Smart people turn to mush!
I’ve seen it a hundred times. For example, my colleagues are super smart. Many of my teammates have Ph.D.s and MBAs from the toughest universities in the world. They have performed at the top of their peer groups at places like McKinsey, Bain, BCG, The White House, Ritz-Carlton, G.E., HP, U.S. Navy Intelligence, Marine Force Recon, and Goldman Sachs before they came to ghSMART. Every week, they get asked to help some of the most successful CEOs and boards in the world to help solve their top leadership problems.
While they are doing the work, my colleagues appear confident, caring, and even daring.
But when it comes time to selling the work, it’s common for many of them struggle, before they learn the 3 simple closing techniques described in this blog.
I observe 5 ways smart people struggle to close a deal.
Recently I was with a colleague in the boardroom of a billionaire CEO of the #1 company in his industry. This client prospect said out loud that his #1 leadership problem is exactly the thing that my firm is known for being good at—hiring and leading talented teams across his portfolio of businesses. Getting this client to sign on the dotted line was a lay-up. Right after the CEO was talking for the better part of an hour about the ways he wanted our help, my colleague had the chance to close the deal and get on with helping this great entrepreneur achieve his vision. The CEO asked a question to wrap up the conversation. Rather than bring it to a close, my colleague’s mind hit “mute.” Silence. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The clocks on the wall (featuring the times of NY, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, LA, and Chicago) were ticking so loudly. They sounded like the drum beats that you hear in the Dark Ages before a public hanging. I heard 20 drum beats before my colleague’s mind un-muted. That’s right, twenty seconds of silence while the client was expecting us to wrap up the conversation and close this deal! My colleague recovered, and we ended up with a happy outcome. But the 20 seconds of mute didn’t help. Clients want help wrapping up a conversation and turning into an action plan. Don’t just sit there, close!
I was in another boardroom with another colleague late in the day. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company looked exhausted. My colleague did an amazing job of using reflecting listening techniques to help the CEO identify his biggest leadership challenges. And then my colleague let the meeting end, with no next steps. Afterward, I laughed with my colleague and asked, “Why didn’t you close him on the next step you want to take to solve the problems you just identified?” My colleague said, “I didn’t want to impose! I just felt like we were having such a good trusted advising conversation, I didn’t want to turn it into a sales call.” I was like “Impose? How is helping a CEO solve his #1 problem imposing!” (laughing) That one didn’t turn out well for us. We gave this CEO hours of free help, on our nickel (we even paid our own airfare to meet him). And he didn’t hire us to do any work for 5 years! Eventually, he came back around and we engaged with him. But I believe he would have been better off if we had closed him five years ago. It’s one thing to help a leader identify a problem. It’s another thing to help them actually solve it.
Dazzle with Complexity.
One of my other colleagues is a ninja these days at turning a trusted advising conversation into an actual project. But she was not always this good! In the early days, I recall sitting with a private equity investor who wanted our help. The consultant talked at 90 mph, offering complex, nuanced analyses interspersed with questions that had multiple parts, lots of commas; and even a semi colon here and there just like this sentence. Her intent was to show how smart she was, and this was supposed to dazzle the client into hiring us. The actual effect was the client felt he couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. This is a very common pitfall for smart people who come out of consulting backgrounds—the urge to overwhelm the client prospect with data, analysis, and complicated questions that are designed to show how smart you are.
Win the Argument.
My eyes went big and I felt hot flashes creep up my neck when I witnessed a cardinal sin. One of my colleagues put his hand up like a “stop” gesture. In the face of our client. The consultant said, “Let me stop you there. I think your logic doesn’t hold. The data tell a different story. Here is why…” The client was not impressed with the confrontational “I’m right, you are wrong” posture. Folks, serving clients is not about winning arguments. Serving clients is about understanding the client and figuring out how to get them what they want. You are on the same team. If you forget this, you may win the argument, but lose the deal.
Stay Safely Vague.
Some smart people don’t want to be pinned down. It’s an insecurity about a fear of being proven wrong, or the fear that another smart person is going to disagree with you. I saw this when I was hiring a law firm many years ago. I had a specific goal of designing an employee stock purchase program. I wanted to know what the steps were in drafting the plan, how long it would likely take, and how much it would likely cost. The bad lawyers stayed “safely vague.” “Well, that all depends.” I felt like saying “Well no kidding, but I’m trying to get a rough estimate of the time and cost of designing this plan.” The good lawyers did not say it depends. The good ones said things like “I’m going to ask you a few questions and I’m happy to give you an estimate for how long this project might take, and how much it’s likely to cost, and I’ll tell you the things that will affect the time and cost.” I loved that. Be specific. Clients don’t appreciate it when advisors stay safely vague to cover their hides, because it’s not useful. Clients like it when you take a little risk to offer specifics that will help them achieve their goals.
If you think these tactics are useful, please download our other free leadership tools at SMARTtools for Leaders™.