There Are Still No Rules and You Have to Know Them All

A question was raised about a story told in a very popular book. The idea in this story is counterintuitive to traditional sales philosophy. It is about making a negative sale, or explaining why a prospect shouldn’t buy what you sell, as part of your sales presentation. The questioner interpreted the story as a rule.

There is an important truth embedded in the story, namely that exposing something negative before sharing your pitch can build trust (if you’re the kind of person who discloses your product’s shortcoming, you are likely to be honest about other things).

The questioner asked whether or not this approach should be used instead of the approach she regularly employs. And this is the problem with believing that there are a number of rules that can be identified and followed in a complex, dynamic human interaction like sales.

Malcolm Gladwell’s work is terrific. Blink is an outstanding piece of work. Paying attention to your intuition is important. Trusting your gut can be good advice. This is a simplification of the book, but it’s how one might apply the work. In many cases, however, careful and deliberate consideration and weighing of options may be a better strategy for making a good decision.

Cialdini’s Influence is second to none when it comes to understanding how we are persuaded. One of the first levers, reciprocity, is generally a good and effective tactic. I give you something, you feel a sense of debt, and you try to repay that debt. The need to repay a kindness is a deeply programmed human behavior (read the book). But this presupposes that the person you hope to influence is susceptible to reciprocity. There are people who are not susceptible, in which case another approach may work better.

Steve Jobs practiced a reality distortion field. He perceived nothing to be impossible and drove his team to make the impossible real without the resource of time. He wasn’t nice about it. Apple did very well under Jobs’ leadership, so many people tout his quirks as the very reason for his success, leaving out other factors like luck, timing, circumstances, exploitation of opportunities, an exceptional team who compensated for his shortcomings, and dozens and dozens of additional factors. The context is lost.

Any process or system built on the idea that there is one way to do anything, one rule that must always be followed, creates constraints. It eliminates choices. By eliminating choices, you eliminate the opportunity to achieve outcomes when something doesn’t work.

By recognizing the choices available and making decisions based on the context of your situation, you enable yourself to select a strategy that you believe will allow you to succeed. By looking for the one, single, always correct, infallible rule, you eliminate those choices.

There are no rules, and you have to know them all.

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