The best defense is often a great offense. And many times our best offensive weapons may be our biggest weaknesses. It is a rare occurrence for any of us to create the absolute perfect solution or offer. We aren’t perfect either. If our counterparts look hard enough they can almost always find a bone to pick with our organizations or us.
I vividly remember the moment the iron got stuck. It was about 6:30 in the morning and I had an hour and a half to get dressed, grab breakfast and take the stage in front of about 200 people. I had only packed one pair of pants and now they had a sizeable black burn mark just to the left of the zipper. I called the front desk and they brought me a new iron to finish the job but I still had the burn mark. The presentation started promptly at 8:00 AM. I stepped out onto the stage and said “Good morning, I’m Michael Reddington and this morning I burned my pants with the hotel’s iron. It is pretty funny, so if anyone has a good joke let’s get it out of the way now so we can dive into the content.” I waited silently for about 10 seconds and “Great, let’s get started.” I was with the group for 9 hours that day and there were zero comments made about my pants…well, at least not within earshot of me. (Return to Sales Training Blog Category)
This lighthearted example demonstrates what you think can hurt you the most can often help you the most. Take bullets out of guns. When someone has ammunition that you believe can hurt you, use it before they have the chance to.
When you acknowledge your vulnerabilities or shortcomings at the first possible opportunity it shows your counterparts that you are prepared, confident and unfazed by your real, or perceived, weaknesses. You also seize strategic advantage by framing the topics in a way that benefits you. Furthermore, this strategy demonstrates your authenticity and can help you create rapport.
When your counterparts prepare to debate, or challenge, you they typically choose one or two areas to challenge and build their strategy around them. This means their entire strategy is predicated on their ability to challenge you in these specific areas. When we accurately anticipate these areas and address them first we render them rudderless. They still would like to challenge us, but no longer have the base to challenge us from.
This approach may seem counter intuitive as many people prefer to avoid their vulnerabilities or to attempt to steer the dialogue away from them. These more common approaches create disadvantages. Avoiding your vulnerabilities can make you more apprehensive as you worry about having to defend them. If your counterpart brings your vulnerabilities into the conversation it may create the perception you were trying to conceal them and damage the relationship. Finally, by allowing your counterpart to choose the timing and framing of the discussion they retain the strategic upper hand.
As an example:
Start up companies often run into counterparts who will challenge their lack of history. Traditionally a negotiator representing the start up company may work very hard to stress the company’s innovative approach, sterling customer service or unique expertise in an effort to avoid answering concerns about any potential challenges related to the tenure of his company’s existence. This same negotiator can change the landscape of the negotiation by starting his pitch by emphasizing the fact that he is part of a start up:
“I hear a lot of concerns like ‘How can a company as young as yours compete with established organizations?’ and ‘We’ve never heard of you before?’ These aren’t concerns to us. In fact it is precisely this freedom, ambition and youth that allows us to avoid the trappings of precedent and create innovative solutions for our clients. As an example…”
Don’t hide from your disadvantages; use them to your advantage. Prepare for any sales meeting or negotiation by taking an honest look at your self, ask “How will my counterpart attack this?” and build your strategy from your answer. Take the bullets right out of their guns.