The Game Trap

2 cageIf you hear yourself saying, ”It’s not personal. It’s just business,” be careful. Ask yourself if you’ve made a decision you’re not proud of.

“It’s just business” and “not personal” imply that there are different guidelines or values we apply depending on whether we deem the interaction as ‘personal; or ‘business’. If in the ‘personal’ interaction we apply our life values, what values or rules are we applying in the business interaction?

Having two sets of values implies business as a game. This tempts us to view the primary goal as getting the best score (money). There are two problems with this.

First of all, it is personal. For the entrepreneur who invested five years of his life in a start-up? For the manager who’s wrestled a new division to life? For the team leader who’s nurtured the growth of the members of her team? For the small business owner who has employed the same friends for 25 years? For you when your best client signs a deal with a competitor? It is personal.

Second, the “game” of business and sales has no rules. In the end the only rules are the rules you choose to live by. And if you choose to live by them and then apply them selectively (as in this doesn’t count, this is business), then you’re not really living by them.

Strive to be the same “you” in business and everything else. In the end you’ll be happier, healthier and more fun to be with.

The Value of Negative Space

The suggestion, if you’re thinking like Michael Porter, is to choose which of the objectives are less important. This is often easier than choosing the most important. The situation, your industry, your personality, your client’s preferences and the current status of your relationship will all impact which objective you choose not to pursue. Peel away the onion and see what’s left.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do, and not doing it.” — Michael Porter

I’m a recent convert to Michael Porter’s principal for strategic action. It solves the common problem inherent in unclear goals. If top line strategy and objectives are ambiguous or unclear, then mission creep sets in; we can justify lots of activities in the pursuit of those loosely defined goals.

Thinking from a more abstract level than Porter probably intended, you can define any positive space by first defining the negative space. In theory, if you can effectively define all the things you’re not going to do, what’s left is your strategic plan.

negative-spaceDefining what you’re not going to do clarifies what you’re going to do.

For example, a negative space way to sharpen my strategy is simply to identify which of the many activities that are lingering on my to do list have less impact in getting me closer to my loosely defined goals. Setting the less effective activities aside, what I’m left with is what I will do. And what I’ll do determines what milestones I’ll achieve, and the goal I’m aiming for. Then I can ask myself. “Is that goal sufficient? Will those milestones that remain on my list get me to that goal?” If it is and they will, I have just sharpened my strategy.

Let’s attack a strategic question concerning sales:

What is it you want to accomplish in a meeting with a possible client? There are lots of answers to this question:

I want to build a relationship.
I want them to think of me when an opportunity presents itself.
I want to uncover seven reasons to follow up with them.
I want to understand their most important challenges.
I want to understand their business model and what their role is within it.
I want to walk out of the meeting with a deal to quote.
I want to resource and inform my client in ways that help them.

These are all good objectives. But if I set out to accomplish all of them in a client meeting, I run the risk of jumping around and not making useful progress on any of the objectives (the tactical equivalent of mission creep). The suggestion, if you’re thinking like Michael Porter, is to choose which of the objectives are less important. This is often easier than choosing the most important. The situation, your industry, your personality, your client’s preferences and the current status of your relationship will all impact which objective you choose not to pursue. Peel away the onion and see what’s left.

What remains is the clarified objective for your meeting: what do you need to do, and not do, to achieve that goal.

At whatever level of granularity you operate on the strategy-tactic chain, Michael Porter’s advice is useful.