“I’m in!” Lori, the department general manager said to Caleb. Caleb had just joined Lori’s department from a competitor where he had worked for two years after college. This was his first one-on-one meeting with Lori. Lori had a strong reputation as a people cultivator and looked for opportunities to grow her staff with in-the-moment learning opportunities. She was about to get that opportunity with Caleb.
“Great to hear. I can get going on the plan right away,” Caleb said.
“That’s great, now what do you need from me?”
Caleb stopped. “Um, I’m sorry?”
“What do you need from me?”
“Nothing? Do you have the support you need from my management team?”
“Well, I was going to talk with them about it.”
Seeing the teachable moment opportunity, Lori decided to help Caleb think things through.
“Caleb, wouldn’t it be easier on you if the message came down from me that we needed to do this work and that they all should give you their full cooperation?”
“Actually, yes that would help.”
“And wouldn’t it help if I let finance know you were going to be coming to them with an ask for budget?”
“Yes, that would help too, Lori.”
“So you see where I’m heading, right?”
Caleb thought for a moment. “That I didn’t think about how you could help me?”
“Exactly. You did a great job of preparing with facts and data, convincing me there was a problem, and came in with a good solution that aligned with my priorities. You just didn’t think through what you needed me to do to help you. It’s my job to make sure you have what you need to do your job. If you don’t ask me to help you, you’re not letting me do my job. Does this make sense?”
“It does,” Caleb said.
“OK, now how about you put together your asks and we go through them tomorrow?”
“I will, thanks Lori.”
“Good work, Caleb. Can you send Radhika in on your way out?”
“Sure will. See you tomorrow.”
Tollgate 5: I get what you expect me to do
Getting agreement on a course of action is a huge win; to close the deal you need to be specific on what you expect the exec to do. This could be a simple, “Give me approval to proceed on the course of action.” It could also include garnering support from other executives, publicly expressing support of your course of action, or other steps. Whatever your asks are, make sure they’re specific and direct. Being wishy-washy means your exec may not do what you expect of him.
There are two considerations I’d like to highlight in this tollgate. First, make things easy on the exec by doing what you can to help with any asks. Want the exec to send an email to someone? Ghost-write the email. It not only makes things easier, but it ensures the exec says what you want. Second, be diligent on any follow-ups you are asked to do. You’d be sending a poor message if the exec asked you to do something and you weren’t timely in your response or even worse, didn’t do it at all. This could be a huge credibility hit and cause tollgate 1 problems next time you sell up.
We’ve gone through all five tollgates:
- Tollgate 1: I believe you’re credible
- Tollgate 2: I acknowledge the problem
- Tollgate 3: I understand what you want to do about it
- Tollgate 4: I see how this aligns with my priorities
- Tollgate 5: I get what you expect me to do
In wrapping up this series I’d like to leave you with a few helpful tips next time you have to sell up:
- Make sure you structure your content to address each tollgate in sequence. If you haven’t passed tollgate 1, your likelihood of making it through the remaining tollgates is drastically reduced. Build your pitch around each tollgate in sequence.
- Make your words count. More content isn’t better. Get your point across in as little content as possible.
- Be manic about watching your exec’s reactions. If your exec is signaling understanding and you’re getting the desired result for a tollgate, move on to the next tollgate. I’ve had plenty of pitches where I’ve glossed over content because the exec was already on board with what I was presenting in a tollgate. The most important thing is to get what you want, not to showcase everything you’ve prepared.
- Remember absolute vs. relative priorities. Just because an exec says, “Not now,” it doesn’t mean the exec is an idiot or that you’ve failed. Accept that timing might not always be on your side.
- Structure content for time allotted and have a plan if that allotment changes. Plenty of times I thought I had an hour to pitch an idea only to have the exec tell me I only had 30 minutes. Anticipate what you’ll do in the event your time gets cut short.