The Slow Seduction: Selling Strategy One Piece at a Time

Chalk Stairs

Everybody knows that selling strategy is hard. In today’s business landscape the velocity of change can be overwhelming, leaving executives: 1) scared to commit to a massive change, or 2) staggered by the laundry list of changes that make up the strategy. At ICS, we know two common reasons that executives fail to be strategic:

  • Leaders wait for the market to shift and therefore relegate their organization to a reactive position, just following the crowd but never catching up
  • Leaders get stuck in the analysis paralysis phase and never make decisions, create environments of perpetual unproductive change, or, worst of all, are too late to the game and miss major industry trends

Recognizing this reality, if you want to get executives to move past these fears, you have to think of selling strategy as a slow seduction. It is exactly how it sounds; you have to seduce them in order to distract them from their fears and anxieties. More specifically, this seduction has two-phases:

  1. Sell your overall vision/strategy
  2. Then, sell the implementation approach of your vision/strategy – one piece, one step, at a time

As a simple example, let’s pretend you really want to talk your friends into hiking a mountain in one day, 9 miles to the top and 9 miles back. Sensing they’re probably not going to readily say yes, you wouldn’t just go to your friends and ask, “Hey, let’s go hike 18 miles in a day.” Instead, you would first warm them up to the idea of going on a hike, until they finally agreed to take the day off and hike with you.

When you actually get to the trail, you may suggest something like this: “Let’s climb up to this cool lookout and have lunch.” Once at the lookout, maybe you can get them to see how much fun that was and suggest they can go a little further. You do this over and over, seducing them into only seeing each individual leg of the journey. Before you know it, you have completed the entire hike in a day…without them ever freaking out about how insane and overwhelming an 18 mile hike is.

This seems easy enough. So, why do so many people fail in selling their visions? It’s pretty basic; people want to show executives how smart they are and overload them (literally) with their vision and their elaborate implementation plans. Just as in the hiking story above or in romance itself, it’s not about demonstrating how smart/good you are; that come’s later. At this stage, it’s about seducing your executives and selling your vision.

Now that you have the general idea, let’s explore how to master the slow seduction?

 

Step 1: Sell the Vision

The most important thing you need to do before even approaching your executives is making sure you understand what the organization can tolerate. Now, really look at your vision; does it live within those confines? If it doesn’t, it’s a lost cause. If it does, then you guide the business through the logic. Get them to acknowledge and enroll in the analysis one concept at a time, and build up to your ultimate goal. Remember, they are terrified of the thought of massive commitments, so work your way up to it through a lot of little wins.

Case Study: ICS worked with a multi-national entertainment organization on reassessing their data centers. It was very clear that the best option would be to outsource the critical systems to a third party. However, if we walked in there and lead off with that vision, we would’ve been shot. Instead, we seduced them with a logical A=B=C=D methodology that naturally drew them to our conclusion:

  1. We got everyone to agree to the current state of the data centers (the as-is state)
  2. We got the business to communicate their requirements/goals (the future-sate)
  3. We developed a visual that showed everyone the gaps between current and future states
  4. We got everyone to agree on what we could do in 12 months (with the budget and staffing realities)
  5. We got everyone to agree on what we could achieve in 12 months (with unlimited funds)
  6. We illustrated to the team that even with unlimited funds, we could only close about 50% of each gap
  7. They all agreed to this reality
  8. Then, and only then, did we propose, “What if they negotiated with a third-party data center to augment their internal hosting solutions”
  9. We presented all of this to the executive team and they enrolled in the vision

STEP 1 – COMPLETE

This process took time and effort; it wasn’t achieved in one conversation, it evolved over weeks of discoveries and discussions. That is perfectly okay. If your vision is worth selling, it is worth the time to sell it correctly.

 

Step 2: Sell the Implementation Approach

Now that you have gotten your executives to enroll in the overall commitment, you have to help them wade into the reality of change. Because remember, the devil is the details, and a laundry list of details will freak them out. You might know those details, they might even know them (and are in denial); but just don’t overwhelm them with the realities. In other words, don’t ask them to hike 18 miles in one day.

The slow seduction of getting your executives to enroll in the execution of your strategy, is to break it up into “crawl, walk, run” phases. Break up your mountain into logical pieces of work. Remember, the “crawl phase” is simple, low risk, a trial period if you will. Get them to hike up to the pond and splash around in their achievements for a bit. As you all enjoy a fulfilling lunch, that’s when you spark their interest of the really cool cave you can explore a few more miles up (walk phase). And so on, and so forth until you have seduced them into achieving your entire goal.

Picking up our case study from above, the overall vision was to migrate 80% of the data center off-site. And, while we were successful in convincing people that an off-site data center strategy was good, there was absolutely zero chance of success if we approached the executives with our 80% plan. Rather, we crafted a seduction:

  1. Crawl phase: Let’s migrate non-revenue impacting and non-client-facing systems that require high service levels (back office systems)
  2. Walk phase: Let’s migrate client-facing but not revenue-impacting systems
  3. Run phase: Let’s migrate revenue-impacting systems

Again, we never revealed the full journey to the executives. Rather, with each success, selling the next phase became easier and easier. By the time we were complete, 85% of the data center was migrated. In total, it was a two-year seduction.

STEP 2 – COMPLETE

Closing thoughts . . . Don’t try to show everyone how smart you are. Recognize your executives’ and company’s tolerance for change. Keep your logic simple, attainable, and focused. Seduce your executives into enrolling in your vision. Then, reveal that vision in small, incremental stages and build upon your success to advance your grand strategy. If you master this approach, you will be able to sell your overarching vision, one that nobody thought would even be possible. When it’s all said and done, you won’t have to show everyone how smart you are. Your work will speak for itself.