Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, August 7, 2023
by Neil Senturia
How hard is it to get to “yes”?
I recently had lunch with a client who is an investment banker, and I ask him how his business is going. He replies, “lousy.” He is laying off three employees (20 percent of the staff) and cutting salaries for the rest.
OK, what is the problem? He says that he makes the pitch, and the client says “yes-but” (this is the most famous yes in the book, the yes-but, which as we all know is not a yes). Then he battles a little further and modifies and gets some charts and graphs and articles to prove that this is the right time to sell the business. Now he has the client standing on the precipice, tilted on one leg, going down for the count — but no rollover. My guy can’t get him to yes.
There are many advisory books on negotiation and getting to yes. Easy for you to say, but still hard to do. The venture world has closed down for a while, and if you happen to get a yes from the gang in Silicon Valley, it comes with a massive haircut. It might be better to go bald.
Another client comes in, and he sells insurance. How’s business? Terrific, he says. People are dying all the time. Then I ask him how many contacts he has to make before the prospect says yes. He says a minimum of five to six, more likely 12 to 15. That is a lot of touches. What if the guy drops dead first?
My little software company. We can’t get to yes. We made the world’s best dog food, only to find out that every one of our potential customers was a cat.
I take another client to lunch. A long story about fiber optics, and the guy gets the yes, but before the check clears, somebody’s brother-in-law falls off a cliff and the sheikhs in Dubai change their minds. Never sent the check. Who asked the guy to go for a hike?
Think about your children. How hard is it to get to yes? And once there, how hard is it to make it stick?
Yes is concrete, it is a statement, it is a confirmation, it leaves little or no room to maneuver. It eliminates optionality. After you say “I do” at the altar, the ballgame has just begun. Relief pitchers are expensive.
The geniuses in Washington, D.C., should measure the “yes” ratio for the economy. It might be just as good as measuring GDP.
Now a bit of good news (in the slough of despond). Herewith:
Community college. Trade schools. Wow. Teresa Watanabe wrote a Los Angeles Times article with this headline: “Some community college grads can outearn elite university peers.” Check it out. Entrepreneurship does not mean starting your own business — it means embracing your life. My dental hygienist earns $105,000. And my teeth are very clean.
Gen Z Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans writes that the anxious achievers of earlier generations are puzzled (and I think envious) of this new group who have the audacity to think differently about the “time vs. money” trade-off and different ways of achieving “time affluence.” The Gen Z gang arrived when working from home was the norm. Outrageous.
Lifestyle trumps maximizing income? What has happened to the young people? Tell them the next company meeting is at the merge of the I-5 and the I-805 at 5 p.m. (and throw in the SR 56 for good measure) and see who shows up. Oh, the humanity.
And finally, you must read about Larry Miller, (easy to Google) a former felon, who became a C-suite executive at Nike. As you all know, I have spent some time teaching at Donovan State Prison, and I have a particular affection for the formerly incarcerated who have changed their lives.
For Miller, getting to yes required him to hide his criminal past. In 1982, there were only paper prison records. They get lost or misplaced. Today, no such luck. Would he have gotten a yes today? So, while you are at the beach, think for a moment about second chances and try to engage with the potential.
A thought from my prison professors: “No one wants to be defined forever by the worst mistake they ever made in their life.”
Rule No. 770:
“Wear sunscreen.” — Mary Schmich