Blair Enns : A Win Without Pitching Manifesto (book highlights)

Note: The following are my personal highlights. If you like them, please consider buying the book.

  • “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
  • What the world needs, what the better clients are willing to pay for, and what our people want to develop and deliver, is deep expertise. Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating ourselves from the competition. Not personality. Not process. Not price. It is expertise and expertise alone that will set us apart in a meaningful way and allow us to deal with our clients and prospects from a position of power.
  • The more alternatives to our firm, the less power we have to command a premium over our competition.
  • Like any engagement of expertise, we often enter into ours with the client not truly knowing what he needs, let alone recognizing the route to a solution.
  • As creative people running businesses, the difficulty of deciding what business we are in is made harder by our inclination to preserve our options, to pursue something we’ve never done before, to reserve the right to do it differently next time.
  • Is there a need for our efforts great enough to sustain and nurture them?
  • When we do not clearly spell out how we will work together we leave a void that the client is quick to fill.
  • When we establish the rules of collaboration – to use first with our clients and then with our prospective clients – we ensure that all engagements begin with both parties understanding how we will work together.
  • While we dislike routine, the client – and ultimately, any consistency of success – demands it. We must, therefore, reconcile ourselves with the fact that routine will be imposed. Once we accept this we can face the question, “Would we prefer to have routine imposed on us, or would we prefer to be the ones who take the lead and define the rules of the engagement?”
  • Presenting is a tool of swaying, while conversing is a tool of weighing. Through the former we try to convince people to hire us. Through the latter we try to determine if both parties would be well served by working together.
  • Our mission is to position ourselves as the expert practitioner in the mind of the prospective client.
  • It is not our job to convince the client to hire us via presentation or any other means.
  • Objective: Determine Fit → While our mission is to position, our objective at each and every interaction in the buying cycle is simply to see if there is a fit between the client’s need and our expertise suitable enough to take a next step. That’s it. It is not our objective to sell, convince or persuade. It is simply to determine if there exists a fit suitable enough to merit a next step. Our mission is to position; our objective is to determine a fit.
  • It is more likely that the client’s perspective will be wrong, or at least incomplete, than it is that it will be whole and accurate. We know this. Doctors know the same of their patients. Lawyers and accountants know the same of their clients. The customer is not always right. More correctly, he usually has strong ideas and a strong sense that he is right, but is locked into a narrow view and weighed down by constraints that seem to him to be more immutable than they really are. When the client comes to us self-diagnosed, our mindset must be the same as the doctor hearing his patient tell him what type of surgery he wants performed before any discussion of symptoms or diagnoses. Our reaction must be, “You may be correct, but let’s find out for sure.”
  • Like the frog, we are the guilty party when we let the client control the engagement and dictate to us how we will go about understanding his problem. Just because it is in the client’s nature to lead, does not mean he should be allowed to do so at all times. It only means that, like the scorpion, he will attempt to do what it is in his nature to do.
  • The control that we need in order to do our best work includes the imperative to bring our own methodology to the engagement. Throughout the buying cycle we are constantly gauging whether or not the client recognizes and values our expertise to the extent that he is willing to grant us this control. Does he see us as the expert who merits the reins of the engagement, or does he see us as the order-taker supplier that needs to be directed?
  • A good client will begin to relinquish control once he has the confidence that the expert practitioner knows more than he does, or has the tools to learn more. Formalized diagnostic processes are such tools.
  • Selling is about determining a fit between the buyer’s need and the seller’s supply (our very objective) and then facilitating a next step. Sometimes the proper next step is to part ways, sending the client on to another provider who is better able to serve him.
  • If we have not specialized and set ourselves apart from our competition in a meaningful way then all we have left is convincing. Convince or pitch: these are the options of the undifferentiated firm.
  • To sell is to: Help the unaware Inspire the interested Reassure those who have formed intent
  • He moves from unaware of his problem or opportunity, to being interested in considering the opportunity, and finally, to intent on acting on it. As he progresses in this manner, our role must change from one of helping, to inspiring, and ultimately to reassuring.
  • Over time, true thought leadership positions us as experts in our field and creates the opportunity for some of our thinking to trigger in the client the idea that perhaps his performance in a certain area could be improved.
  • The role of our thought leadership is to educate, not to persuade. The future client should be smarter for reading it, we should be smarter for writing it, and, one day, when the client does experience a problem in an area on which we’ve written, our guidance may be helpful to him in seeing the opportunity within his problem. Until that day, we continue to cement our position as leaders in our field through our writing. Experts write.
  • When we sit down to write about our area of expertise we will be confronted quickly with an assessment of our success in following the first proclamation. Are we adding to the millions of words that already exist on a subject? Are we retreading well-worn ground? (e.g.: A brand is a promise, or, Is your brand authentic?) Or, are we delving deeply into meaningful subjects for wisdom that truly helps?
  • Writing our way forward is a long-term approach that requires the patience of a farmer versus that of a hunter. But it is the only effective, respectful way with the client who says no and does not see the fit between his need and our expertise.
  • The unaware future client sits at his desk reading our thought leadership on an emerging media, technology or school of thought relative to his business. His awareness grows, and he begins to see that his organization is lagging in this area. He assesses his situation. He begins to gather more information. He considers the discomfort of falling behind. He looks to the future and now imagines the benefits of being out front. He considers the risks of taking action, weighing the pros and cons. He is interested in the opportunity in front of him but not yet intent on taking action.
  • Our portfolios are our best tools of inspiration. They show the client what could be. They show him what others have done. Our examples of our best work paint the picture of the beautiful world on the other side of his pain.
  • The interested prospective client sits across from us and, through our portfolio, views examples of organizations that have mastered the challenge he is now considering. Through our examples and our conversation, he begins to envision a future of wonderful possibilities. Inspired by what his company could become, he summons the resolve to commit to solving his problem. In this moment he says to himself, quietly, “I’m going to do this.”
  • Let us remember that when a future client has formed intent and asks us for a written proposal containing free recommendations or speculative creative, his primary motivation is fear of making a mistake. If we can keep this in mind and look past his request to his underlying motivation, then maybe we can find other ways to offer the reassurance he seeks. Most creative firms take these requests at face value and simply comply. Win Without Pitching firms offer alternative ways forward. Phased engagements, pilot projects, money-back guarantees and case studies framed in defined methodologies are among the many viable alternative forms of reassurance. The key is to respond to the motivation and not necessarily the request.
  • We first strive to secure the business before it gets to a defined, competitive selection process in which we are pitted against our peers and asked to give our thinking away for free. This is easiest when the client sees us as the expert and reaches out to us first. It is also easier when we reach out to the client at a time early in the buying cycle, when he is unaware of any need; and we stay with him as he progresses through the buying cycle, at first helping over time, then inspiring when appropriate, and finally, reassuring at the end.
  • Somebody almost always has inside information or access to hard-to-reach decision makers.
  • Our default assumption should be that somebody always has the inside track.
  • We will embrace sales as one of the two basic business functions, and we will go about this function in the manner of the respectful facilitator. We will look for those that we can best help. We will seek out those that see a fit between their needs and our expertise and who are willing to let us lead the engagement. And then we will facilitate the appropriate next steps: we will help the unaware, we will inspire the interested and we will reassure the intent. With this last group, we will look beyond their requests for proposals and free thinking to the motivations behind them, and we will suggest alternative ways forward. Those that see us as experts will grant us at least some of the concessions we seek and allow us to Win Without Pitching, to derail the pitch or to gain the inside track. From the rest, we will walk away.
  • Those engagements we won were the ones for which we were best suited. The suitability of the fit was apparent to both parties throughout the conversations in the buying cycle.
  • When we spend hours on a lengthy written proposal, one that diagnoses and prescribes for free, it sends the message that we need the client’s business.
  • We want to operate from the practitioner’s position where we have not overinvested in the sale, where we are not trying to talk the client into hiring us, and where we invite him to say no early and often.
  • This straightforward approach of using conversation rather than writing to determine a fit makes perfect sense for both parties, but it is rarely practiced in the creative professions.
  • The over-supply of undifferentiated creative firms has necessitated a process that keeps the client from being overwhelmed. He uses the written proposal as a tool to help him. It allows him to keep the masses at arm’s length and still give him something upon which to determine a next step. If we have succeeded in following the first proclamation and we have built an obvious specialized expertise, then we make it easier for the client to let us in. Otherwise, he will use the written proposal to keep us out.
  • For if the client does not recognize and value our expertise then we have failed – failed to build true expertise, failed to demonstrate that expertise or failed by pursuing an opportunity that is not properly aligned with our expertise.
  • In sorting through many similar firms, the client seeks to grid out their likenesses and differences. Undifferentiated firms gladly participate in this process. By not following the first proclamation, these businesses operate from positions of little power. Thus, all they can hope for is to win based on service (as demonstrated by compliance to the client’s process), personality, price, or by beginning to solve the client’s problem within the proposal. The process itself is an exercise in homogenization that reduces each firm to samples of its work, ill-informed guesses at possible strategies and hourly rates. True differences do not shine through in written proposals.
  • Value = Quality/Price. The client’s challenge in determining the value of our services is that the quality of an idea not yet delivered is difficult to measure. This leaves him with two options: he can over-weight the decision toward that which he can measure (price), or he can ask us to deliver the idea (for free) in an effort to determine its quality.
  • A client asking for unpaid ideas in a written proposal is like a patient asking for a diagnosis and prescription from a doctor he refuses to visit or pay.
  • Either we leverage the power gained by our expertise to impact the client’s process and replace the proposal and accompanying presentation with conversation, or we walk away and leave this client to another firm.
  • We must learn to measure the client’s intent; if his decision to act on his opportunity has not yet been anchored to a future date or event (a decent indicator of intent), then the written proposal is not the tool to help propel him forward. If the engagement has not yet moved from his wish list to his to-do list, then it is still inspiration he seeks.
  • But when we push too hard – when we pitch, present and invest in a written proposal – we often make it difficult for the client to be honest with us. In these cases he will use the written proposal and its supporting process to not say anything to us when he really would like to say no. If the answer is no, we want to hear it; therefore, we want to make it easy for the client to say it. It serves neither of us when we lob a written proposal over the fence and wait patiently for a reply.
  • We are under no obligation to provide the client with a reference of services, process and price just so that he can find someone else to do what we would do, the way we would do it, but cheaper.
  • Many times, the client’s situation, or the probable solutions, are so complex or technical that we need to better understand the challenges if we are to propose and quantify responsible solutions. Such engagements demand that we begin our diagnostic work in order to present a plan. But let us not make the mistake of doing this diagnostic work for free. No – understanding and diagnosing the client’s situation is vital to the success of any engagement, and it is our work here at the very front of the engagement that will largely determine whether we succeed or fail in our endeavors for the client. We must charge for this work.
  • Doctors charge for MRIs. Accountants charge for audits. Lawyers charge for discovery. And we charge for our diagnostic work as well, whether it is a brand audit or discovery session that we conduct ourselves, or outside research that we commission. For these complex challenges in which we must diagnose before we can even begin to quantify a prescription, our clients pay us to write proposals via a phased sale that begins with a diagnostic. The outcome of the diagnostic phase is two parts: findings and recommendations. In our findings we deliver our diagnostic discoveries, and in our recommendations we include a plan to move forward, complete with timeline and budget. In this way, we get paid to craft the proposal those times when it is necessary to write one.
  • Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits – those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes.
  • It is human nature to follow what retreats from us and to back away from what advances. Confucius famously said, “Speak softly and people lean toward you; speak loudly and they lean away.”
  • Buyers prefer to be politely vetted by a seller who has clearly defined parameters of the nature of the work he will do, the type of client he will take on, and the budgets with which he will and will not work. The client’s experience in dealing with the selective expert versus the enthusiastic generalist who barges headlong into every opportunity is night and day different. One invites him to advance; the other causes him to retreat.
  • Our public claim of expertise must describe who we help and how, and in this description those that would be better served by others should be able to select out. The client should be able to determine from a sentence or two whether our expertise is likely to meet his needs.
  • By staking a narrow claim we build the credibility for the client to assume we have capabilities beyond our claim, whereas a broad claim generates the opposite reaction.
  • The client knows the great difficulty of amassing broad expertise, and when such a claim is made he assumes our true expertise, if any, must be much smaller than what is declared.
  • No is the second best answer we can hear. If the answer is no, we want to hear it as soon as possible, before we and the client unnecessarily waste valuable resources. When an opportunity first arises, therefore, we try to see if we can kill it.
  • If the opportunity is right and we retreat just a little, the client is likely to follow. The retreat-and-follow is an important test of how much the client recognizes and values our expertise. It tells us if he sees a fit and indicates to us the power we have to lead any engagement.
  • Our tendency is to avoid areas of potential objection, but they cannot be avoided forever. Eventually the client raises them and we are forced to address them. Such dynamics are easily reversed when we learn to raise the objections first and place them on the table for the client to address. Instead of waiting to hear, “You seem expensive,” we might say, “I’m a little concerned about the ability an organization of your size has to afford us.”
  • In this manner we want to learn to lean into potential objections. If the objection is going to kill the deal, then let’s kill it early.
  • If we are well positioned then we will possess capabilities beyond – often well beyond – our declared expertise. When potential clients approach us with needs within our capabilities but outside of our central expertise, it is vital that we handle these enquiries with honesty. When our claim of expertise is broad, we are inclined to respond to such enquiries with what the client expects to hear: “We can do that!” This reply builds buying resistance and makes it difficult to replace presentations with conversations.
  • The target is not the market. We take precise aim at the smaller target and are happy to hit the wider market. Our claim of expertise should be a lot narrower than the sum of our capabilities.
  • When we encounter an opportunity within our capabilities but outside of our expertise, we owe it to the client to tell him that, yes, we can do this, but no, it is not why we are typically hired. We owe it to him to reiterate our claim and point out the gap between what he needs and what we do. From there, the client can make the decision to bridge the gap or not. He can decide that our experience translates to his need and that he would rather work with someone who is honest about her strengths.
  • When we play up the tiebreakers of price, chemistry and passion, however, we tacitly imply that when it comes to measuring us on the most important variable – expertise – we are no better equipped than others in consideration.
  • The generalist is drawn to the problem he has not yet solved. His curiosity trumps all else. He feels no discomfort in operating outside of his area of expertise because such an area is broad, shallow and loosely defined. He pursues with passion the new and the different.
  • He will be wary of situations in which he does not have confidence in his ability to find the best solution – in which the landscape and challenges are unfamiliar and he has to admit to his client, “I’ve never done this before.”
  • First we select a focus, we then articulate that focus via a claim of expertise, and finally we work to quickly add proof to our claim.
  • When we put our flag in the ground, heads turn. The competition, seemingly oblivious to us before, suddenly takes notice. Those that do not claim meaningful territory are rarely attacked. What is there to defend, after all? This is one of the indulgences of the generalist: it is an easier life. It is not as lucrative. It is not as fulfilling. It is, however, easier. Nobody attacks the unthreatening generalist.
  • The truth about the average human being is that, regardless of what he claims to want, he will avoid the difficult decisions and the undesirable tasks, even if they represent the path to the outcome or future he desires. The proven reality is that most people will change their desires, even their values, before they will change their behavior.
  • Now, the question we must face is, are we most people? Will we stay on the old comfortable path where we can avoid attack? Will we choose denial and continue to shape our beliefs to conform to our old behavior? Or do we have it within us to do what we know must be done to build an expert firm: a firm that delivers to our clients our best work, a firm that brings to us the fulfillment of a career well managed, and a firm that provides to our families the security and prosperity they deserve? Will we do what we know needs to be done?
  • From the moment we make the claim, we find ourselves in a race with no finish line. It is a race in which the greater our lead, the more we have to lose; therefore, the faster we feel we must run. This is not the easy path. Once we are on it, however, moving past the stationary generalists on the sideline, we realize we would not have it any other way. We would rather race to fulfill our potential than stagnate in unchallenged contentment.
  • When we narrow our field of thought we think deeper. We need not be smarter or more creative than our competition, only more focused.
  • Writing at length on our expertise drives us into the deep crevices of our territory. As focused experts, we benefit from repeated observation of the same challenges. Writing is the tool that helps us formalize our thinking on these observations. It forces us to tighten our arguments and therefore our understanding. Writing might not come naturally to us, it might be painful at times, but the rewards are significant and the exercise is mandatory. If we are to be experts we must write.
  • The skills we must possess or acquire in order to succeed in a differentiated creative enterprise are: consulting first, writing second, artistry third. The problem-seeing and problem-solving skills of the advisor, along with the ability to lead others through the engagement, trump everything else. Writing follows, for writing both proves and deepens our expertise. The artistry, increasingly, is the commodity. It is inexpensively acquired from those that neither have, nor attempt to cultivate, the first two skills. We must take control and we must write.
  • Repeated observation and problem solving is bound to improve our quality and efficiency.
  • We can also reasonably assume that over time, through trial and error, we would happen upon an efficient approach that allows us to deliver at quality and speed with consistency. In almost any of our repeated endeavors, it is the strength of our processes that drives the consistency of our outcomes.
  • If we want to build deep expertise we must take pains to document how we work, to define how we will work in the future and to continuously refine and improve our approach. Working from a defined process leads to the very consistency of quality that a potential client tries to discern late in the buying cycle, when our role is to reassure. Nothing reassures the client more than him drawing the powerful inference that little variability in process equals little variability in outcomes.
  • Every one of the firms he is considering can demonstrate an ability to do great work, but the question he wants answered before he buys is: “How do I know I’m going to get their best work?” When we are able to demonstrate strong processes, the client can decide for himself the implications of our processes on the consistency of our quality.
  • Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us.
  • If we do not value our thinking, the client will not. He uses many cues to try to ascertain our value. He looks for signs from us of how we value ourselves. How can we diagnose and prescribe for free one minute, and later ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars for similar thinking?
  • It is irresponsible of us to use our identity as artists as an excuse for not forming business standards and policies. Clients lay policies on us as though they were law and we respond with preferences and inclinations. No – we must respond with policies of our own. We encounter far less client resistance when we preface our requirement with the words, “It is our policy that…”
  • Many of us weigh the free-pitching problem and feel proud that it does not affect us. “We don’t do speculative (spec) creative.” But our designs are merely the application of our strategy; and our strategy, when arrived at responsibly, is rooted in a thorough diagnosis. Each of the phases that precedes design or any other application work has a value at least as high as the application. Like creative, this thinking that precedes it should not be given away for free.
  • There is no need for us to be tentative about stating our requirement for a deposit before we begin working for the client. We simply say, “We’ll get started as soon as we receive the deposit, as is our policy for all new clients.” We need not apologize for being responsible business people. Never again should we find ourselves attempting to clarify issues of payment after we have begun working on the engagement. This is the simplest of business tests, one for which there is no longer any excuse to fail: for all new clients, we will be paid in advance.
  • The root of this money stress is not in the conversations themselves, but in not having them when we know we should. Overcoming this stress begins with deciding that from here forward we will talk about money early and often. As soon as the opportunity arises we will lean into the discomfort of the topic, deal with it immediately and eliminate the stress from the subject. In time we will learn to do this with ease.
  • Soon after a need is initially determined, it is incumbent on us to let the prospect know that we only work with a small number of new clients every year and therefore can only add clients that will spend at or above our Minimum Level of Engagement. We are not looking to the client for an iron-clad commitment on this point, we are simply saying, “This is the size of client it makes sense for us to work with, so if you decide at some point that you would like to work with us, we ask that you be prepared to commit to fees at or above this level over the year.”
  • As selective experts, it is not in our interest to pursue project work that is tactical in nature or well below our Minimum Level of Engagement. This does not mean we do not take on project work from time to time. Obviously, we undertake project work for existing clients with whom we have larger, more comprehensive and strategic relationships. We may choose to take on new project work if it meets certain criteria, such as, if we have capacity, if we can do it profitably, if it does not impair our ability to obtain more appropriate strategic work from the client in the future and if we do not have to compete for it.
  • The fastest way to efficiencies in our business development approach is to unabashedly uncover important information early and use that information to make an honest and practical assessment of a fit. The answer to the question, “Can and will the client afford us?” is vital information that we must resolve to uncover as soon as possible. Walking away from those that cannot pay us what we are worth lowers our average cost of sale and preserves both our positioning and any future business opportunities with the client.
  • Like the medical professionals that our four-phase model of diagnose, prescribe, apply and reapply suggests, our highest value offering is our ability to bring new perspective and understanding to our clients’ problems.
  • Guarantees → Clients may attempt to negotiate because they are unsure of the value of our services. In these situations we can consider guarantees as alternatives to discounting. Not guarantees of return on investment – for too many variables remain out of our control. Not guarantees on our entire spectrum of offerings – for they may be used against us late in the engagement. It is appropriate to guarantee the first phase – diagnosis and prescription – of a phased engagement in order to reassure the client of the value of moving forward with us. There is far less risk in this guarantee than there is in pitching free ideas and hoping to get paid.
  • “If we were to agree to this price, is there anything else to stop us from deciding to work together right now?”
  • Our premium pricing will cost us clients from time to time; but if we are not losing business on price occasionally, then we are not charging enough. Conversely, if we need to win on price, we are not setting ourselves apart as experts.
  • We will invite the client to tell us that he would prefer to work with a more affordable firm. We will not apologize for charging more; it is fair compensation for the increased value we deliver as experts. It lets us improve our offering by giving us the means to reinvest in ourselves and, most important of all, it almost certainly improves the outcome and the experience for the client.
  • In this way, our most profitable clients get our best service. It does not happen the other way around. Superior service does not improve profit; profit improves service.
  • Our clients know whether they are getting the best from us, but they rarely know why. Failing to charge enough leaves us little room to move and creates discordant dynamics with our clients. All of this affects the quality of our work and our reputations as reliable advisors.

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