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A new millennium was upon us and everything looked rosy. I (Rick Whitehead) was delivering a bespoke 3 day course on "Advanced Negotiating" for the senior account management team - six of them - from a large FMCG (confectionery) company.

 

I had done my research thoroughly as usual. The company had hit all its major targets and budgets for the previous year and everything was rosy. Or so I thought!

 

My research wasn't up-to-date enough.

 

I ws greeted, not by an enthusiastic group who had just earned all their bonuses, but by a very negative group who had just received their new, "impossible" targets for the forthcoming 12 months!

 

All their customers had bought big in December, well overstocked in some cases as a favour to the account manager.

the birth of Janus - a true story - how it all started

And now the parent company wanted more - another "impossible" 10% sales growth, with no more resources - in fact a tightening of belts, especially on their normally generous budgets for entertaining, was required.

 

And the managers were confident and "long in the tooth" enough not to hesitate to let their feelings known - and they didn't want to know about so-called "advanced" negotiating techniques!

 

I decided not to try to sell them the course as a vehicle for helping them hit their targets, because there was always the possibility of them being right about them being impossible! (Though I didn't think this was likely)

 

So I started by asking them questions - about their market, especially the trends, their competitors, their customers and their "none-customers"

Discussing their none-customers was the key. The delegates called them all kinds of things, all negative, "we'll just have to wait for old George to retire, to get in there" or "becuse the competition" .... this, that or whatever, e,g "the buyer plays regular golf with Jim Smith and is God Father to his son;" or "we fell out with them years ago over a catalogue of issues", etc.  And when I countered with things like "so there is potential new business out there", I was met with even more abuse - "a trainer who doesn't have to ever DO it, etc!"  

 

And then I did what I proudly never ever did - I got angry! Without forethought, I grabbed a flip chart and wrote on the top ... "It's January 2002 and you HAVE hit 105% of your targets" Then, again without thinking, I wrote underneath it ... "WHAT MUST HAVE HAPPENED?"

Another catalogue of abuse ensued! But good natured and some of it surprisingly creative. We were doing an unplanned, but very cathartic brainstorm! I recognised there were basically three types of idea coming out......

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  • those that identified the rewards/results ... egs, I've still got a job; the company's made a fortune; we've all earned loads of bonuses, etc;

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  • those that identified actions that must have been taken ... egs, I killed old George; marketing gave us unlimited budgets; I stole Jim Smith's golf clubs, etc;

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  • and those that DESCRIBED the situation then, in 12 months time ... every warehouse in the country is bursting; customers I haven't tried to see for years are happy to see me; customers realised that we offered better service overall; I know what really makes buyer X tick - which buttons to press; retail staff are enthusiastic and supportive.

 

As their "associative minds" were coming out with this type, I heard myself using the word "visualise" for the first time while I was asking them to stay in the future. Even more "descriptions" ensued ... our distribution of product X has tripled; we have more floor space in Cash & Carry X and more shelf space in retailer Z, etc, etc.

The whole mood had changed. And when I deliberately got negative, saying things like, "but that's surely not possible", they started arguing that it was!

 

So I wrote What MUST Have Happened? on a flip chart again and asked them to work BACKWARDS one example at a time, eg:

 

Barry was pleased to see me - I must have made an appointment - Barry's secretary gave me the appointment - she was pleased to hear from me - she was expecting my call - I had sent HER a persuasive email - I had researched what she was like - etc, etc, etc.

 

I then asked them to describe the future scenario (105%) in numbers; what does it mean in terms of distribution of which products, in which sectors; how many new customers are required, etc.

 

The whole mood went up another gear!

 

So I now asked them, working in pairs, to consider their individual portfolio of accounts, especially of course, the ones they weren't doing any, or very little, business with, and select one or two where, doing this "back from the future" (as I labelled it) exercise, they MIGHT achieve more.

 

We had done, as a group, just two of their individual scenarios when one of them pointed out it was past lunchtime!

We hadn't done ANYTHING from the planned agenda at all, but even so, after lunch we picked up where we had left off and then did the same exercise (just quick brainstorming) with their range of products and the kind of support they were NOW (in the future) getting from other departments, especially marketing and the salesforce. This went down well, with lots of outrageously creative suggestions.

 

Just before we broke for afternoon tea, I asked them all to select from the accounts / customers we had been working on to use as case studies to discuss and role play when we finally got round to the agenda for Advanced Negotiating!

 

Over afternoon tea, they were all very enthusiastic about this new way of thinking and one of them congratulated me on having "invented" it and suggested I write a book on it!

 

The rest, as they say, is history. I wrote down the framework and applied it with a few clients in different sectors, and different jobs (including a vicar, which is still one of my favourite case studies) and drafted out a book called "Scenario Analysis".

 

I soon realised that this phrase already described a different kind of "best and worst case" type of scenario anlaysis, but then an educated friend who knew about these things, suggested Janus because my system was "looking backwards from the future" and Janus was the Roman God who could see both past and future simultaneously.

Postscript

We drafted a plan on how to persuade Marketing to come up with a budget for a box at the forthcoming Royal Ascot, invited this customer, no strings attached; didn't try to sell to him; but of course, he felt obliged to buy something afterwards and quickly realised the range and support were better than he had been getting!

All of them went away with action plans to use "Scenario Analysis" and were all successful in some of their projects. In fact, as a

group, they achieved their growth from just one of our scenarios - a business owner who had a long term relationship with a

competitor, but when we discussed him as a personality, one of the managers knew he was very keen on horse racing.