Help me brace myself for a high-pressure sales pitch
January 12, 2020 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Next week, I will be meeting with the staff of my organization to hear a proposal for some changes they really, really want to make to the way we're structured. While I am open to their ideas, there are some downsides, and the benefits will fall way more on the employee side than on management/leadership or even client service. I know that one of the proponents in particular will pull out all the rhetorical stops to influence my decision, and I have a history of falling for "pre-suasion"-type tactics. What should I watch out for?

Their pitch will involve the fate of a pilot project that has yielded some very good results, but that requires a large amount of dedicated funding and has not really had a chance to work properly due to a bunch of unplanned events. The options are to regularize the project, and make it a permanent part of our structure; extend the pilot for another couple of years to see the results under more normal working conditions; or return to the old way of doing things, where responsibility for this activity was distributed among members of a large work unit.

The people making the pitch are very dedicated to their jobs and have positive intentions. However, a couple of them benefit very strongly from having this project in place, and they are very motivated to see it continue. Even I am leaning towards continuing the pilot as the previous way of doing things led to the classic "everybody responsible and so nobody responsible" situation.

What can I do to make sure I'm assessing the information properly, and not being overly influenced by their rhetoric or my own bias?
posted by rpfields to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well for a start don’t feel pressure to provide them with an answer on the spot. Tell them to put together a presentation that you can take away with you, then it will have to stand on it’s own merits. So whatever verbal persuasion techniques they used in the initial meeting won’t work when it’s a week later and you’re reviewing the material. All you have to do in that meeting is listen with an open mind then thank them and tell them you’ll consider their argument and let them know later. Take the presentation and ask someone you trust for their unbiased opinion too if that works for you.
posted by Jubey at 1:12 PM on January 12 [18 favorites]

Is this for a business? I'm not quite sure what you mean by "very good results." Do you mean it's made a lot of money? i.e., More money than it takes to run the thing? Did it cut X hours of labour? Did it increase client satisfaction in a measurable way?

Usually when a group is making a business case for something, they would lead with this kind of data, as well as the less-quantifiable considations (clarity in terms of roles and responsibilities). I think you should come up with a few data points like these, that you'd expect to base your decision upon.

If they address all these points, great. If they don't, then ask questions. If they still don't, then allow the pilot project to continue for an extended period, BUT make sure they know they'll be expected to measure these data over the extended period, and report back when they're done.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:14 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

Remember that you're not there to make the decision, just to gather their information. I find the buzz of a convincing pitch fades pretty quickly once you're out of the room. Surely you're not making this decision in a vacuum, either, and will need to review with the rest of the leadership team before a conclusion is reached. If that's not quite the case, at least choose a decision buddy that you will talk this through with before anything is decided for sure.

One thing I do these days is ask to record the meeting, even if we're in the same room. OneNote will do it, or I sometimes just fire up a Zoom meeting with just me in it and the microphone unmuted. That way you can review it after the fact while you're writing up your pro/con list, or with your decision buddy.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:01 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

When in this sort of situation at work and I’ve decided in advance that I won’t be giving an answer on the spot, when thanking them for providing the info, I say something like “you’ve given me a lot to take back to the team” with the implication that of course I have to discuss this with others (even if “the team” is me sleeping on it and running it by a confidante.)
posted by kapers at 4:05 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

so my actual answer is to sleep on it, discuss it with someone else, and internally interrogate their claims against your opinions and observations. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you find they haven’t addressed something you think of later.
posted by kapers at 4:08 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

First rule of taking pitches: you decide how to take the pitch.

If you are concerned that they are going to focus on rhetorical tricks, rather than the substance, don't let them.

Send a memo spelling out the areas you wish them to cover, and the outline for how they are to cover it.

Don't hesitate to interrupt the presentation if it strays.
posted by MattD at 4:27 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]

Jubey has the most important advice.


- Go in with a set of questions, what-ifs, and specific scenarios. Take charge from the start and force them to respond so they're not giving you a rehearsed spiel.
- Schedule a meeting right after the pitch with someone you know will be good at poking holes in it. Go into meeting #2 as the proponent and let them dismantle it.
posted by adamrice at 6:43 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

Outcomes. The pilot is in place to deliver a result. If the pitch does a better job of delivering those results, kill your darling. If it doesn't, it's a nonstarter. You can listen to root cause gripes and try to make the daily experience of the pilot better for staff, but wholesale adoption is a no if they aren't thinking about strategic results.
posted by bfranklin at 4:10 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Consider asking them to include in their presentation:
- Costs/benefits to different parts of the organization
- Switching costs
- Measures for success and key indicators of success/failure
- Detailed plan for implementation
This may help them become more grounded in reality, but also will help you evaluate how honest they are being and create a conversational space for talking about the negatives.
posted by papergirl at 5:23 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

The options are to regularize the project, and make it a permanent part of our structure; extend the pilot for another couple of years to see the results under more normal working conditions; or return to the old way of doing things...

It sounds like you see good reasons not to choose the last option, so the real choices are to continue the project permanently or provisionally. I like cranberrymonger's and MattD's points about telling them what information you need to inform your decision. If it were me, I'd focus that information by telling them in advance that (barring anything unexpected) the project will be continued, and that the decision is simply whether to continue it permanently or provisionally. So, their pitch should only address that. You don't need to hear why the project is great, but only why it's prudent to make it permanent at this time vs. continuing it as a pilot.
posted by daisyace at 9:26 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Frame your thinking during the presentation around the scientific method. What is the thesis and hypothesis? E.g. if we do X then Y will happen. What are the observations that lead to this hypothesis? What is the plan for testing that hypothesis / plan? What are the risks to running with the plan? What are the primary and secondary success metrics. What is the confidence level? What are the alternatives?

If you can’t answer those questions after they present to you, they didn’t sharpen their pencils enough and you aren’t in a position to make a good decision.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:56 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Thanks everybody! I took your advice and asked them to prepare a brief on the benefits of permanent vs. provisional and include the info I needed.

We held a short meeting to follow up on a few questions but I told them in advance not to expect a decision on the spot, which seemed to help cut down on the theatrics.

After I had a chance to discuss with my more senior team, we've decided to extend the pilot, but for a longer period than we originally discussed. I'm pretty sure this will become a permanent thing, but there are some other moving parts that have to fall into place first.
posted by rpfields at 12:06 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

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