Forbes: Seven Sales Lessons From The Mayor
Forbes: Seven Sales Lessons From The Mayor
With all due respect to the many great professors I had in business school, my favorite MBA class was not taught by a Ph.D., but by the former mayor of Los Angeles, Richard J. Riordan. The class was titled “Leadership & Ethics,” and Mayor Riordan brought a different, incredibly accomplished friend to UCLA’s campus at 8 a.m. twice a week to share his or her wisdom with the next generation of leaders. While we heard from Eli Broad, Howard Marks, Ron Meyer and countless other business titans (including Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin), the lessons of greatest value to me came from the mayor himself.
A former two-term mayor, California Secretary of Education and gubernatorial candidate, Mayor Riordan is best known for his political endeavors. But his incredibly successful business career -- having co-founded top the private equity firms Freeman Spogli & Co. and Riordan Lewis & Haden, and financed countless ventures that flourished with his support -- laid the groundwork for the unique leadership and management philosophy he brought to government.
In our class, the mayor shared his approach to running businesses and city hall, sprinkling invaluable nuggets of wisdom that my friends and I quote almost daily. Sales and business development professionals can learn as much as anyone from the mayor’s advice:
'It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.'
There is a reason why the best salespeople are go-getters: they have to be. When your product truly sells itself, you don’t need a world-class sales team. Thriving in sales requires the ability to be aggressive and daring, and boldness will be rewarded far more richly than passiveness every day of the week.
A story I love telling involves the time I cold-called a well-known CEO of a public company earlier in my career. I wound up catching him on his cell phone in the middle of the night while he was partying hard in Tokyo. We hit it off and developed a relationship that led to him wanting to do business with me and my then-employer.
'Only a mediocre person never makes a mistake.'
Along those lines, it is important to recognize that in order to be a great salesperson, you have to be willing to make mistakes along the way. When you reach for the top, you are going to stumble trying to get there, but the end result is what ultimately matters. A person who never stumbles is too timid to try to achieve greatness.
I tell my team that if you are not failing, you are not trying. I cannot count the number of mistakes I have made since embarking on my entrepreneurial journey, but each one has been a great learning experience.
'I couldn’t agree with you more.'
When Mayor Riordan found himself in a conversation not going anywhere, instead of trying to win the argument, he turned to his favorite line, disarming rather than inflaming the other party. You are going to be hard-pressed selling to someone you have an adversarial relationship with; people like buying from people they like. When dialogue has the potential to become contentious, shift it to a softer place.
'Perceived power is real power.'
When negotiating a deal, it is important to consider the information asymmetry that exists on both sides. Very seldom, if ever, do both parties share the exact same information. Leverage not only the power you know you have, but the power you can convince the other side that you have.
I learned this lesson first-hand in a professional context shortly after graduating from college. I was an entry-level grunt working for the largest hedge fund in the world and had no formal leverage over anyone, but I effectively persuaded numerous co-workers, most of whom were senior to me, to help me automate my day-to-day work.
'The dogs don’t like it.'
There are very few salespeople who can actually sell ice to eskimos. At the end of the day, no matter how skilled a salesperson, the product offered must resonate with the target customer. If the dogs don’t like the taste of the dog food, no advertising campaign -- or world-class salesforce -- can sustainably persuade customers to buy.
'There is negation by delay.'
The longer something drags out -- whether it is a bill before Congress, a merger between two companies or a sale -- the less likely it is to go through. Momentum is lost and reasons to stop the deal increase in number and pick up steam. Sales and business development professionals must work to get a "yes" as quickly as possible to avoid the increasing likelihood of "no."
Executives intent on expediting a deal or a sale should ensure that the other party feels the need to make a decision in a time frame that is beneficial to you and your time. Incorporating time sensitivity into the decision-making process combats risks associated with a dragged-out timeline. In politics, in business and in life, deadlines have a unique way of spurring action.
'Beware of phantom options.'
Closing a sale ultimately requires both sides to acknowledge that saying "yes" is a better outcome than saying "no." Understanding that customers often weigh a potential deal against alternatives that may not actually exist will help sales professionals overcome a common obstacle and help land a signature on the dotted line.
It is important for entrepreneurs and executives to remember that you can only decide between the choices in front of you. When facing a key decision, take stock of all of your possible alternatives, but don't get clouded by options that do not truly exist.