Mike O'Donnell: Finding something solid to hang onto

Simon and Lucy Mills enjoy popular Canterbury swimming hole Coes Ford, where Mike O'Donnell also spent some happy times.

Simon and Lucy Mills enjoy popular Canterbury swimming hole Coes Ford, where Mike O'Donnell also spent some happy times.

OPINION: I've been lucky enough to be doing some work in rural Canterbury over the last few months, a region I grew up in some 30 years ago.

Some things are as good as I remember, like the cold pin-sharp early mornings and the spectacular pies sold at the Darfield Bakery.

Others less so. A case in point is the Selwyn River.

Mike O'Donnell

Mike O'Donnell

Once full of iconic swimming holes like Coes Ford and productive fishing spots like the Selwyn Huts; today, it's swapped out sizeable brown trout for sickly green slime.

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It's a problem all too common around New Zealand as our fresh water is increasingly under pressure from human activity on the land.

In simple terms, nutrients that runs off farms mix with sediments to clog up the river beds with slime.

Fish need a habitat of hard surfaces to spawn. It gives them something solid to attach eggs to.

As a result fresh water fish, from the cockabully to rainbow trout, are at risk because the slime gives them no place to spawn.

It's a problem detailed in Our Fresh Water 2017, released recently by the Ministry for the Environment, which found that of 39 fish species, 72 per cent are either threatened with extinction.

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The importance of having something solid to hang on to is equally important in the world of sales, where positioning and ambiguity can make it difficult to know exactly how close you are to securing a deal.

New Zealanders often discover they are pretty average when it comes to securing deals on the global stage, particularly in Asia and the United States.

There's a long line of companies – particularly technology-based ones – that while successful in Australasia, run into real headwinds in the United States.

They can find it hard to move from first meeting to written conversions.

Historical examples here include the likes of Xero, Vend, eRoad and Wynyard.

By contrast American and Asian businesses are machines in rigorously shepherding a pipeline of prospects through to contracted business.

Part of the reason for this is the velocity they operate at.

Have a business meeting with a seller in Chicago or Shanghai and before you get home, there will be a call report of the meeting, next actions and a formal proposal.

But a bigger contributor, I believe, is that offshore businesses are just better at closing a deal.

For some reason, New Zealand companies are often uncomfortable to ask for a signature or push a counter party to make a decision, or provide clarity.

In the absence of solid data, they waste time and money.

Or they move straight to discounting to try to close a deal, which detracts from the value of what they are selling.

Having worked in the area of enterprise sales for the last 20 years, there are four techniques I consistently find useful when I'm trying to get clarity or finalise.

It's what east coast Americans call "closing techniques".

First up is the expiring resource close.

This involves making a finite call about the amount of time, people or money you can commit to getting a deal done – and drawing a line in the sand as to when the resource will expire.

Often it involves delivery people and their capability.

It's best done in the actual proposal document you put in front of a prospective client, noting that a key enabler of the deal will expire if not accepted by a certain date.

Fairly quickly it tends to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Next up is the summary close. This involves listing each client need, the corresponding capability you are offering to meet the need and moving the conversation on from meeting the need to a discussion about when to implement.

My experience is that the Chinese are masters of this technique.

When it feels you are getting nowhere in a negotiation, the "purse-holder" close can be useful.

Typically, this requires eliminating every functional objection a counterparty has until it just comes down to the cost.

Once they have gotten to that point, it's about identifying who holds the budget and is authorised to make that call, then dealing directly with that person, taking the intermediaries out of the process.

In situations where it feels like you are getting nowhere, and there's no expiring resource, the "fixed adjournment" close is useful.

It involves time-bounding a deal, such that if you have not been able to get anything solid about agreement, you just pull the plug and adjourn.

You advise the other party that you are withdrawing the proposal for a set period, and agree to make contact in, say, six months.

Fixed adjournment brings two big benefits. First, it lets you focus on hopefully more productive deals in your sales pipe.

Second, it moves the power balance away from the other party, which can crispen things up.

Importantly, the fixed adjournment approach puts a deal on hold, it doesn't kill it forever.

Sadly the same might not be true of the Selwyn River which right now looks like it might be terminal

Mike "MOD" O'Donnell is a professional director and e-commerce manager. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he has fond memories of ropes swings at Coes Ford.

 - Stuff


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