By Dave Liu, AsAmNews Board Member
- Why is it important to learn how to sell to a group?
Hopefully, at this point in your career, I don’t need to convince you of the importance of selling. It is a prerequisite for getting a job, retaining a client, or convincing a customer to part with their hard-earned cash. Without basic sales skills, your career is off to a slow start or stuck in neutral.
As you plot your rise up the corporate ladder, rarely are critical decisions solely one person’s responsibility. Oftentimes you will be required to convince not one decision-maker but potentially a group of naysayers. As such, mastering the art of selling to a group is critical especially as you rise up the corporate ladder. You need to nail this skill to get employees to follow you off a cliff, senior committees to anoint you worthy of premature promotion, partners to say “Yea” to your projects, and boards of directors to hire you over their cronies and progeny.
If you can’t win over a group, you might as well kiss your career goodbye. No one ever gets very far unless they master this skill.
- What are some key tactics to convince a group?
Here are a few basics to consider when convincing a group to approve your ideas or, at worst, not stop them:
- Do Your Recon. When you first started your job, I hope you mapped out your career path. Seeing obstacles ahead applies at every stage, on every day, for every interaction—especially in meetings. Back-channel one-on-one with every committee member to learn who might blow your suggestion out of the water and who will support it. By laying this kind of groundwork, your goal is to know the outcome before you walk into the meeting. Otherwise, as Sun Tzu warned in the fifth century BCE, “You’ve already lost.”
- Unearth Motivations. Your reconnaissance should give you insight into people’s motivation for supporting or nixing your deal. You’ve got to get to know your colleagues and observe their behaviors. Become fully aware of their heuristics—those mental shortcuts that help them problem-solve and make judgments, often too-quick ones, which can result in irrational or inaccurate conclusions. Discern the true motivations of every participant and address them one-on-one.
- Use Peer Pressure. Peer pressure and social influences are enormously important in driving decisions by consensus. We all want to be part of the pack and it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd—particularly if you turn out to be wrong. The key is to orchestrate the meeting so that momentum builds in your favor until approval becomes a foregone conclusion.
- How do I identify and neuter my enemies in a group?
As I rose up the corporate ranks, I’d always watch out for people whose only intention was to screw me and make themselves look good. You never know who that might be—a two-faced client, a conniving peer, even an insecure boss. As you’re rising in the ranks, keeping your head on a swivel and reading the room is critical to your survival.
Groups can be problematic because they tend to be made up of professional non-smilers who may not say “No” but certainly won’t give out a “Yes” as easily as you handed over $10 for movie theater popcorn. They may be insecure types who backseat-drive every meeting. They dislike any idea that wasn’t patented by them and need the best ideas to be theirs. Solution? Let them! Leave enough breadcrumbs that even a blind pigeon could find the trail and the idea becomes theirs.
Once they latch onto your idea, be sure to say, “Jimbo, that is a great idea!” and shower them with compliments. Just make sure that when the battle is over and the dust settles, the powers-that-be know who made it happen.
Another way to bolster your case to a group and counter your enemies is to take advantage of belief bias, where people make faulty conclusions based on what they already believe to be true. For instance, one might conclude that all bankers are psychopaths, and all psychopaths are murderers, and therefore all bankers are murderers. This may sound absurd, but people do this all the time.
Think about what your enemies already believe. Then use it as a foundation for your argument. Perhaps they believe the Internet is a fad? OK, then focus on the physical retail aspects of the business. Or they think the project is too small? Got it. Convince them it is simply a beachhead stepping stone to a grander prize.
Finally, remember that even the most obstinate group can’t fight human nature. Your audience is more likely to remember your words if you use anchoring biases to convince them. It’s when a person making a decision relies too heavily on one piece of information. Anchoring bias will encourage you to hold onto a crappy stock that has lost value because you’ve anchored your estimate of its value to the price you paid for it rather than to its current fundamentals. Once in this trap, you’ll illogically keep a stock in the hope it will return to its purchase price. So start your argument with an opening anchor that makes the eventual option attractive. Anchor the beginning so the ending looks like a victory for all!
About the Author
Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur who founded several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, and worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years.
He rose from an entry-level position of Analyst at the investment bank Jefferies to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history. As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the Bamboo Ceiling. He not only worked hard but also played the corporate game.
Dave also serves on the board of directors of Asian American Media Inc, the parent company of AsAmNews. He is also one of our largest donors.
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