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Selling Swordsmanship Selling

Those who’ve read this blog know me pretty well.  You know how I look at the world, how I struggle to cogently convey my views, and how I’ve neglected to post with any consistency.  And now, for what it’s worth, you’ll know what I do for a living.

For most of my professional career, I’ve worked in enterprise sales.  That is, I’ve sold to enterprises, and I’ve run business units and businesses that sell to enterprises.  A big part of that effort has included training salespeople.  Both as a manager, as well as a consultant, my enthusiasm for this role has brought me some of my greatest professional satisfactions. Satisfying enough, in fact, that I’ve decided to do it full time.

It’s not just that I like to do it, and that I’m good at it, it’s also because I’ve arrived at a unique approach to it that I think is especially relevant in today’s Animal Farm business environment.  Swordsmanship Selling frames the sales motion in terms of championing the prospect.  Just as the chivalrous are inspired to satisfy their urge to visit mayhem on behalf of the object of their affection and respect, the salesperson should identify and defeat the real threats to their prospective customer’s prosperity.  And out of this theme of advocacy emerges the practical aspects of swordsmanship.  As we know the thing about swordsmanship is that it’s efficient and compelling by necessity; there is little room for ambiguity when a defense is thwarted.  These terms, when applied to the sales motion, effectively deconstruct the sometimes Byzantine social and procedural practices of strategic sales to reveal the truth of the process.  By thinking like a swordsman, the real opponents are made clear and the customer’s best interests remain the objective.  That, and it really does work to advance and close sales.

So, a lot of what I have written here, and a lot of what I would otherwise have written here, are being applied to this career move of mine.  That’s not to say I’m done with Naked Swordsmanship.  This forum remains a valued part of my self-critique through what I write, and what I fail to write.  I’m looking forward to recording some of the more martially themed observations best suited to medieval martial arts here as I move forward.

My intent is to continue to post sales-themed essays in Swordsmanship Selling as I build my training consultancy.  As well, this content is intended to be grist for an eventual sales-training book.  I’m eager to hear any thoughts you might have concerning this approach to business, and welcome your recommendations and referrals.

‘talk soon.



The Bridge

“For, midway upon the bridge, they beheld that there hung a sable shield and a brass mall… and that upon the farther side of the stream was an apple-tree, amid the leaves of which hung a very great many shields of various devices… And all those shields were the shields of different knights whom the Sable Knight…had overthrown in combat with his own hand.”   Howard Pyle, The Story Of King Arthur And His Knights

Many of us have found ourselves immersed in the vision of such a place…where time is slowed, as if to allow history’s lecture a space to breathe fully the measure of knightly promise. For a moment, if only in our indulgent repose, we spoil in unearned satisfaction, our mind’s eye bearing witness knighthood defined.

If ever there were a standard of chivalric critique, against which our measure might be made, the knights at the bridge is hard to beat. The knight who holds the bridge, and the knight who comes upon the bridge, form the revelatory arc which lays bare the character of each.

For the one who holds it, the bridge is irrelevant. It could be any span, on any river. The knight’s motivation is clear: a celebration of contest between worthy opponents and like minds. The prospect of marshal victory is rendered a mere distraction from the primus of risk. There is no negotiation, no prevarication, excuses, or conditions. No advantage leveraged. He must be willing to risk loss in equal measure to the promise of victory. As such, the victory lies in the trial, the outcome is foregone.

The one who approaches the bridge, is subjected to the same test already passed by the waiting knight. In this way is the contest begun long before the lance is leveled. The traveler spies the shields of those who have gone before, who met the challenge and fell in honor. He sees too the “sable shield and a brass mall”. Here, the heart of the knight is laid bare. If he is indeed an opponent of worth and like mind, the tree’s many shields promise of great risk spur him to seize the maul without delay.

If, however, it is the bridge which beckons, the shields and the challenge accepted is revealed as an obstacle. For this knight, the encounter is something which must be overcome towards fulfillment of the traveler’s intent. The risk is an unwelcome interruption. The knight’s decision will define him.

We seldom read tales told of the knight which turned from the bridge to traverse another, less contested crossing. Such tales fail to inspire the telling of heroic deeds of sacrifice and honor served. They are instead songs sung only by those who claim the title of knight, boasting of bridges crossed, while relegating the carefully managed odds to mere details better left unsaid. They are always wreathed in laurels and hailed as heroes, champions of their own device. And some follow them, singing praises formed of the self-congratulatory litany, blissfully unaware of the ugly reality of the upriver detour.

We face the bridge every day, location fixed, while the river of our lives flow beneath it. There are always plenty of alternate bridges of our own making, built upon foundations of selfishness, fear, deceit. They are broad and sturdy, wide enough to provide us the breadth to cross with ease whatever our burden or company. Those are bridges well traveled by many, with never a true knight in sight.

And now, for something completely different…

Swordsmanship Selling

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had the experience of leading sales organizations around the world. Of the many invaluable lessons this experience has afforded me, one of the most fundamental is the fact no one really ever ‘sells’ anything. What we think of as a sale, is really the act of someone making the decision to buy something. While this lexical castling may seem a trite conceit, the rationale behind it is deeply relevant.

When we approach the concept of the sale, framing its considerations from the perspective of the purchaser as the starting point has a way of re-ordering things. By putting ourselves in the buyer’s armor, doing our very best to genuinely suspend any and all priorities not central to their view, we take the critical step of embracing a sympathetic self-interest. While this approach is hardly revolutionary, when done right, of the many invaluable insights gained one of them can be a bit unsettling- the view through the prospective buyer’s visor. Who does your prospect see when looking at their opponent? Why, they see you of course. But, wait, are you the enemy?

Think about your role as a salesperson. Keep in mind this is not exclusive to commercial transactions, we all take part in a daily array of advocacy and appraisal, all “conversations”. When we engage in these conversations, how often are we advancing a zero-sum proposition? Are we there to win, with our victory being dependent on the defeat of the other? Unless your circumstances are dire indeed, the kill-or-be-killed stakes are reality in only thankfully rare occasions. Vastly more often than not, the satisfactory conclusion of the exchange will afford both parties the ability to claim victory. And both claims would be accurate. So, what does seeing yourself as the opponent afford you? If, as touched upon earlier, you recognize yourself as being seen as the enemy in advance, the fundamental approach to the sale can be framed according to recognizing who your prospect’s genuine enemies are.

The first enemy is the cost of the current state. Unless by not making a change the prospect enjoys advantages in excess of the alternative, you both have a common enemy. The status quo will cost you both. If your solution provides a net advantage to your prospect, then you are allies.

The second enemy, and we all know any swordsman worth the name welcomes stacked odds, is the competitor’s inferior solution. If from the genuine perspective of your prospect’s vulnerabilities, your solution provides a superior net advantage, you owe it to your ally to clearly articulate your defense of them. If your competitors aren’t likewise engaging your prospect from the perspective of an ally, then they’re just armed thugs looking to enrich themselves regardless of the cost to others.

This of course requires the swordsman to have the firmest of grasps of their ally’s needs, desires, obligations, means, weaknesses and strengths. As well, the details of the alternative solution when compared to your own, objectively applied to both it, and, the status quo, needs be exhaustive and intimate.

You are, in so many ways, your prospect’s champion. When your informed opinion can be brought to bear by advising your prospect to not make a change, or to choose a competitor’s solution over yours, the view through the visor will shift. The real enemy becomes selfish self-interest, and your most powerful weapon the truth. Then win or lose, you are armed befitting a swordsman.

Woe to the thugs.

On Failure

On Failure

Failure’s a funny thing. Not “funny ha-ha” funny, despite documented YouTube evidence to the contrary. Okay, so, maybe failure can be hilarious, but with apologies to Daniel Tosh, that’s not quite the aspect of failure I’m talking about.

As each of us advance our objectives, we valuate investment in failure as a means of computing returns towards achieving our goals. Now, chances are good you’re used to framing this relationship in terms of a more constructive comprehension, like effort, focus, and determination. There’s no surprise there, because that’s how we’re wired. We’re focused on the things that stand between us and the prize, and so follows the schema we compose to manage the elements necessary to overcoming those things. So, what’s the point of veering off script and threatening our hard-earned, motivation-poster sized positive mental attitude with all this talk about failure?

The pursuit of respective self-interests require us to trade amongst ourselves in a kind of exchange. Here competes the everyday push/pull between what we want and need, versus the priorities of everyone else. Progressing these respective priorities occasions an informal, but nonetheless binding, agreed give and take. Our employers, partners, competitors, parents, children, everyone whose lives’ cross ours, all participate. We’re all lifetime members of this exchange, and the trading floor encompasses the furthest extent or our mutual reach. It’s in the projected and real returns of these transactions that we look to measure our success. Many assume such a measure also serves as a de facto indicator for failure. And here’s where we start to lose the plot.

We can see it’s no stretch how this formula, the one that has success at one end and failure at the other, can emerge for some from the forces of this exchange. From here, the value of our decisions play out as a matter of record, with counts being tallied and consumed by all concerned. We’re distanced from the very personal rationale against which we valued our trade in the first place. All nuance, introspection, dreams, risk, stakes…all the things that go into making the decision valuable to you personally is relegated to the lowest common denominator. It’s reduced to ups and downs, wins and losses, clever and clueless, quick and dead.

Failure, a most intimate condition, is then imposed from without. It’s as if participation in the exchange requires the abdication of our informed perspective. We become subject to an institutionalized dictate, and are conditioned to look to it when measuring ourselves. You’ve failed, we’re told, when you’ve been told you’ve failed.

So, it makes perfect sense why we can feel compelled to marginalize the role of failure. Of course, this plays out at the expense of our grasp of swordsmanship’s lessons. We see an example in the fighter whose inspiration becomes the furtherance of a “winning streak” , who falls prey to swapping focus from the things that got her there, to the focus on not losing. When the measure of failure is put in the hands of others, what should serve as an integrated, transparent, uncompromising, and honest, tool for self-evaluation is corrupted.

Failure is the currency of progress, it is a price paid by all whether they’re aware of it or not. Even without the benefits of its devalued state, those with the courage to spend it wisely stand to reap the greatest returns.

The Skeptical Swordsman

We’ve all seen the late night infomercials hawking offers guaranteed to change our life for the better. If you act now, they shout, you’ll qualify for the extra discount only available to the first 1,000 callers! Most of us wonder who could possibly be so naive as to believe any of it. But the very fact such advertisements are still being paid for tells the tale. Of course, these nocturnal venal artifacts aren’t alone in their crass pandering to the lowest common denominator. Every day, we’re immersed in a torrent of manipulation, driven by competing interests dedicated to influencing our behavior for their ultimate gain. With so much practice, you’d think we’d be experts at dealing with them. But most of us aren’t, and the reason why is simple…

It’s because they’re that good.

Think about it. The top competitors in business and politics didn’t get there by accident. Even the least of them is never alone amongst more qualified, capable, and ruthless compatriots. The stakes are high, and failure is a costly option. This is a dedicated lot whose every effort is calculated to achieve their goals. When they make a move, they know precisely what their objective is and what needs to happen to reach it. It can be gaining market share, positioning for strategic advantage, revenue generation, influencing poll numbers, inflating share price…everybody has an angle. And meanwhile we happy few, blissfully intent on the life ahead, are in their crosshairs, largely unaware our every move is being studied and deconstructed.

Consider how we’re being pitched every day. We can begin at time and place. Of significant consideration is what we are most likely to be doing when we are exposed to their message. They tailor their pitch with that very thing in mind. Where, and when, will change depending on the objective. They anticipate our emotional and physical state. They will only strike when they believe we are least inclined to reject their appeal.

Their focus on timing doesn’t stop there. Not only do they dictate when the attack will come, they also insinuate an urgency seeking to influence the timing of our next move. It’s all about satisfied and respectful children at dinner, tonight…the admiration of your co-workers today…Mom will know you appreciate her this weekend…get laid at the next opportunity…we’re being invaded…it’s nearly too late…The End Is Near! The next move may well be ours, but, don’t think for a moment we’ve not been told what it should be.

This brings us to the next technique. They seek to compel us to ultimately focus on an emotion, and ignore the man behind the curtain. What they’re really selling takes a back seat to the promise of emotional fulfillment. You can’t put a price on happiness, but the patent-pending one-time-only but wait there’s more feeling of happiness can be had for convenient monthly payments. And once we anticipate that emotion, their work is done, and it doesn’t matter what they’re selling.

If that weren’t enough already, they’ve even anticipated our defensive considerations. Their preparation has provided them intel on our most likely go-to moves, and those moves have already been defeated in the pitch itself. So, if we are tempted to think the gadget is too much like something we already own, we were just told how the differences make it an invaluable addition. If we wouldn’t imagine anything so frivolous would be worth six month’s mortgage, the whole point of the exercise was letting you in on how attractive and desired you are, precisely because it costs what it does. They are moves ahead. They’ve watched film on us and know our moves better than we do. They’re the pro’s, the 1 percent that have dedicated themselves to being the best at this game.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. We all know of the few swordsmen who do this all the time. They dictate timing and have prepared for, and seem to own, the environment. They anticipate the counter, defuse opponents’ techniques, mask intent, misinform, and confuse. They gain advantage without revealing it and can provide false openings designed to influence their opponent’s decisions. They project what their opponent’s think they see. They really do get in your head.

So, how do we improve our odds against such a stacked deck? Well let’s go back to the midnight infomercial. Why don’t you have a kitchen full of Bass-O-Matics and Ginsu Knives? Unless you live in North Korea or are otherwise institutionalized, the reason probably has something to do with skepticism. Most of us don’t believe everything we’re told. We apply a threshold of credulity that calls bullshit when we hear it. At the very least, we have learned that smiles are the beacons of self-interest, and we reserve acceptance of claims at face value, however attractive/sincere/trustworthy/etc. that face may be.

Now, think about your most recent bout. When your opponent attacked, did you engage as if a sudden change of offensive tempo was out of the question? How about an opening advance targeting your low-line, did you dismiss the possibility that inviting a low defensive address was intended to expose your high-line to a last-moment redirect? Did you just assume you were facing a right-hander? Well, if you’ve been fighting for long, I would suspect the answer is no. We learn, over time, to be very skeptical of our opponent’s dynamics. Very, very skeptical indeed. In fact, it can be said that the degree to which we’ve developed informed skepticism reveals our advancement as swordsmen. Conversely, we are as vulnerable as we are credulous. A feint is most effective, of course, when it’s not recognized as a feint. The degree to which we see through the smoke and mirrors has a direct relationship with our survivability…both with a weapon in our hand, and in our daily grind.

Just as we can find it hard to believe anyone actually spent .99 a minute calling into Miss Claire’s Psychic Friends Network, there’s no denying that the presumed facts behind many otherwise closely held beliefs would fare poorly in a skeptical review. Just for fun, imagine if your next tournament opponent employed the skeptical threshold revealed by their belief in Pyramid Power in their bout with you. They would ignore any advice formed of observation, discount evidence contrary to their impression of your abilities, take at face value those things that satisfy their assumptions, and consider those who disagree with them to be themselves deluded. Such an opponent would be small challenge indeed.

So next time you come across a story of a Westboro Baptist zealot, folks insisting those who gain the most by our belief are motivated to serve our best interests, or an opponent wearing a bunch of Snuggies for padding, just think about the power of skepticism. And kick their ass.

Drumroll please…

Driving alone down Hwy. 5 a few weeks ago, I had an insight to swordsmanship that surprised me.  

Now, consider that this particular stretch of Hwy. 5 is one of those monotonous straight drives made for car stereos that go up to 11. It was dark, I’d been on the road for a few hours, and I could say with confidence that I was the best air-drummer in sight.  As I continued Southward and enjoyed my uncontested artistic dominance, I discovered the left-foot rest in the floor of my driver’s compartment was apparently designed with air-drumming in mind.  This discovery led me to incorporate the bass pedal as a new component of my kinetic celebrations.  Now, given my utter absence of genuine drumming experience, I had up to that moment never really considered the role of my feet when I was banging away with my hands.  Inclusion of this new element, in addition to complicating the rhythmic considerations, also affected my body’s fundamental musculatory engagement of its limbs.

I discovered that my accustomed arm and hand movements, heretofore very familiar when absent my feet’s accompaniment, were engaging new sets of muscles in my body’s core.  My familiar comfort was challenged as my body dealt with new synaptic events and motor unit commands.  I had to claw what rhythm I could from an unexplored mind-body relationship.

While at first blush this development shouldn’t be surprising, and could reasonably be dismissed as simple unfamiliarity with the particulars accompanying a new task, the revelation for me was more significant than that.  What it did was reinforce to me the critical importance of footwork in our efforts to train sword technique.  So often, the upper-body machinations represent foremost consideration when I describe and consider offensive and defensive motions; enough so, that I have to admit the footwork associated with them can sometimes get lost altogether. 

I am reminded that every action of the sword is integral to the action of the feet.  I have since given a renewed emphasis of my footwork in practice and drill.  I look forward to sharing some of the ways I’m pursuing this effort.

Oh, and, really good Rock ‘n Roll drummers rock.

Swordsman’s First Rule

“Never Yield”, quite simply, means to never quit.  Quitting is an abdication of resolve.  We know when we’ve quit.  We make excuses and rationalize until we convince ourselves of the right of it.  We’ll move on, too often embarking on a course more suited to distracting us from the cries of the abandoned promise than one genuinely advancing our lives.   As a result, we’ll so often find our direction in life being determined by what we are fleeing, as much as by what we are pursuing.

A nice thing about life is every moment provides us the opportunity to adjust our bearing.  While we will never find the abandoned path in the same state as we left it, it is ours to reclaim.

Resolve stands between growth and entropy.  Resolve frames the challenge, it forms the blade, reveals the line and tempo.  Without resolve of our own, we are subject to the resolve of others. 

Never yield.

Jump the Shark

Day 56/Entry 53: Jump the Shark

Fakes, over time, can lose their mojo. Part of that loss is the result of one’s community of opponent’s recognition of the insincerity behind the offensive phrasing. Simply put, their perception catches up with the ruse.

But more than that, this maturing of expectations on the part of our opponent is often accelerated by our own anticipation. At some point, we “Jump the Shark”, and it’s all downhill from there. This phase is a reflection of our internal dialogue. We begin to ignore the moment when we should “fulfill the expectations” of our opponent and, instead, focus on the ultimate objective of the fake. We begin to assume the false lines are engaging our opponent. We fall prey to a transient frame of hubris, and our opponent is not charmed.

Think of a comedian delivering a punchline. Over time, the comic can begin to anticipate the laugh and in doing so, undermine the faith behind the audience’s suspension of suspicion against being manipulated.

One way to recover the efficacy of the fake is to take a step back. Simplify the phrase, and re-anchor the motion as a threat.

Eliminate the final step in the phrase. For example, if it’s a High-Low-High, eliminate the final “high”, and re-establish your ability to score with the “low”. Go back to the basics of the threat and recapture in your own mind the reality of the inferred menace. Doing so, you will re-engage both your mental projection and subtle physical micro-clues born of the genuine offensive fulfillment.

Another way is to approach the offensive phrasing from a new line. Like the comedian using the old line in a new spot in his routine. Begin the fake from an unfamiliar attitude. If you’re used to initiating it with your weapon-foot forward, try it with your weapon-foot back. If you use it when closing, try it coming out of the clinch. This will force a fresh perspective into your grasp of the familiar, and from there you can re-hone the edge from the blunted threat.

By the way, did you know the idiom “jumping the shark” actually comes from a Happy Days episode when The Fonz, literally, jumps over a shark? I didn’t know that. ‘gotta love the internetz.

First Rule of Swordsmanship

Day 55/Entry 52: First Rule of Swordsmanship

The challenges of the past few days bring me to consider the First Rule of Swordsmanship:

Never Yield

This should not be confused with ‘never lose’. It’s only through embracing the risk of loss will we ever truly experience victory. And, to lose in the uncompromising pursuit of achievement is a victory in itself.

We have to be willing to lose. We should never be willing to yield.

To yield is to abandon responsibility for our lives; to consciously discard one more opportunity that will never come again and will remain forever beyond our reach. To yield includes compromising our integrity to avoid loss.

To yield is to choose to lose, and that choice is the ultimate defeat.

I’m reminded of the story of a speech, given by Winston Churchill in the midst of the Blitz. I had originally heard it told the entirety of his speech consisted of “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never give in.” I’ve since learned the entirety of it was, while still brief, more than that.

The speech ended with this declaration:

“Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days–the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”

Beyond an elegant testament of the noble character of the British in the face of dire history, this reminds me these days of our lives are the greatest days we shall live, certainly. And to be worthy of them we should… “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. “

Never yield.

So Simple, So Complex

Day 52/Entry 51: So Simple, So Complex

A compound fake is an offensive phrasing which causes the opponent to second guess their compulsion to respond to the simple fake.

Let’s go back to the high-low-high phrase.

A simple fake would be the high-low: the ostensible offensive intent of the line appears high, and as the defensive commitment responds high, the offensive line commits low.

A compound fake invites the defensive perception to divine the elementary ruse that is the simple fake, and commit accordingly. In our high-low-high example, the defender “sees through” the simple fake and instead of defending high, goes low. So, as the defensive commitment responds low, the offensive line resumes high.

Internal defensive dialogue:

Simple Fake- “She wants my head, well, she can’t have it…d’oh! She actually wanted my leg!”

Compound Fake- She wants my head, she can’t have…wait a minute, she actually wants my leg, well, we’ll see about that! Head shot!? D’oh!”

Now I won’t be able to get that Homer Simpson voice outta my head all day.