One of the most powerful business lessons I ever learned came from reading Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell (written by Tom Bower). At a young age Cowell already had a few fantastic failures including bankruptcy and moving back in with his parents but his attitude was “why can’t I sell the big idea for a boat load of money”?
I’m not a fan of the guy and don’t watch his shows but geez I was fascinated by how he went from nothing to mega-something with the help of an “I don’t care what you might think of my ideas” attitude. And then, I run into another celebrity book that mirrors the same lesson.
Are You Anybody? By Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, Transparent) details his life as an actor which therefore details a life full of rejection – by writers, directors, producers, other actors, and by audiences. He is a person that has worked hard over many decades to achieve a mastery of his profession and a significant level of financial and celebrity success, all while repeatedly being told he was not good enough, not the right one, etc., etc.
In many aspects, it is a lot like the life of a consultant, lawyer, architect or engineer – especially those that are self-employed or in executive roles and responsible for the revenue next quarter.
So it is with that in mind that I bring you to page 168 and his philosophy on being fearless in his career. It’s the beginning of a chapter titled “F*ck’Em”.
In it, Tambor shares some great “F*ck’Em” examples like the one about Richard Burton peeking at the audience through the curtain before each show and muttering to himself words such as “piss off”, “wanker” and “shite”. When one day he was asked what he was doing he responded “I’m preparing.”
Tambor suggests that Burton was “trying to remove himself from the…need to please, the need for people to like you, to like your work.”
Tambor argues that an attitude “not of hatred or aggression—but of freedom from self-censorship and the need to please” is critical for an exceptional performance. Once an actor starts chasing the audience’s approval, they lose the character and the integrity of the performance.
Another interesting example is Canadian Olympic swimmer Santo Condorelli giving his dad the finger before every race. And his dad giving him the same right back as a way to “give himself confidence”.
The second book, one that again carries this theme, is Mark Mason’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.
He opens with the story of American postie-turned-writer Charles Bukowski who was a degenerate in every sense of the word but who one day when presented with an opportunity to write his first novel said “I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy…or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
Bukowski wrote his first novel in three weeks and went on to sell millions of copies of his books.
Made for TV movie of the week success story – right? Wrong argues Manson.
In a nutshell, the author aligns with Tambor’s philosophy that as soon as you begin to focus on seeking the approval of others, you have lost the battle. And Bukowski never changed. Even after becoming a successful writer he was still a jerk.
Now the point here is not that you need to be jerk to be successful. Not at all.
The point is that if you focus on wining the responses of others, or be limited by the responses of others, you will never achieve what you set out to.
Let me translate that into a very specific piece of advice that relates to selling professional services.
You cannot be afraid to hear a potential client say “no” (or worse). In fact, you should encourage them to say that if that’s what they feel.
This is not my original thought, this is the stuff of every good sales resource out there. But just because it’s common in theory doesn’t make it common in practice, or easy to practice, but it’s solid gold.
Let’s go back to Simon Cowell for a minute. His story inspired me to think of a thirty-million-dollar idea, when previously a thirty-thousand-dollar idea was on the table. That thirty-million-dollar idea was actually pretty wild and likely to fail. So that’s how I began the meeting to present it.
“We realize this idea is pretty crazy so you might ask us to leave in the first five minutes and if you do that’s fine we accept that. But it’s too important to at least not have the discussion.” Right there, they were hooked.
Saying stuff like that can make people very nervous but its also very liberating. And liberation can get you places quickly in a meeting.
I had no issue if we were to be escorted out of the meeting within minutes even though we had traveled for a day to get to that meeting. It was that absence of fear that helped turn our half hour meeting into ninety minutes and at the end of it we had a commitment for a three-million-dollar idea. As a thirty-million-dollar idea it was a failure – but it was one hundred times bigger than the original thirty-thousand-dollar idea. I will take that sort of failure any day.
Prior to our presentation, several smart business people told me politely but in no uncertain terms that the idea would never work. My response was that they may be right but how disheartening would it be to fail by letting the fear of rejection kill the idea before it’s even born.
Tambor sums up selling with extreme confidence nicely when he describes how an actor should walk into an audition.
“This is how you get a role. You walk into an audition with this attitude: ‘If you were to pay me, this is how I would do this role. If you agree with that, hire me. If you don’t agree with that, adjust my performance. If you don’t agree with that…then let’s part ways as professionals and move gently on with our lives.’”
So, there you go.
The next time you are about to walk into a meeting with a potential new client stop in at the restroom, look yourself in the eye, and say “F*ck’em”.
Then give yourself the finger and go win the business.
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"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching