Jack Vincent

Skin in the Game and the Art of the Next Step

By: Jack Vincent | February 4, 2015 | 

Skin in the Game and the Art of the Next StepBy Jack Vincent

When Warren Buffet coined the phrase “skin in the game,” he probably wasn’t thinking about romance.

But stick with me here.

A friend of mine had been dating a divorced mother for several months.

Everything seemed to be going well, but he wanted more commitment.

While it felt mutual, he really wasn’t certain what she wanted, especially in view of her family responsibilities.

One evening over a romantic dinner, he opened a conversation about her kids and how they would see their mom with a committed boyfriend.

She smiled. So he suggested they find a way for the kids to meet him.

She laughed excitedly. “I have the kids this weekend. Why don’t you come over Saturday for an early dinner with us?”

My friend had earned his girlfriend’s trust, and she was motivated to invest heavily in the next step. 

She was putting skin in the game.

Skin in the Game

So often, salespeople leave a first meeting with a new prospect feeling optimistic. 

They walked us to the elevator, patted my project manager and me on the backs, and said, ‘We like this a lot!’

While words such as “Send us a proposal” may lift your spirits, that could turn out to be like meeting someone at a bar who says, “Sure, give me a call,” but then never agreeing to a date… no skin in the game… no investment in the next steps.

When you leave a first meeting, what will your prospect do to contribute to such next steps?

Is the prospect putting skin in the game? Or is the prospect sitting on the sidelines by asking you to do a lot of follow-up work, with no commitment on his part?

If the prospect is simply going to wait for you to develop something, it doesn’t mean a deal is dead, but it’s not a great sign, either.

Customers are usually polite in that they don’t want to hurt your feelings face-to-face, and sometimes they’re simply not focused enough to solve the problem that’s right in your sweet spot.

The Advance

All too often, after you send your key findings or, even worse, a full proposal, the prospect goes quiet. “I’ll be travelling. I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks.”

And then you’re in chase mode.

Sound familiar?

So how do you determine success in a first meeting, and how can you keep the prospect actively engaged?

How do you gauge the prospect’s real interest, and how do you determine which opportunities among your active prospects to dedicate more of your time to?

It’s called an advance.

The extent to which the prospect contributes to the next steps determines the quality of the advance. The extent to which the prospect dedicates resources to the next steps is a clear and strong indicator as to how motivated the prospect is to really work toward a deal.

Let’s say Prospect A tells you at the end of a meeting, “Send me key findings and recommendations by the end of next week,” while not really being clear as to what she’ll do when she receives that proposal.

And let’s say Prospect B agrees, at various stages of a meeting, to set up a phone call between you and his Project Head, and to bring in three different people for a meeting next month, while also asking you, “Send me key findings and recommendations by the end of next week.”

Which meeting do you gauge to be more successful?

Prospect B, because they have advanced. They are investing their resources in the next steps. They are putting skin in the game.

On which prospect’s key findings and recommendations should you work more diligently?

Prospect B, of course.

Gauging a Prospect’s Motivation

Now, an advance is not only an indicator, a gauge, of a prospect’s motivation. It can also be a tactical tool for ensuring—or at very least, encouraging—an interested prospect stay engaged in that often difficult and uncertain period following a first or second meeting.

You can—and should—work possible advances into your meeting plan for each and every prospect visit, including upselling existing clients.

In your plan, define a successful meeting outcome by how the prospect might contribute to the next steps, and work these possible next steps in to your meeting objectives. 

You don’t have to wait until the end of the meeting to ask for these advances. Sometimes it’s simply more natural to ask for them if things are going well in the middle of the meeting.

And sometimes, prospects will offer advances as a natural part of the meeting. Take note of these advances and review them at the end of the meeting.

If the prospect does not agree to any specific advances, it is entirely within your right to ask for one, especially if you have work to do as a result of this meeting.

You have every right to say, “We’ll be happy to prepare our key findings and recommendations, John, and send them at the end of the week. Could we arrange a meeting the following week with you and your IT infrastructure team?”

By having your desired advances planned before the meeting, you can quickly suggest them, or even adjust to a new advance based on new material you’ve discovered about the prospect during the meeting.

My friend asked his girlfriend for an advance, and she accepted by arranging dinner with her kids.

After the dinner, with the kids in bed and the two of them snuggling on the sofa, she offered another advance. “Why don’t you and I drive to my parents’ place next weekend?”

*Excerpted from Jack Vincent’s new book, A Sale Is A Love Affair – Seduce, Engage & Win Customers’ Hearts. Purchase by February 7th to receive the introductory price and bonus content—a 25-minute audio workshop How To Ask the Right Questions to Engage and Convert Your Prospects.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

About Jack Vincent

Jack Vincent is a sales advisor, speaker and trainer who divides his time between Luzern, Switzerland and Woodstock, NY. He’s sold to—and provided sales training, presentation skills and leadership development to—some of the world’s leading companies, including Coca-Cola, NBC Universal, MasterCard, and Visa.

  • I was just saying how much wooing new business is like dating! “Should I call again? I don’t want to seem overly eager, but I want to make sure they know I’m interested!”

  • I was just talking the other day about those old answering machines! “Did he call??” “OH NO!! I accidentally erased the tape!!!” LOL I love this post, Jack, thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  • Great advice Jack, such a fantastic analogy, and so true! Can’t wait to read the book! And huge congrats!

  • Eleanor Pierce Eleanor, when I was “out there in the dating market,” I was in the space of coach and be coached.  I asked a lady friend of mine, “When I’m trying to get a second date with someone, if err in my follow-up frequency, should it be a little too much or a little too lithe.”
    Without hesitation, she said, “A little too much.”  
    I think this applies to following up with prospects, too.  And now I wish I remembered to put this in the book.  That’s probably the biggest problem I had in finishing the book. There were infinitely more anecdotes and parallels I could’ve included in it!

  • belllindsay LOL, Lindsay. And it’s the same in a sale.  “OMG, she just left me a voice mail.”  It takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
    Voice mail, answering machines, carrier pigeon.  Both love and sales are timeless.  Title to Chapter 8: Love Is A Survival Instinct. Sales Is A Survival Activity.

  • LauraPetrolino Laura, of course I think it’s a fantastic analogy, too… and not because I wrote it, but because of what drove me to write it, which, if I may, is in Chapter 5, “And So It Blossomed.”
    I won’t tell you the chapter here, you’ll read it 🙂 but… 
    … when the idea hit me, the title came simultaneously.  OK, such is the creative process. But then I could not get the idea out of my head.  It charmingly haunted me for 18 months, and so I knew I had to go through the painful, yes, painful process of writing the book.

  • mattevs

    I love this, I think it is vital to balance the effort of both parties. One-sided effort is actually worse than no effort at times. The prospect feels insecure because they don’t know if they can depend on you. And they can’t if you waste your own effort too cheaply.  

    I think it’s the money factor that screws our minds up. Whenever money could change hands (or have) we should consider turning the perspective around, and act accordingly: “What salary do you want?” “Well – if you want to pay me a modest salary, I feel confident I can always live up to this. If, however, you want to pay me an unusually high salary, then I will have to consider if I am able to commit that much effort and take that much responsibility…. ” or: “Thank you for providing such a fantastic service!” instead of “Thanks for paying me” and in the selling case: “The way to a successful project is completely dependent on your engagement, because it’s your purpose that we want to fulfill.”
    I never asked a customer to write the proposal. Maybe that would be the thing to do… 
    – Cheers

  • mattevs Good points, Matteus.
    Indeed, it’s not that we ask the customer to do all the work.  It’s incumbent upon us to do much of the work. But getting the customer to invest in the next steps is a good indicator of how you should budget your time, and it’s also a tactical tool for keeping them involved in working with you.  Often, they want to, but they get distracted, and that could lead to disinterest.
    On the point of proposals, there’s a chapter in A Sale Is A Love Affair, “The Best Proposals Don’t Propose.” They confirm what’s been agreed. Try to keep them engaged in the process, because we, as humans, more often buy into solutions that we’ve contributed to.
    Thanks for your comments, and hope to see you in Sweden… when the weather gets warmer 🙂

  • mattevs

    JackVincent  And me you, In Borås maybe? 🙂 #d95conf 22-24 May,  or maybe even for the Fairytales in Aarhus 25-26 April… just asking you understand 🙂 you said, “better to ask to often” right?

  • mattevs

    JackVincent I seem to remember you said at one point that you stopped writing proposals because it was inefficient… (?)

  • mattevs JackVincent Sad that we’ve divided Toastmasters Europe into north and south, although we had to due to the growth. 
    I won’t go to Borås in May, although I would love to. I’ve book for Porto. Maybe I’ll come north for the fall conference.

  • mattevs JackVincent I don’t answer RFP’s in certain/many situations.  If the come “out of the blue,” I insist on meeting with the managers who will need the work done directly, and even them I have my radar up as to if they’re just “using me” (yeah, like dating!) to be able to tell management they looked at x number of vendors, or if they have an incumbent.
    Even then, I do my best to get the customer involved in building the solution, or reviewing my work in several phases. I will gladly do the work of modifying with their input.
    I’m happy to compete against others; that’s reality. But we must be qualifying at every step.  It’s so easy to answer every RFP, but losing deals is energy draining and karma draining, especially when you see the writing on the wall in retrospect.