Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pitch Anything: The Book Review

Engineers believe in meritocracy. We think that if we work harder or do better work than others, we will be rewarded.

It is nonsense. There are plenty of engineers who do lovely work and still get fewer rewards than less-skilled counterparts.

Negotiation and salesmanship (salespersonship?) are key skills for engineers who want to get ahead. We like to think that engineering is a lovely pure place where talent and hard work determine outcomes. The reality: social skills are just as important as technical skills. Sometimes you need to use persuasion to get what you want.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal is strong medicine for the merit-oriented mind. Avoiding analysis is a key piece of Oren Klaff’s sales techniques. The technical details are where deals become boring and look like commodities. Oren focuses on relationships and social dynamics instead of analytical details.

His tools are framing, story-telling, relationships, and social cues.

Oren's stories will scald your engineer eyes. Oren has no problems violating social norms in order to achieve his goals. He helps himself to an investor’s partially eaten apple. He snatches an executive’s bored doodle. He confiscates his marketing materials from the executives he just pitched to. These are some of his techniques for disrupting the implicit social order.

The stories are amazing — and dangerous — because they would be so difficult for most engineers to pull off. They are acts that require humor and charisma to pull off without getting punched in the ear. Oren makes the necessity of humor clear, although he has limited advice in this area. I’m not convinced that the book teaches you the right skills to avoid a dented head. 

His are the type of tactics that need coaching and some low-stakes experimentation. He does make that clear, so it's not a criticism so much as a warning. Some skills require more than reading. With enough practice, maybe someday you’ll be able to get results with lines like:

“Your lips are moving, but I’m not listening to a single word. Your words have no meaning. Stop talking. Start transferring money.”

Not to worry: Oren also has advice that won’t risk bodily harm. When selling an idea, he suggests setting the stage by describing economic, social, and technology trends that support the idea. This lets you create an image of the stars aligning for a limited-time opportunity.

Oren also suggests that you present your idea as being a part of a motion. Instead of presenting the end-goal of your idea, you should explain how it will change, over time, the current way of doing things. Make your idea a film rather than a snapshot.

If you’re interested in giving presentations or will be involved in sales, I think you’ll get value from the book. Oren has unique ideas. You’ll probably also get a thrill if you’re interested in persuasion or negotiation.

I’ll leave you with this judo chop to the rational mind:

"Strong frames are impervious to rational arguments. Weak arguments, made up of logical discussions and facts, just bounce off strong frames.”

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