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Selling in a Non-objective Environment (Part 4): The Fatal Attractionist

Posted on Sunday, Aug 2nd 2009

By Guest Author Jim Healy

“I won’t be ignored, Dan!” said Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction.” And neither will Kim Jong Il.

In this fourth article in the series, we cover the fatal attractionist. The concept of a fatal attraction in sales means a relationship that was thought to be wonderful but finally results in a lost sale. The “Fatal Attractionist” (FA) usually has a goal, quite possibly theirs alone, which they will attempt to achieve at any cost. Their real objective is often hidden or unknown to them. The goal may initially seem to be directly related to purchasing the product or service you are trying to sell to them, but this is usually not the case. In fact, most often the FA has no specific objective other than disrupting the sales process so that they can maintain control.

Kim Jong II wants to know he matters to Obama and, like the consummate” fatal attractionist,” he is wreaking havoc in the international arena in his maneuvering for that attention. This North Korean dictator, who wears elevated shoes and a bouffant buffoon hairstyle, is a brutal, vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling narcissistic hypochondriac, but one with a cunning mind. He is a master manipulator who perfectly fits the profile of an FA.

If you are not the “chosen” vendor of an FAs, they will continually try to mislead you, pulling you into their web. Telling you what you want to hear. Extracting information from you that will later be used against you is a common occurrence. FAs will extend negative energy, often through disruptive, purposeless behavior, while pushing their hidden agenda into the decision-making process. Their power is based on a “technical” expertise that they manipulate within the non-objective environment. There is a strong agenda to make you feel at fault.

During denuclearization talks, Kim took the initiative of leading others to his agenda. As long as he did not comply with their wishes, others had to wait and worry, adjust and modify, and finally make additional concessions, thus playing directly into the hands of the FA.

The FA’s agenda is to increase their power and control in the system to accomplish their personal goals. Very often this means not allowing your product to be purchased. They cannot make this obvious, so they take an indirect approach and move with the “sales wind”, changing their position as required but always telling you what you want to hear.

Kim kept a firm grip on power despite ruinous floods and a famine. Then, after a historic summit, he changed his image to become the totalitarian version of George W. Bush. Then again after revising North Korea’s nuclear weapons program despite promises not to do so, Kim became Dr. Evil. Kim carried this title with pride.

With the FA, it is sometimes more about having energy around the decision than about its accuracy. Because of the power of their position or technical expertise, FAs are difficult to confront directly.

Kim is even more talented in the art of brinksmanship than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, and the world is watching to see how the “anointed one”, Barack Obama, reacts when confronted by Kim.

In some cases the FA may seem to exhibit a pattern of risk avoidance. In this case, the best sales strategy is to deal with the capricious ways of the FA by being unpredictable, thus not falling into their trap. They typically do not have much ambition internal to the organization. They seem to like the process they create, in which they experience a high level of control. Being arbitrary can give you a modicum of control.

Kim’s provocations are reckless but strategic in nature. Tougher sanctions may give him exactly what he wants. He knows Obama must do something, but will he take it to the brink? If the pressure is too great, North Korea will either attack or implode.

You can manipulate the FA by giving “secret information”, but beware of this gift.

Clinton made a series of small concessions and offered larger promises in the future in return for immediate, limited inspections of North Korea’s nuclear sites. Clinton’s approach failed. Bush took a different tact, but his “axis of evil” strategy also failed. “Gifts” then become permission for the FA to continue the behavior being challenged.

One way to win over the FA and get the sale is to develop their trust. In building trust, it is of course critical not to fall into a trap where this trust would be broken. With the FA trust is a critical issue. Position yourself carefully and wait for an opening. Some of the information you present regarding solutions, decisions, and selling activity must be aimed at supporting the FA’s ego. Therefore it is important to diagnose their non-objective needs and take a stance without losing your dignity, or theirs.

Kim’s second nuclear test was a test of Obama’s resolve in this high-stakes international poker game. To win the sale, Obama must give the FA, Kim, the attention and respect he craves while stabilizing things without losing credibility.

FAs are suspicious. You must be careful how you approach others in the company, as FAs often have other individuals “owing” them. They can be exposed to management, but the risk to success is high. FAs are happy where they are when they have created a situation in which they have control. Therefore, try to avoid confrontations unless it is an attempt to uncover and make public the FA’s real agenda. Every time there is a confrontation, it chips away at the FA’s ego and will get in the way of your success in winning the sale. You must take nothing for granted. These relationships are often paradoxical: whatever the FA’s real intent, it’s often expressed as something else.

It is difficult if not impossible for the FA to change, so you really have only two approaches to winning the sale. Win them over with trust or expose them to management.

If Kim is exposed to his people for what he really is they could revolt, but in this police state, change is highly unlikely. On the other hand, Kim cannot change the system even if he wanted to without undermining his own legitimacy. Any reforms would create resentment against his police state, which would certainly result in regime change.

What makes it difficult in winning a sale when an FA is involved is their propensity to raise bogus issues. The FA will put a stake in the ground on an issue and if they are not challenged, their stance becomes fact. If you do challenge it, you must be careful because of the FA’s own vulnerability. They keep giving solutions, not requirements. They bellow, “I need a solution”, not, “This is what is required.” The FA typically has information but will not share it with you. They use it to manipulate the non-objective environment.

With North Korea, the United Sates has no viable military option. Therefore, it is important to work on building trust on an ongoing basis so that the FA, Kim, believes he will not compromise his personal agenda by buying our product.

To win the sale, the salesperson must manage the boundaries in the situation. It is difficult to meet the non-objective agenda, but you can contain it in the selling process. Any escalation lends creditability to the FA’s agenda. For example, a direct challenge of Kim takes him onto the world stage. Obviously to get the sale, in addition to meeting or at least containing the FA’s non-objective need, you must provide a solution to their real problem and show no fear.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Selling in a Non-objective Environment
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