Listen, don’t tell: Having trouble convincing your boss to invest in new software? On this week’s episode of Track Changes, Paul and Rich teach you everything you need to know about selling software services. We chat about changing the narrative to be about selling growth instead of products, and give some great sales tactics. Paul also shares some interesting car purchasing tips he learned from his brother.
Paul Ford If we take the tires and the wheels, and we put ‘em together, we’ll probably be able to sell . . . more tires and wheels [Rich laughs] and everybody goes, “Holy shhh—” [music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down].
Rich Ziade Alright, Paul, I’m gonna throw you right into a scene.
PF Alright, let’s go. Let’s do it.
RZ Paul, you are a Director of Product.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ At a large company, and you mostly focus on internal tools for these people [music fades out].
PF Ok, alright. So it’s a big company then. Like tens of thousands of employees.
RZ Big company, tens of thousands of employees, and you are managing subsidiaries at headquarters and the people that are managing these people get their numbers, their reports, on a daily basis and weekly basis [sure] of how those subsidiaries are performing.
PF How many tires did we sell—
RZ How many tires did we sell, et cetera, et cetera. Right? And production of fulfillment.
PF Molasses input and—
RZ And you’ve been asked, actually, to— it’s finally time to upgrade the platform and it’s time for you to sit down with your plan, [hmm] and go to the powers that be— let’s say for this case it’s just your boss, the VP, who has budget, and you want—
PF It actually came down from him. He’s like—
RZ It came down from him. He’s like, “Go do the work and see what we should do.” And now you’re back, ok? And now you’re back, tell ‘em what you should do. And you’re asking for three quarters of a million bucks. Not a ton of money.
PF Eh that’s not crazy.
RZ In the world of tires and molasses.
PF No, that’s what we spend on like rental cars in a month at this company.
RZ [Laughs] Ok. Three quarters of a million bucks. But you’re a little nervous. And you wanna make sure—
PF Well, that’s a big budget for me. You know I’ve been doing this for ten years but like mostly I sorta spend other people’s money without worrying about it. I work with IT; I’ve never run a whole product like this before.
RZ You’ve never run a whole product like this before; you’ve never been asked to make a call this big before; and when the numbers get big, do you know what also gets big?
RZ The impact radius of success or failure. So if this goes wrong, and you told them the wrong thing, and it goes off the rails, it is on your neck. And it’s not on your neck for a week and they forget about it; it’s on your neck for months—
PF Well and I wanna—
RZ If it goes really well, and they find their analytics shows that you’ve improved throughput and communication by 22%, you’re a hero.
PF What I love is you’ve really set me up here cuz I have no mentorship; no one above me who actually knows what I do; and no one to help me get my job done.
RZ Well now you made it sad! It’s not sad.
PF No, I know but this is real. You’re in the company, you’re the Product Manager. They give you the three quarter of a million budget—
RZ You’re a Director— exactly. They didn’t give you a three quarter million budget. They didn’t give you a budget. They’re like, “Why don’t you tell me what this is gonna need?” And your boss— no matter what number you give him is gonna say, “Mm. I thought it was gonna be a quarter of a million bucks, max.”
PF So I’ve got seven different divisions that each get a daily report and it used to come to them as a PDF and now we wanna give them a dashboard. That’s our goal here.
RZ It’s time to give ‘em a dashboard and they can open that dashboard on their phone.
PF Mm hmm but some of them still want the PDF.
RZ It’s beautiful!
PF So we gotta get ‘em that.
RZ They still want that, right?
PF You can’t change too much.
RZ You told them to buy some reporting platform and then there’s gonna be some custom software; it’s gonna need to be built; you got a quote; it’s gonna be three quarters of a million bucks; and you’re sittin’ there and you’re sweatin’ it. Because you need to explain to your boss that this is worth; that this is worth their risk— risk for them, and you’re willing to put your name behind this call; and it’s an expensive one.
PF Hold on. “Director, I need to understand my motivation cuz if I’m in a big enough org, wouldn’t like SAP just descend and say, ‘Why would you ever do that? We have a reporting module that you can plug in right here.’”
RZ No, this org is ready to go; we’re nimble now.
PF “We’re tired of SAP.”
RZ “We’re tired of SAP; we want rapid soft— and, by the way, so Paul, how long is this gonna take?”
RZ You say, “When am I gonna see this thing on my phone, Paul?” I’m gonna be the boss for a second.
PF “Well, if you want a what-people-usually-do answer or you want an honest answer?”
RZ “You’re looking for a signoff. You want me to sign off on this so you can go do it and hire the team and get the vendor and just go to work.”
PF “Help me understand— are we doing— “
RZ I’ve got a better idea!
PF Are we doing a good job? Or are we doing an accurate job here?
RZ You’re just trying to get me to give you that money cuz I’m a knucklehead [ok]. All you know is you need to wrench this 750 grand out of my hand because you know this is the right call. But I’m an idiot. A little bit.
PF “So I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna show you how this is gonna work, ok?”
RZ “Paul, I got 20 minutes, we should’ve started this yesterday.”
PF “Ok, well, you know, yesterday is when we did start because I’ve already gathered the team. What we gotta do here— this is the way you build things: you build your data. You get your API in place and then you start building your stuff on top of it so people can see their dashboards. Sound good?”
PF “You know what I’m talking about?”
RZ “Of course I do!”
PF “Oh, well then we’re in a good place then.”
RZ “How are we gettin’ this done?”
PF “You know you asked me to go talk to IT and to see if I could get some time with the CTO [uh huh] and they’re brick wall— they say they’re scheduled through Q17—”
RZ “You know what? Dude— Paul, I’ve got 17 minutes, alright? I gotta get on a plane, ok? I don’t wanna hear about— I need this thing. I’m tired of the subs complaining to me about not seeing the data in a decent way and I can’t send 40 meg PDFs anymore.”
PF “Alright, you gotta give me a month and I gotta go out and get somebody to do it then.”
RZ “Do what?”
PF “Build this for us.”
RZ “What? You’re gonna get this to me, in my hands, in a month?”
PF “No, no, no, I gotta get someone to build this for you in a month.”
RZ Ok. Cut scene. It’s a month later, we meet again [ok]. “Paul, I’ve got 15 minutes [chuckles]. I’m going to a conference in Sarasota.”
PF “Why do I never get promoted?”
RZ [Laughing] “I’m going to Sarasota, Florida. Where is—’’
PF “Why is my career in like a slow down?”
RZ “Alright, do we have a plan?”
PF “We have a great plan. I talked to three different agencies, I got three different proposals.”
PF “I found the one I wanna go with—”
RZ “Oh, wait, hold on! So we’re going out. We don’t have the people to do this?”
PF “That’s what I told you at the last meeting. What— are you drunk? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t fire me.” [Both laugh]
RZ “Alright, we’re going outside?”
PF “Yeah yeah cuz— cuz—”
RZ “Alright, I’m not against this, honestly, are we gonna be able to take it in?”
PF “We don’t have any choices because IT won’t give me any resources until Q17 2028.”
RZ “Ok, fine. Alright.”
PF “So we gotta go.”
RZ “You have a favorite?”
PF “Yeah, I do. They’re the ones with the best design; and they got good technology underneath. They were the ones who were the straightest shooters. I talked to all of ‘em. The other ones sent me like two 20-year-olds.”
RZ “Ok, alright. I trust you, man. What’s this gonna cost?”
PF “About 750.”
PF “It is what it is. The problem is— the thing we’re asking for which is the live data comin’ from a lot of different feeds; there’s all kinds of legacy integration we gotta do. And so you can’t just turn a switch on this, it’s not— you gotta actually—”
RZ “What’s the timeframe we’re talking about?”
PF “About four to six months. Four months to get something’ on the screen, and about six months to make it real.”
RZ Pause. Do you know what you’ve been doing this whole time?
RZ Selling. You are a salesman. You are nothing more than a salesman. You had to go; put a story together; craft that story. We did this rough shot, right here like we just kinda riffed [mm hmm]. But what you would’ve actually done is deciphered my psychology— even though I’m your boss. You woulda sat down; you woulda thought about timing; about when to do it; you would’ve crafted a story; you would’ve looked for my vulnerabilities.
PF Make the risk look insignificant to the upside.
RZ And smart. You need me to look good. “I’m gonna make you look good.” You are doing all the things that salespeople do [sure]. Now, look: when we say salespeople. There are salespeople who are selling Chevy Blazers— does Chevy still make a Blazer?
PF I think that’s something you wear.
RZ This is the thing: when it’s a tangible product, you have a consumer who sort of have done the work, they come in with the handful of brochures, and they did the research, and they know they want leather seating, and they’re going in and buying.
PF You know how my brother buys a car?
RZ How does your brother buy a car?
PF He’s a good negotiator. He’s an excellent negotiator. He works in HR, at a pretty high level. And so he goes in and he just— and he brings his wife who is utterly merciless, like my brother’s kinda like me like, “Hey! Great to meet ya!” So she’s already got everybody rattled and he just goes and goes and he’s tireless. He just sorta keeps givin’ up on the car, and then the last move, the final move, when they’re like, “Ok, I went to my boss, I can’t take another 100 dollars off.” He says, “Let me borrow your calculator.” And he just walks off—
RZ [Laughing] These are like car purchasing tips from 1975.
PF Exactly, takes the calculator [Rich laughing], walks out, and just walks around the car, and just hits numbers at random.
RZ What’s he doing?
PF Well the salesman is watching him going, “What the hell is he doing?”
RZ Well what is he doing?
RZ He’s fakin’ it.
PF Nothin’. He’s just walkin’ around hittin’ numbers and kinda lookin’ in the windows.
PF And then he comes back and says, “Could we just do another 150 off?” And the guy goes, “Fine, just please— let’s just be done.” [Yeah, yeah, yeah] And it’s genuine, like he’s able to get— he really just grinds them. You can feel like— like there’s the point where they’re like, “Ha ha, I’m still gettin’ my commission.” And then it gets to the point of like, “Yeah, I’m kinda gettin’ somethin’.”
RZ You’re makin’ a great point here because if I’m your boss, I always want the discount. Like even said 750. I’d be like, “Paul, find it for 500.” We love doin’ that, right?
PF Oh yeah.
RZ As a shop, we are Postlight, a digital products studio here in New York City. No matter what price you give, they always wanna take a little bit of a haircut off of it. They just love to see that move because it shows a) that they had some prowess; they were able to get it to a better place and they were able to get you to bend to their will, right? And that’s meaningful.
PF You know what? Every industry always tries to standardize pricing. Remember the Saturn automobile?
RZ Right, right, right, it had like a fixed price.
PF It had a fixed price. You would go in there, you would say, “I’m gonna spend, you know, 15—” First of all, you were gonna spend a lot of money on a Saturn. That was a problem. That was a challenge.
RZ But it was cheaper.
PF It was supposed to be cheaper. All that infrastructure—
RZ “This is cheaper. It’s quality but you know what? Don’t haggle with us.”
PF All that infrastructure about negotiation— you know who else does this? So we got our first car— I had little baby twins and we had to go get a car just to like get the twins around. And we bought it in Bayridge, Brooklyn and we got fleeced. We got fleeced on our Mazda. It was terrible.
RZ Don’t buy a car in Bayridge, Brooklyn.
PF We had to get the deal done; we were holding baby; and they just went, “Heh heh heh heh heh!”
RZ Why’d you bring your twins?!?
PF Oh cuz we didn’t have a sitter.
RZ You shouldn’t have brought ‘em!
PF We were just desperate, right? So we got a car that, you know, the electrical subsystem just like evaporated in about 22 seconds—
RZ [Laughs] It was used!
PF We stretched it out for about six years. It was ok. But we got fleeced.
PF And so after that, my wife looked at me and was like, “Let’s just drive to Pennsylvania, trade the car in for a thousand dollars and go to CarMax.” Which is another— it’s a used car place but there’s no wiggle room on the price. It is pure sticker.
RZ I see. Those are nice, right? Like—
PF Well, no, and I watched people like, “Hey, can you do anything?” And the guy just goes, “I cannot. No one gets rewarded for doing that.”
RZ This is interesting because you’re highlighting something really important which is even the software that’s sold— like a Salesforce sales rep or an Oracle sales rep, they have wiggle room. Because they wanna make you feel special.
PF Well anything at scale, right? Like your Microsoft Word install license there’s always some room if you have a thousand people.
PF Like Microsoft’s not gonna negotiate with you but they’ll totally negotiate with General Electric.
RZ Of course. And so that flexibility is real. Like for us, we are at that extreme. We don’t have a product, in fact [that’s right]. We are scoping; we’re determining the breadth and size of an effort; what kind of work it takes; we’re sizing you up. Look: I’ve said it to people. I was like, “Look: I gotta be frank, we would’ve charged this if you were a large investment bank but you’re not. You’re a startup. And we like you and we like this conversation. We’re gonna charge you something else.” And that’s real. That’s—
PF There’s a secondary reality there which isn’t just like, “We’re nice people,” or, “We want our people to be happy.” That’s all good. But the big organizations have a cost that come with them because there’s a lot of meetings and a lot of time. They eat time. There is that. So you gotta be—
RZ There’s an enormous investment—
PF It’s not just like, “Oh the banks have all the money.” It’s like the banks require six to eight meetings and they have complicated governance structures. You know the 20 person organization can make a decision and get their software shipped in two weeks and sometimes the bank is like, “We have to, you know, Sarbanes-Oxley is a real concern here.” And you’re like, “Ok, well, here we go.”
RZ You’re bumping into the point— Like I handle a lot of the sales for Postlight [that’s right]. And the one piece of advice— for a situation like this that we just went through in this scenario you had where you’re trying to get that signoff on that 750. Or when I’m in meeting 11 for that large engagement and wondering whether to go in. The advice I would give is: hang back. You will know when you walk in the room if someone is ready. And here’s what I mean by ready: if they’re not ready, a) it’s not you. They’re just not even sure if this is the right thing to do yet.
PF Yeah, that’s true. This is something we see a lot of, right? Like somebody shows up and you know they’re four months away from making a decision.
RZ Well they don’t know what decision to make.
PF Yeah, that’s right.
RZ Like I’ll give you an example. Like we landed a large engagement over the last year. The first hurdle was getting them to understand that this was the right thing to do. I hadn’t talked to them about like Postlight is the one who should do it for you.
PF No, but you should build a thing that works this way.
PF And honestly, we sound like we’re being very vague here. An API driven, consolidated platform that’s easy to maintain and use on a daily basis. Like we’re not like selling mystery.
RZ No! No. Exactly. It’s good advice. In fact, it’s very generous and if you think about the conversations you’re having with your boss, right? If you’re only going in there for the sell, if you’re only going in there to get the money with your hat in your hand, how much trust does that boss—
PF This is the hardest lesson. This is why it’s so hard to like— truly product focused salespeople are hard to find because sales is listening not telling.
RZ And building trust.
PF Yeah and it’s not fake trust. Right? Like it’s not the kind of— once you can fake sincerity you can do anything, it’s like you gotta get in there and you gotta listen and [yup] you don’t have a plan or a strategy.
RZ You want that 750 in five minutes? You need to have had 11 meetings with that person where you’re not talking about the cost yet.
PF Well let’s go get the 750! You ready?
PF Ok, Paul, you’ve said— we gotta get a better dashboard situation going. Now here’s what I really need to do: I need to go look at dashboards; I need to understand what the world is; and I need to understand what the pieces are if I don’t already. I need the knowledge and the ability to converse and be comfortable about what this is. It can’t just be like dashboards—
RZ Meaning “I” as the buyer?
PF Yes, as the buyer I need to go and look and understand what the hell we’re actually building to the best of my ability. If I don’t understand I need to talk to people about like, “Hey, can I see your dashboard? Should this be like Google Analytics?”
PF Everybody wants to talk to you. Everybody wants to sort of figure it out with cuz software is interesting.
RZ But you’re a decision maker, you’re a boss.
RZ You’re internalizing all that knowledge but you have to have those dialogues with your boss.
PF Well, no as you take it to your boss you go, “Wow, this is a big world and it’s really easy to spend millions of dollars and pour them down a bucket.”
PF That’s the number one signal you wanna send.
RZ So now you’ve done something really important here. What you’ve done is— and this is huge whether you’re selling to somebody outside or inside your org is you’ve decided to share their anxiety.
PF That’s right but also move that dollar window a little bit. Get yourself some breathing room. [Rich laughs] People spend millions of dollars on this and they get nothing in return. Say those words out loud. So whatever we do, we’re not gonna spend millions.
RZ Yeah. Well you’re nervous! We’re going down together here, dude. I get it. I don’t want this money. I wish I could spend less, right? But I’m nervous because I am with you on this.
PF Well and I got 350 users who do their job running the rest of the company based on this platform. This thing’s key. First of all, let’s not do it if we’re not serious. Ok? So like really, you don’t go to your boss and stomp your feet and say that but you go like, “Look: we gotta either go in or not. It’s too risky. Otherwise let’s stay with what we got. I hate to say it but it’s safe.” People can bitch and moan but they’ll still use it every day.
PF So then back that out a little bit but like we want a bold new future cuz we need growth. This company needs growth. So I gotta guarantee to you that the thing I’m gonna deliver is gonna get you growth.
PF Now I gotta explain to you how it actually works and I gotta do it in a set of metaphors and fun stories because you can’t actually, as my boss, focus on what an API is and what a product does.
RZ Now you’re understanding your audience. Now you’re essentially internalizing their anxiety, their fears about making a purchase like this. You’re not selling it—
PF No matter what there’s 12 meetings that are happening about this thing.
RZ The 12 meetings are absolutely necessary because for many of those meetings you’re actually not selling. What you’re doing, and this is what I mean by hang back, what I mean by hang back is what do we need? . . .
RZ And then you’ll end the meeting and you’re like, “Ok, lemme think about this for a bit. I wanna talk to some more people. I wanna get some more demos.”
PF Well and go talk to Peggy! Go talk to Jim! Go talk to . . . Nat and find out about— you know they’re gonna be your users [exactly] and we listen to them. We listen to them over and over again and you’re kinda building up a document too at the same time. Could be a deck. Could be some use cases or requirements or you’re working to an RFP but you’re doing this thing—
RZ You’re also building up trust. Right?
PF Yeah but nobody wants you to go build trust with them, they wanna see you working on your RFP and you’re asking them for their advice. You can’t go to someone and be like, “I wanna build a trustworthy relationship with you,” they’ll never trust you.
RZ My goal in the first meeting is to say a minimum amount of words.
PF Well and your job is to get to the next meeting but the easiest way to do that is to say, “I’m gonna be working on this thing; I really wanna come show it to you or talk about it.” Create an artifact that everyone can agree on or disagree on so that they’re not agreeing or disagreeing on all the politics or your role in the organization. That’s what they’ll focus on unless there’s an artifact.
RZ That’s right.
PF Now you’ve got the technical understanding; you’ve literally drawn a map of the organization and who will be using it. You’ve profiled them a little bit and said you know what do they want and what will they get.
RZ You’ve done the homework! You’ve done a massive amount of work on behalf of your boss to make an informed decision.
PF As we’re having this conversation like Google Docs are falling out of my brain. One of the most powerful ones is list all the stakeholders: what do they have today; where will they be in the future. Left, right, left, right. What will I get for all these people who are gonna use this? And they could be personas, they could be individuals. And it’s like, for you, you wanna get a promotion. For your boss, he wants to look good and get a bonus. You might not put those into the spreadsheet, those are hidden cells.
RZ Yup. Outcomes. But they’re real. What are the positive outcomes?
PF That’s right and so— because what happens is these projects take their own initiative and they get their own momentum and they lose connection to reality. And so if you really wanna sell something internally and build something new and make a difference and learn how that works, you have to keep growth and outcomes in your brain at all times because everyone can kill you at any moment if they say, “Well it just sounds like we’re gonna build a bunch of stuff.”
RZ Well they will always say that. They will always say—
PF Yeah but if you say, “If we combine the dashboards we can get an overall view of the company and the tire division and the wheel division can suddenly start to work together. And imagine if we put tires on wheels how much money we can make.” [Rich laughs] Right? No, but seriously, it’s honestly that stupid half the time.
RZ There is a point after you’re doing all of that listening, and all that learning, and all that sort of research, and all that gathering of knowledge and whatnot and then finally there is this point where the script flips. And you actually become— and I’ve done it with prospects where I actually become almost aggressive. Like, “Ok, enough! We’ve done the work. We understand what’s needed. And now this is what you need to do.” I’ve used this phrase many times.
PF You’ve earned it!
RZ You’d hope you have, right? Like you hope that after the time you’ve spent on this thing and the time you’ve spent with these people, and this is a phrase I use a lot which is like, “I’m gonna tell you what you need to do, whether it’s Postlight doing it for you or somebody else.”
PF Yeah we say this a lot.
RZ I say it all the time.
PF The thing is is at that point it’s true. Like there’s—
RZ Be generous with that information. You’re not giving anything away. All you’re doing is actually building a relationship.
PF And all we’re doing, really, all our company does is back into one or two patterns that are proven to work. An API driven frontend that is efficient using a well understood language in backend. A nice framework on the frontend that is attractive using a component library that people know. Things that can be built on and continue to develop using standard technology that connect to revenue and growth for an organization. There are like four patterns!
RZ Yes! Four baseline patterns that you build on top of.
PF But that is what we’re always backing people into. It’s advice that, if you listen to this podcast, you’ve heard 30 times. It’s just you need to see it to get out of your brain and you’re specific context and get back into one of those patterns. [Yeah] It’s actually a huge amount of work!
RZ Especially for people who need metaphors and don’t really understand the tech but they’re the ones making these calls.
PF People forget to sell growth when they sell software services too. That happens a lot.
RZ I’ve known people who put a ton of time into a particular path, pitched it to their bosses, and they’re boss is like, “Nope, not gonna do that.” And they’ve quit.
RZ It just felt like, “What am I gonna do here? This is the right thing, I’m utterly deflated. I spent four months putting this strategy together and they don’t wanna do it.”
PF You know what? They can’t articulate 90% of the thing. God bless ‘em. I love those people. They’re my friends, a lot of ‘em. [Rich laughs] They cannot articulate why the boss said no.
RZ He’s an idiot.
PF He’s an idiot.
RZ Or he’s an asshole.
PF And what they don’t realize is he’s afraid. He doesn’t understand the risks [yeah] and that they have sold to him a vision that does not connect to the revenue and growth of the larger organization. And I’m saying larger organization you could be talking JP Morgan or you could be talking Amnesty International. It is the same pattern.
RZ These calls are gambles.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And when you gamble sometimes you can lose, right?
PF Oh and they’re expensive! You’re spending 150,000 dollars on a pile of abstractions that is delivered to you by a bunch of dudes in shorts. Right? Like—
RZ [Laughs] Bad pitch, Paul!
PF No, but I mean this is like— That’s not Postlight but that’s like your average IT delivery [yes, yes]. Like, “Hey! You know my guys in Estonia just it’s a holiday today, I forgot to tell you.”
RZ Here’s the wonderful thing about doing this: the next time, if this goes well, when that next project comes around, that conversation’s way shorter. They trust you already.
PF Yeah but you know what? You’ve also learned how to talk to them [true]. That’s the biggest thing here. And I mean, look: you know where we see it? We see it as two old men of the firm and you’ve got a young developer who’s excited about a new technology, or someone who is really thrilled about a certain design aesthetic and you just— you know in your heart that the amount of effort to get that technology into an organization and get support around it is greater than the kinda— than the market will bear.
PF Doesn’t mean it’s not cool. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to sit and play and understand all these things myself. But I just know that I can’t have that conversation in the meeting. Meanwhile someone is very intellectually excited and stimulated by this. And it kinda sucks. Like you gotta be like, “We’re not using that, we’re gonna use Node.” [Yeah] Which used to be the really cool, edgy thing that nobody was allowed to use [Rich laughs], right? And so then they can make an argument like, “Well, Node used to be that way and this new thing could be this way.” And you’re like, “Absolutely and you’re right.”
RZ I wanna close this with one last piece of advice and this is a weird one. When you’re going in and finally like you’ve crystallized it down to a pitch, and again that pitch could be just you asking your boss for that budget money. What people love to do because it makes ‘em look really smart, is they love to layout these edge cases or alternate cases when they’re telling the story.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ It’s terrible. There is nothing worse—
PF Oh when you’re selling?
RZ When you’re selling—
PF Yeah, it’s horrible.
RZ— I know you’re feeling really smart cuz you thought about that thing [yeah] that might happen—
PF Let’s talk about what would happen if five cats got got into the server room.
RZ [Laughs] I mean—
PF Let’s talk about what happens if all of a sudden Egypt ceases to exist.
RZ We’ve had some young guns here at Postlight go into those meetings and they thought the way that they could add value is by pointing out everything that could go wrong because that means that they’re thinking ahead. And it’s not that it’s bad, things can go wrong. Of course things can go wrong. But what happens is when you’re watching a movie— you ever watch a movie and then 20 minutes in, like a Terrance Mallick film all of a sudden they’re just making tea? Like [yeah] that was a war film for like the first 20 minutes—
PF I know, I know.
RZ But now they’re just making tea. And it’s like, “Why’d you take—”
PF — grasp a notion.
RZ [Laughing] Just why’d you take me— you had this forward momentum. The forward momentum of a narrative is huge. When you’re ready to finally tell that story, it’s literally a story arch. It is a story arch. There’s pain and suffering and then there’s resolution. And there’s a way out. And that story you’re telling, oftentimes it’s couched in the consulting speak of findings and recommendations [that’s right]. The findings are never like, “Everything looks pretty good to us.” The findings are like, “You are screwing up 80 different ways.”
PF You know what it is? You know in the SCC when you put out that prospectus around your company? [Rich laughing] You’re gonna go public.
RZ You have all those horrible—
PF No, no, it’s just like a rocket ship to the moon and then you get to those— now there are some risks.
RZ Yeah. No but the risks are like, “We’re on the coast and the sea level’s rising.”
PF Oh yeah or just like one of the cofounders killed five men but it’s like [Rich laughing] but we—
RZ He does have a felony record.
PF Yeah, so we just wanna give you a little head’s up here.
RZ Full disclosure.
PF It is real. Don’t show off. Take the risks; put them in a spreadsheet, make that Appendix C.
RZ If you’re gonna outline them and when they’re talking and they start to see it, when their eyes get wide and you’re like, “Ok, I’ve got ‘em. He’s gonna give me that 750.” Let ‘em go through that excitement. Like don’t say, “Yeah, but be careful there. You wanna make sure you don’t get too many—”
PF Let him tell you everything you just told ‘im right back. So that it becomes his own as he takes it away from you.
RZ It is his own. It truly is his own.
PF That is the way corporations work. And I think client service makes that really easy cuz that’s the actual deal. The perfect sales meeting is one where they repeat back exactly what you just said and they are ready to go take it and make it work. And then they say, “How long will it take?” That’s your goal! Work towards that goal! And anything that looks like it might get in the way of that goal, write it down. Like don’t cover up the truth here.
RZ Again, even internal money. Same thing. It’s the same thing. When they are starting to use your language and tell the story and back to you and to others, you’ve arrived.
PF Unless they say, “I wanna know all the risks so we can talk about them together, then that’s on you.” You go take care of the risks. They wanna go do their thing [music fades in], whatever their thing is.
RZ We’ve given people gold today, Paul.
PF I know but they gotta listen to this podcast like I think three or four times to unpack what’s happening.
RZ This was dense.
PF You and I are in those rooms a lot.
RZ Yeah. Be generous. Build trust. Listen early on. Put your ego aside. Tell a story. Provide a narrative where there’s real resolution and at the end, everybody’s like you know that scene where the two people are holding hands and spinning really fast in the mountains?
RZ Like it’s just a wonderful, glorious moments and it’s theirs.
PF You know what I’m doing in 20 minutes?
PF Having a sales call with somebody who listens to this very podcast.
RZ Oh dear.
PF Yup. So, and let’s see how it goes!
RZ Speaking of generosity, we share our secrets here. Isn’t that wonderful?
PF It is. Not all of them.
RZ We are Postlight, a digital products studio. We are your technology partner for apps, platforms, we bring design, engineering, product leadership to bear. We’ve shipped some amazing platforms for big banks, big media, across the board, all kinds of great work.
PF Yeah, we’d love to work with you. We like to build big things.
RZ Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PF Alright, I’m gonna go prep for that call.
RZ Good luck.
PF Bye [music ramps up, plays alone for three seconds, fades out to end].