burning platform.jpg

During the depths of the Great Recession, serial entrepreneur-turned-venture-capitalist Mark Suster published some sales advice for startups. He emphasized the following three questions, in sequence.

  1. Why Buy Anything?

  2. Why Buy Mine?

  3. Why Buy Now?

This was good, practical advice regarding the "what to do" of selling. Over the past 25 years as trainer and coach to lawyers, I've observed that most people grasp the "what" readily, but struggle with the "how." Unfortunately, most of the "how" advice out there relates to getting someone to buy, to say "yes."

More fundamental, perhaps, is the mindset.

Borrowing from Jim Collins's advice in Good to Great that the not-to-do list is more important than the to-do list, the biggest not-to-do in sales is trying to achieve a pre-determined outcome, i.e., getting someone to buy from you, now.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the harsh truth is that, even though we know our product/service can be valuable for people LIKE this prospect, we don't know whether or not this specific prospect should buy, much less from us, or now.

Sales is not about persuading

It’s about conducting a collaborative, honest, thorough investigation of the prospect's self-interest in relation to a business problem or opportunity via a process that enables those with a stake in the decision to make a well-informed, sustainable, self-interested decision.

Since people only make the decisions they must make, and defer all others, you're trying to

  • learn if the Suspect acknowledges having the problem you solve

  • expose consequences significant enough to compel even a complacent person to take action (that solves the "now" problem)

This is the burning platform

You invest in the legitimacy of the decision, not the content of the decision. If the sales investigation reveals that it's a great idea to do business together, you'll both want to do it. This eliminates the problem of "closing," which paralyzes many lawyers (and commercial salespeople, too). If the investigation reveals that it's not a good idea to do business, I’ll trust that you have sufficient integrity to acknowledge that, shake hands and move on, preserving your reputation and future welcome at the decision table.

As the Cluetrain Manifesto (possibly the first ebook) said long ago, "There is no market for pitches." When you pitch or try to persuade, it’s obvious to the buyer that what you urge is good for you. He doesn't yet know whether or not it's good for him, so he must keep you at bay until he resolves that question.

"There is no market for pitches."

That's why salespeople so often get locked outside the decision conversation: If their pitching behaviors show that they're trying to get me to buy, they've proved that they already made a decision based on their self-interest, and therefore have no credible role as objective participants in a decision process based on my interest.

Conversely, if the seller's behavior shows that their entire purpose is to help me make a great decision, trust escalates and I welcome their contribution. Even if it’s revealed that I shouldn't buy this time, the trust they've earned will preserve their seat at the decision table, and increase the odds that I'll refer them to others who would benefit from their decision expertise. A salesperson's most valuable asset is decision facilitation, not product expertise.

Some ask, "But what if too many good of the ‘good’ decisions I facilitate are not to buy from me?" You’ll have learned something very important that will keep you from continuing to waste time on sales efforts can’t succeed. It means that you're in the wrong market, positioned improperly in the right market, or aligned with a problem with too little impact to require a decision, action and investment. Your platform is not only not burning, it's not even uncomfortably warm. 

"No decision" has had the largest market share for a long time. Change your goal from getting to “yes” to getting to a decision.

Mike O’Horo

Which do you think delivers the greater economic value: Adding 50% more prospects to your pipeline, or eliminating the typical 30% no-decision rate? Drop me a note to request my eBook, No-Decision: The Blind Spot that Keeps Lawyers from Doubling Their Income.