Be Like Water

by Dec 9, 2016

This is an excerpt from my forth-coming book with Hendre Coetzee, Shiftability: Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage in Selling which will be released in early 2017. Sign up for my email newsletter on the homepage to receive more information about Shiftability.

Bruce Lee, one of the most influential martial artists of all time, initially trained as a young man in the tradition of Wing Chun. Later in life he developed his own integrated martial arts philosophy in contrast to the rigid and formalistic disciplines of traditional martial arts. His new system, Jeet Kune Do, instead emphasized practicality, flexibility, speed and efficiency. Lee adapted techniques and training methods from different martial arts systems as well as fencing and boxing. In his own words, Jeet Kune Do “utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques which serve its end.”

In one of his most famous quotes, Lee described what flexibility in form looks like:

Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Just like the traditional martial arts masters of old, there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that there is only one right way to sell. Today they will tell you that solution selling is dead, or that relationship builders are ineffective in today’s economy, or that whatever sales practices you have used in the past are now irrelevant. These same people will likely tell you that you now need to adopt a singular, new methodology.

We disagree. Like Bruce Lee, we believe that you need to be like water. You need to adopt principles of practicality and flexibility, and use all while being bound by none. This is the first principle in applying the shiftability mindset to developing the shiftability skillset in sales.

All things have their place and time and this goes for sales methodologies as well. There is no such thing as one singular right way to do things. Any successful sales method or style of engagement depends first on understanding clearly what the client needs to do in one of three areas: grow revenue, reduce costs, or mitigate risk. This requires an understanding of purpose – your client’s corporate purpose and their individual purpose. This is a complex undertaking, which is good, and makes it defensible and removes it from the commodity status.

This understanding must take place in a multidimensional matrix. First, you need to understand your client’s needs and challenges, and frame conversations based on their role, their position in their company, their position in their decision-making process, and where they are in their own stage of the decision-making process. Based on this understanding, you then need to apply an appropriate situational client engagement style.

This is the first shiftability skill for staying relevant and effective in selling today:

There are different styles of client engagement, needed at different times, with different people and different roles, and you will need to master shifting from one engagement style to another, as appropriate.