How To Think About Making The First Approach


You read a book from beginning to end. You run a business the opposite way. You start with the end, and then you do everything you must to reach it. – Harold Geneen

Thursday, 9.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s been a day of writing. Perhaps too much writing. Still, there’s not much point in setting out to write every day if you don’t give it a shot.

That’s where a monkey’s paw comes into play.

It turns out that you can’t just drive a ship upto a dock and park it. Ships don’t work like cars. They need an approach that’s altogether more nuanced.

A ship is tied up with a big heavy rope. You can’t just throw it to someone on shore – it’s far too heavy for that.

So what you do instead is take a tennis ball and thread a string through it. You then throw the tennis ball to the person on shore who catches it. They pull in the string, which is attached to your big heavy rope. They then pull the big heavy rope in and help your ship get in place and tie it up.

I know there’s a proper way to say all this with the right nautical terms… but you get the point.

First the tennis ball, then the small rope, then the big rope and then the ship.

The tennis ball is your monkey’s paw – the first small thing that lets you get to all the big stuff that sits behind it.

And that’s a useful model to keep in mind always – it helps in all kinds of situations – not just when you need to get a ship parked. Or moored. Whatever.

Take sales, for example. If you don’t know someone and you come in hard and fast with your sales pitch, you’re going to get told to leave. Perhaps politely, perhaps aggressively. These days, you probably don’t even bother to listen to a cold caller. The minute they speak you know what they are and cut them off.

What you need is a way to get started, a way to open with something small that builds up to more later.

Take the first email you send, for example. You could send a long one, describing everything you do. Or you could send a short one, asking if the person you are getting in touch with is the right one to speak with.

In the first instance, you’re inviting rejection because you’ve pitched before being asked to do so.

In the second, one of three things will happen.

  • You’ll be ignored.
  • You’ll get a positive response saying that they are the right person.
  • You’ll get a negative response saying they’re not.

All three responses allow you to follow up – to ask if they got your email, ask permission to tell them more about you, or ask who the right person might be.

In a sales presentation, you can lead with your entire presentation. Or you can stop after you set out the agenda and ask if that works for the audience and if they have any specific issues they’d like to add.

If they come up with a problem that clearly matters to them, that is clearly an expensive issue that they want fixed, then you might want to abandon your entire presentation and focus just on exploring that problem.

After all, the purpose of your meeting is not so you can do a presentation. It’s so you can find something that you can work on for the prospect.

Then there is the process of getting someone to buy.

There’s a mathematical way to work out the best price for your product. Work out the price at which everyone you could possibly sell to will buy. And then work out the price at which every single on of them will walk away. For many products, that’s going to give you a range between ten dollars and a few hundred thousand dollars.

You pricing point should be where changing it up or down results in a worse outcome. If you drop the price, you get more customers, but what they give you is less than before. If you increase the price, you get more for each sale – but the number of customers you lose means you get less than before.

That’s the optimal pricing point – and when you work it you’ll probably get a number that looks like $30,000.

So, if you want to build a sustainable business, one based on knowledge work and consultative selling, your ideal average sale need to be around the $30k mark.

Are you going to sell one of those at your first meeting?

Or are you more likely to sell a free account review? A ten dollar report? A hundred dollar standard piece of work? A $2,000 piece of consulting before you end up landing the $30k annual contract?

Of course, it depends on your business, but having a strategy that starts small and leads up to bigger things just makes sense. It maximises the lifetime value of your customer. You should be willing to spend all your profit on the first sale to get that sale. Everything that is a bonus, and it’s the bonus that’s going to make you rich.

The monkey’s paw approach is powerful – if you can see how to use it.

Take writing, for example. It’s well known that the first few paragraphs of what you write will be rubbish. You’re just warming up during those paragraphs, getting your hands moving and jolting your brain into action.

So why keep those paragraphs? Use them as a monkey’s paw. I write three paragraphs – just freewriting anything – to get the words on screen. After that I start with the real work. And when that’s still hard, like today, a monkey’s paw still comes in handy. The first sentence of this post adds little of value – it’s a throw-away sentence that could just be removed.

It did, however, get enough down on the screen to allow the rest of the post to get pulled out behind it.

Try it sometime. Pick a task – a big one. Then ignore it and start on a very small part of it. Something easy. Perhaps even something completely unrelated.

Once you get started, you might find it easier to work around to that big thing you need to do.

And just maybe, you’ll even get it done.


Karthik Suresh

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