You Can’t Push String!

by Lorne Mitchell on 03/09/2015

After the July/August holiday period, I always enjoy the first week of September.  I see it as the beginning of a new year.  Not the calendar year, nor (in my case) the academic year, but the start of the year for new projects.  People return from asynchronous communication through the holiday period to ramp-up for the more synchronised Autumn/Fall workload.  Like a car moving from third gear to fifth gear or a plane taking off on its flight to the end of the calendar year with a destination ending in a runway towards the next holiday period at the final part of December.  If the financial year starts in January or April, it is the time when new ideas are incubated for the budgeting cycles three to six months out.

With the pick-up in this workload comes the re-prioritisation of relationships.  The number of sales calls I have received in the past few days exceeds those that I had in the whole of August.  In a similar way, the number of calls that I have made to prospective clients to re-open conversations from earlier in the year has also increased.  People are open-minded to new conversations and new opportunities whilst there is a bit of time to play with new ideas.  It is also the start of one of the most busy conference seasons.

All this got me thinking….

What do the following have in common: spam (the email kind), a pushy salesperson and one of those irritating calls trying to sell you some personal accident product you don’t want?

They all involve PUSH.  It is amazing that so many folk still make a living at it when we all know that salesmen don’t SELL: people BUY.  Good sales folk understand timing and cycles and simply line up their products and services so that they are the easiest and most top-of-mind for the prospective customer to pull off the shelf when the are ready to buy.

But it is not quite as simple as that……

Tin Cans

Do you ever remember putting a hole in the bottom of two tin cans and then stringing the cans together with a long piece of string to make a crude telephone?  I often cite this as a useful metaphor for how we might think about the way we communicate with our customers (and suppliers) in business.  It isn’t about ignoring pushy sales folk and only pulling when you are ready.  It’s about something I call “@TENSION”.  Let me explain in terms of a children’s playground with the tin can telephone.

Firstly, there are those kids in the playground that don’t want to play the game at all.  Their attention (@TENSION) is somewhere else.  They are into another game with other kids.  They are not in our game.  So we will exclude them.

Then there are those who are interested in the tin can telephone game.  They pick up one can.  They need someone else on the other end of the string to play with.  So they pull someone from the playground to pick up the other end of the line.

By “feeling the pull”, understanding who is pulling, why they are pulling and how hard they are pulling, we can gain important insights into interest, motivations, demands and communications skills.

Further, by understanding these different aspects of pull, we can seek out those who will play our game and give each other interesting and rewarding experiences.  Given the right amount of “@tension”, new players will respond with delight and enthusiasm – not least because they are being listened to and communicating in ways that are proportionate to the pull that they are giving.  

However, if you pull too hard on their string, you will become an irritant and get dumped.  If you don’t pull enough, the other end of the line will lose interest because they cannot communicate and move onto another string.  I call this “subtle pull”.  You have to pull at roughly the same strength as the other end is pulling.  Appropriate response.  Sufficient @tension for the line.  

You can’t push string.  You can only pull it.  Too much pull from either party and the line breaks.  Oftentimes for good!  

So the next time you think of a customer or supplier or player in your game, just think about an invisible string that connects you to them.  How taught is it?  Is it completely slack?  How much “@tension” has it got?  How much are they pulling?  How much pull should you give “in the moment” to be effective at continuing the conversation?  Who has their ear to the can and who is talking into it?

And at this particular time of the year, how many strings will you tighten.  Will you be listening or speaking?  Can you really manage those ten strings when you could probably be more successful in just focusing on three or four?

So it’s back to school for the children and back to the subtle pull of business relationships for the rest of us!  Good luck with all of your new projects and ventures get the @tension that they deserve!

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