When you’re on an oil platform that’s burning, you have no choice but to jump. Salespeople use the expression to describe a problem whose consequences are so serious that even the most reluctant or risk-averse buyer must act. You can’t persuade someone that their platform is burning; you have to expose one that’s hidden. The key is not to try to persuade.
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Whether we’re talking about professional business development or our personal lives, there’s always a long list of things that we don’t get done, despite our declarations that we coulda, shoulda, woulda, oughta, wanta do them. So, which do we actually get done? Only those we must do. What defines “must,” and how does it differ from those other, aspirational, descriptions?
Buyers and sellers are both eager to get to a solution, so we resist what we may perceive to be a protracted diagnostic phase. We think we understand the problem, and we want to get on with solving it. However, unless you're really lucky, and your prospect is extraordinarily self-aware of their problem and its full range of consequences, you'll find that you have to get beyond surface observations.