come easily (Just as taking the passive road needs nurturing if you are overly combative by nature.) Plan to ask the difficult questions in advance so that if it seems right, you are ready to say the unsayable or outright disagree. This is scarier to some than others.

After the tension comes the solution. In a world where we are told that listening and all that jazz is to be prized twice as highly as talking “the teaching pitch” is an essential, counter-intuitive tool. If you are an exceptionally empathetic Relationship Builder this pitch can seem too aggressive, when it’s likely simply to be assertive. But if you are the expert, if you know your stuff, if your way is the best way and you know it, why would you not go for it? If your teething toddler is about to stick his wet fingers into a live socket, you say something before the sparks fly.

You are never more alive than at that moment and it can pay dividends.

Remember that dark Halloween night when your fellow Guisers left you to crunch up the long driveway of the big old house on your own, footsteps loudly alerting every ghoul and goblin? Crooked trees with hideous human form creaked and groaned. Any minute you would be grabbed and gobbled into a hideous screaming underworld from which you would never escape.
Remember getting to the huge oak door and without pause summoning the courage to grab the black gargoyle knocker?
Remember the door suddenly opening.

And you do remember reciting your poem*** to a sweet old lady who gave you a tenner for your trouble and wondered why so few came to visit?

Sometimes you need to do the very thing that scares you.

***I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny; but it keeps them on the knife.


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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.

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