Mrs May, like many CEOs, does not follow the three golden rules of selling…

You can’t pretend that you don’t know CEOs like Mrs May: hard-working, autocratic and not for turning.

They’re everywhere. In part, the reason they get to the top is that they are much more unreasonable than others.

But being unreasonable might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there. Or at least in the second decade of the 21st Century, it won’t.

Business and society now demand a more emotionally intelligent style of leadership which includes a respect for the basic rules of influencing, persuading or, more colloquially, selling.

Selling Rule 1 There’s no sale without acknowledgement of a need

Unless there’s agreement about ”the pain”, explicit or latent, you can’t sell anything to anyone.

So the first task in selling is to get the buyer to acknowledge their need or, if they don’t, the seller must persuade them to acknowledge a need of which they were previously unaware.

But implicit in Rule 1 is an acknowledgement by the seller that it is their responsibility to sell and not the responsibility of the buyer to buy.

This was where Mrs May got it wrong, from ”the get-go”. She didn’t accept that she had to take responsibility for the sale. Mrs Thatcher, in her final days in office, made the same error. She rarely visited the tea rooms.

And, Prime Minister, if you’re not going ”own the sale”, you can’t close it. You didn’t and you won’t.

Even if MV3 is magically voted in, it won’t be because of you, it will be in spite of you. And given the effort you’ve put in, that’s a sad outcome for you. But this is not about you. It’s about us.

Mrs May ignored the fact, as many CEOs you know also do, that the pain relief you are selling must meet the needs of the buyer, as they see them.

Selling Rule 2 Demonstrate, rather than assert, that your pain relief addresses the pain

Mrs May didn’t follow this rule either. Instead, she kept repeating, ad nauseam the features of her deal – our money blah, our laws blah and our borders blah.

As every rookie seller knows “it’s always benefits before features”. You must have enough emotional intelligence to empathise with the tricky and nuanced needs of the buyer and then the nous to sell in the real benefits first, not the features, of your pain relief to those needs as the buyer sees them.

Empathy is not one of Mrs May’s selling points. Nor that of many of the CEOs you know.

For example, In a sophisticated, complex, expensive B2B sale, “the buyer” may be a multi-headed hydra comprising different factions in the target boardroom as well political ”activists” in departments outside it. A bit like Cabinet and Parliament.

Empathy is needed to understand the perspectives of all sides. CEOs won’t close big sustainable deals if they lack empathy.

Rule 3 Mind the gap

The key to closing a sale is respect for ”the gap”.

If I’m selling to you, I will say at a key point in the process: ”If, on a scale of 0-10, and ten means you’re going ahead and zero means you’re not – where are we now on that scale?”

Any salesperson worth their salt should get the answer ”seven”, almost always to this question.

Next you say: what’s does the gap of three represent for you? how can I persuade you to give me a 10? What’s missing for you, today?

If you can’t or won’t close the gap, you can’t close the sale.

In Mrs May’s case, the gap was much wider than three. More like seven. That’s should have persuaded her to rethink her pain relief, at the design stage of her selling strategy.

There was never going to be a deal without a backstop, unless it were a deal that didn’t need one, like a customs union, or a reopening of The Good Friday Agreement.

The latter is impossible without war. The former is impossible unless Mrs May changes her red lines. And she won’t.

And there’s the rub. You can’t sell red lines. It’s a contradiction in terms.

Selling red lines isn’t selling. It’s bullying. And no one, neither PM nor CEO, will sustain in office over the longterm, in these times, which increasingly values emotionally intelligent leaders – Obama/Arden/O’Rourke – as a bully.

It’s the new red line.

Ciarán Fenton

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