The Foxhole Test

The Foxhole Test

To win your dream client you need the business acumen to know how to help them improve their results. You also need to help them develop a story that moves them from their present state to their desired state. And, you need a whole bunch of other attributes and skills.

The foundation of all of those attributes and skills is trust. It’s based on your honesty, your integrity, and, yes, your courage when it comes to a good fight. Your dream client needs to know where you will stand when the bullets start flying.

Change Initiatives Come With Lots of Enemies

Describing yourself as a change agent isn’t necessarily going to make you a lot of friends. Sure, your contact needs change, and you have helped make the case for that change. But change initiatives come with built-in enemies who are bolstered and reinforced by the comfort of the ever-present status quo.

The status quo is warm. It’s familiar. Yes, things are much worse than they might be, but change might make it worse. Even if it would make things better, the entrenched interests have no interest in finding out. The enemies of change target you and your dream client contact as public enemies number one and two, and they set their sites on destroying your plan.

Now the bullets start flying. Results are slower than expected. You have run into a snag. The train came completely off the tracks.

Where are you?

What Your Dream Client Needs to Believe

You are not going to be chosen unless your dream client believes that when the bullets start flying you are going to be standing right next to her.

Mature businesspeople know that change initiatives don’t move smoothly from the status quo to the desired state. Change comes in fits and starts, inching forward only to move backwards even further. If it were easy, they wouldn’t need you or your help.

Your dream client needs to believe you can be trusted. She needs to believe that you can be trusted to move things forward when there is resistance on her team. She needs to believe that you will pull out all of the stops in moving your team to push through the challenging uphill struggles that change requires.

Your dream client needs to believe that she isn’t going to be standing in the foxhole by herself. She needs to know that she isn’t going to fail because you aren’t going to let her fail.


Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Would you make a major purchase without knowing that the salesperson you are making it with wasn’t going to be standing beside you to ensure it succeeds?

How do you act to ensure that your dream client knows where you will be standing when your change effort starts getting hammered by the forces of same-old, same-old who are going to try to undermine it or wait it out?

If you call yourself a change agent, what does it mean about how you must act when the going gets really tough?

Have you ever had to stand next to your client when the train came off the tracks and help to put it back on the tracks and defend your solution?

Why do some salespeople insist on suggesting that an implementation plan ensures a smooth transition? What expectations have they created? Are these expectations real? Can they always be guaranteed?

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  • Dan Sharry


    I agree with your basic thrust that salespeople should understand that the best outcomes for the client, as well as themselves, come as a result of trust having been established between the parties. That’s only part of it, however. Helping them see the better future is also critical, just as you suggest.

    Being a change agent is a role filled with risks. That comes with the territory and is often unavoidable, and very difficult to control. In my experience, the skill that’s needed and often overlooked, is the ability to develop an ecosystem for success with all stakeholders at the client site.

    One way to minimize potential resistance is to focus directly on the issue of change with your client as part of the sales process. Who wins, who preferred another solution, who might be threatened, who just wanted the status quo? In other words, make that discussion part of the relationship building that should be going on already. The key, in my opinion, is not to make the dream client and her team comfortable with change, but rather it’s to make those individuals comfortable with discomfort. It’s the emotional uncertainty of change that’s the culprit here. It’s there anyway, so why ignore it?

    Just as your personal character will build the trust necessary to soldier on through the inevitable difficulties, so will raising the level of comfort with the uncertainty with change. Becoming comfortable with that discomfort may not be completely possible, but recognizing its role as a basic driver of resistance will help. Bring that discussion out in the open with your internal champion and try to find ways to address it with and for her. The best salespeople recognize the emotional component of the sales process. Logic and ROI may get you noticed, but managing the variety of emotional aspects in these situations will get you a satisfied customer.

    A foxhole is a deadly serious place and one where, historically, a person’s character and training is often the difference between life and death, literally. Anticipating that the going will get really tough at some point is a major element in survival training. Teaching teams to act and react as calmly as possible in these intense circumstances makes positive outcomes that much more likely.

    Fortunately, our business lives don’t usually involve the risks and dangers of a real foxhole, and for that, we can all be grateful.

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