The Mentorist

Talking to the Elephant in the Room: When Silence Counts Against You

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Three from the files:

Scene One:  The job description screams ‘corporate background required.’  A litigator submits his resume, nonetheless — along with a ‘breast-beater’ cover letter that ignores the requirement.

Scene Two:  A company puts out an RFP [request for proposal], in search of a law firm to handle its litigation work.  The executive-in-charge invites five ‘usual-suspect’ big firms to pitch for the business.

She also invites a boutique firm, seriously smaller than the others but known for excellent work.  The executive has some understandable concerns that the boutique might not be able to handle the heavy case volume.

At the pitch meeting, the firm’s partners stay mum about size.

Scene Three:  An executive regularly hears his CEO vent about cost control.  Nonetheless, when budget time rolls ’round, he lobbies the CEO for an increase.

The executive argues that his team can’t keep up with its crushing workload, unless he gets more funding to hire two people.  He doesn’t mention the ROI [return on investment] of these hires.

Wassup, people?!

You’re trying to get another person to say ‘yes’ to you, aren’t you?  Well, that’s not going to happen if you ignore the things that matter to that other person.

When you don’t meet the conditions for saying ‘yes’ that another person has set, you darn well better address that mismatch head-on — and, then, go on to prove you’ve got something just as good (if not better) to offer.

Keeping silent about the fact that you don’t fulfill the other person’s conditions won’t make them disappear.  In fact, silence will have the opposite effect:  Left unchallenged, the conditions will stay intact (even those that may not be particularly valid) and you’ll lose the sale.

By contrast, if you tackle the mismatch upfront — then make your ‘best-shot’ arguments for why it shouldn’t matter — you just might persuade the other person to buy what you’ve got to sell.

Let’s return to our three scenes for a moment.  Here’s how to increase the odds of getting a ‘yes’:

Scene One:  The litigator should acknowledge, in his cover letter, that he doesn’t have the required corporate experience.  Then, his letter should go on to tout what he does have to offer:  For instance, he might point out that, as a litigator, he’s handled hundreds of disputes involving corporate deals gone south.  As a result, he can bring to the job a finely tuned sense of how to avoid those pitfalls in the first place.

Scene Two:  The boutique-firm partners should make an educated guess that the executive may have some concerns about giving such a heavy caseload to a firm their size.

At the pitch meeting, the partners should touch on their firm’s smallness and play up the advantages of that:  For instance, they might note that the executive will be an important client for a firm their size.  As a result, she’ll get partner-level attention, rather than being relegated to some BigLaw 3rd-year associate.

Scene Three:  The executive should calculate how quickly the investment in two new hires will pay for itself (through savings on outside contractors, faster sales cycles, etc.).

Then, at the budget meeting, he should play directly into the CEO’s obsession with cost-cutting:  After acknowledging that his budget goes against the CEO’s mandate to lower expenses, the executive should pull out his ROI calculations and ‘prove’ that spending X dollars to hire two people will, over the next 24 months, save the company 3X dollars (or whatever impressive numbers he can come up with).

Don’t get me wrong here:  I’m not saying that you should put forth — and then knock down — conditions the other person probably hasn’t even thought of.  Do that and you might end up losing a tennis game against yourself.

However, you should directly confront conditions that:

  • The other person has identified outright;
  • The other person is likely to have, based on your sense of how he thinks; or
  • Any reasonable person would have.

Now, craft your best arguments for why those conditions shouldn’t get in the way of your getting a ‘yes.’

Got that?  Good.  Elephant has left the building….

how to sell your ideas

Author: Jane E. Owens

Jane E. Owens, The Mentorist’s chief blogger, has spent her career immersed in the business and culture of corporations and law firms. A former general counsel and corporate lawyer, Jane is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the professional world – and, through her mentoring practice, hopes to increase the ranks of the former. To learn more about Jane or suggest topics you'd like The Mentorist to discuss, go to:

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