Category Archives: Decision Making

Look for the cause

Whatever business you are in, it is worth considering cause and effect whenever something good or bad happens.

It’s a bit like a doctor diagnosing the illness that is causing the fever, not just treating the fever, but far too often we focus on preventing the bad stuff, not repeating the good stuff.

The same principle applies to quality systems. There are procedures and processes like root cause analysis and the 5 whys principles that help you determine the real cause. Once you have done that you can prevent the root cause, which prevents the effect.

I am at least as interested in what went well as I am in what went badly. Eliminating errors and preventing problems is great, but doesn’t move the business forward.

A few months ago I had a meeting with a prospect who was initially quite hostile, so much so that I struggled to get him to agree to a meeting at all. I’d been introduced by a colleague, so he had expressed an interest in getting his business ready for sale, but even so he was difficult.

The meeting went OK. It was not the most positive experience, and I think if you’d asked me to rate my chances of securing work immediately after the meeting I would have said perhaps 30%.

Two days later, I had a phone conversation with this same person. He was really enthusiastic, telling me that he was just off on a business trip but that he would be in touch and we would be working together.

I like the effect – having a prospect tell me that he will be engaging with me is good news, but without knowing the cause I could not repeat it.

When you have a sales meeting that fails or a marketing campaign that didn’t work, I suspect you have a review process to determine why. Do you have the same process when you win?

(By the way, I think my prospect became my fan as a result of reading my book, Deal Finance)

Why hire an expert if you are going to ignore them?

I have seen many businesses engage with an expert who undertakes some form of analysis and tells the business how they can improve in the expert’s particular area and skillset.

Very often, the business will take the recommendations from the expert and add it to the “to-do” list. What is very rare is for the business to fully engage with the expert and seek their help implementing the recommendations.

There are circumstances where not continuing with the expert is appropriate, but I’m not sure that is really what is going on.

Not using the expert is appropriate:
1. If the recommendations are not going to result in sufficient reward
2. If you don’t trust the expert and/or don’t think they really are an expert.
3. If you have the skills in-house to implement the recommendations yourself in a timely manner

I believe many business leaders justify the decision not to continue the experts’ engagement based upon the 3rd reason, but actually. they are kidding themselves.

You almost certainly don’t have the skills in-house. If you do, why did you engage the expert in the first place?

You almost certainly don’t have the time to follow through.
Let’s say that you have some of the skills required, but there will be a learning curve. It will take you and your team much longer to implement than it would the expert.

What’s really going on is that both the expert and the business are missing an opportunity. The expert, when they “pitch” for the first piece of work, are really clear and specific on the costs and the benefits the business will receive.

The business engages the expert on this basis, without thinking of the follow-up work that might be required. The expert doesn’t mention it – they are trying to make the buying decision really easy for the prospect. Talking about follow-up work might put the prospect off.

When you do get to talk about the follow-up, the business only sees the costs. There’s no investment analysis going on. The expert is thinking. “Well, I’ve shown them all the things they need to so – I’m sure they’ll need my help” without recognising that the follow-up needs to go through another round of investment appraisal.

Next time you engage with an expert, make sure you undertake a cost-benefit analysis for each stage of engagement.

Pick the right moment

A great challenge in business is to do things at the right time whereas doing the right thing at the wrong time can easily lead to failure.

This is clearly apparent in sales, where asking for the business at the wrong moment can damage the emergent relationship. You are seen as pushy and / or desperate!

It is less obvious but no less true in other areas. Perhaps there is a project that will add to the short-term workload of a department. Launching the project in the department’s busy period may not be the best idea! The blowback from such a decision might include the conclusion that you don’t know what is going on and are out of touch – or worse, that you knew and didn’t care.

Timing plays a big part in negotiation when you are busying as well as selling. If you can pick the right moment to ask for the extras, you will find the vendor more receptive. The chances are that if you wait until the day before you are due to take delivery you will get short shrift.

The best time to buy a new car is when the dealer hasn’t quite reached their target and is running out of time – at the end of the month, quarter or year.

The best time to ask for a testimonial is when the buyer is ecstatic with you and your service. Capture it on video, in the heat of the moment, for maximum effectiveness.

So the things that are on your urgent to-do list may have to wait for the appropriate moment, but don’t let that become an opportunity for procrastination.

There are two relevant sayings

“one who hesitates is lost”

adapted from Joseph Addison’s 1712 play Cato


“fools rush in where angels fear to tread”

Alexander Pope “An Essay on Criticism”

Somewhere between the two is the sweet spot. Think about your timing and be patient!