Just Enough Rope (Issue 544)

In which we are reminded to position and sell only what our clients are able to absorb and implement.

75 minutes into the two hour meeting, their pens were nearly skipping across their note pages, they were writing so fast.  Barely looking up for questions, their heads nodded as we offered perspective and options, responding to information they’d shared in answers to our first hour’s questions. One of those moments we dream about as consultants and sales people.  We…were on a roll! They thought we were smart. They thought we were hot.

“First,” we said…. “Then, think about…,” we continued. “Third, there’s an important follow up…. Fourth, think about …,” we rolled on. “And, finally, and this is the most challenging piece, consider….,” we concluded.   Their pens were still going.  This was like GOLD!

And, then came their questions. “What about this…?  How would you handle that…?  If we had to blah blah blah,  how would you recommend we…?”  And we were hitting their questions into the center field bleachers, one after another… whack…. whack…whack…. like a home run derby.

Then, with ten minutes left in the two hours, right on schedule, time for a summary… and the ice-cold insight that, if our ideas were like rope, we’d given way too much. There were so many ideas and so much information on their note pads, they’d need weeks to sort them out, and they looked eager to take the time.  “Masters of the Sales and Consulting Universe” feelings froze and shattered, replaced by sensations of slipping on sidewalk ice, grasping for handrails.

A few seconds of silence in the room.

One of us spoke: “Here are two specific actions you can take in the next few days to address your main priority while you’re thinking about the points we’ve discussed today.”  And there they were. Two simple decisions, two easy steps.

Their faces brightened. With seconds left ‘till the end of the meeting, they put down their pens and looked each other. “Can we do those,” one of them asked?  “Yes,” came his colleagues’ replies.

Firm footing on icy sidewalk for a moment, at least.

We’d walked into one of the oldest traps in the sales and consulting world. “Looking smart,” allowing our egos and our models and our mouths run away with us.  Sure, they welcomed the information. Sure, they liked our thinking (and why not!?). And yes, they thought we sounded really smart.  And none of that would help them make decisions and move themselves forward.

“The human brain can absorb five points, plus or minus two,” one of our mentors once intoned.  These days, perhaps the numbers have changed to “absorb three points, plus or minus one.”

Yes, we want to sell solutions that generate true results rather than selling products one by one. However, too much rope can slow down or stop solid sales opportunities. Frequently, our clients lack mental bandwidth to think about addressing whole problems.   The idea is, “give only enough rope for the purpose.” Find a problem for which we have a solution that is easy to say “yes” to and easy to implement. Show them the rest of the rope later.

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