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Sports historians may remember when the “right way” to do the high jump was to leap vertically over the bar with a “scissors” leg movement.  When somebody later jumped highest by rolling over the bar horizontally, that became the “right way.”  Dick Fosbury won the 1968 Olympics high jump by vaulting the bar backwards; that’s been the “right way” ever since.  Maybe it always will be— or maybe not.  And what does all this have to do with selling skills?

Just about everything has a downside, and that goes for being right, too; and we’re talking here about right with a capital “R”— etched in stone, end-of-story, cosmically “Right.”

By definition, being sure that you’re Right means that the quest is done; the destination reached; no further improvement is necessary, or even possible.  In selling, it also means that the salesperson takes off his/her innovator’s hat and replaces it with body armor and a spear— defending and protecting his/her Right idea from all “attackers.”  Here are just a few consequences of this change of roles:

  • It means that we’ll need an excuse (e.g., an outside event or a client dictate) in order to upgrade our existing recommendation; simply saying, “We’ve come up with a better idea” isn’t permissible.  (We know an advertising agency chief who used to terrorize any complacent executive with this aphorism: “When you suddenly realize you’re right, that moment is the death of creativity.”)
  • It requires shutting the client out of the consultative selling process; since any contribution she/he makes to our recommendation can only degrade it.  So much for a “collaborative relationship” and for offering the client any sense of personal ownership in the programs we present.
  • It means that if the client doesn’t approve our recommendation in every detail, any changes we make during a successful issue resolution process are necessarily a step in the Wrong direction— for both of us.
  • It makes us more vulnerable to competitors who are ceaselessly trying to improve themselves and their product or service, even though they’re already successful.

Of course, even as we avoid the pitfalls of knowing we’re Right, we can and should feel enthusiastic, optimistic and confident about our recommendation.  We believe that it’s an excellent way to meet the client’s needs and define a pathway to success.  Even so, it’s not the only pathway or the ultimate answer; the door to improvement is always ajar.

This isn’t a “disclaimer” that we must announce each time we make a recommendation— it’s an attitude and philosophy that underlies all of our efforts on the client’s behalf.  (There may be times when it’s appropriate to volunteer it to the client, and it’s a good response if we’re ever asked, “Is this the best you can do?”)  Maybe, next time, we’ll walk through that open door to improvement yet again.

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