I will be the first to admit I struggled with my last blog post, using poker as an analogy with respect to the sales/prospecting process. There were some outside factors that were in play there–procrastination, tons of new leads filling up the pipe, procrastination again. But there was something else that was going on there as well. Poker analogies don’t work with respect to sales!
I could not put my finger on it at the time I was writing it, but something wasn’t quite gelling with the whole story I was trying to tell. I wanted to talk about how the ability to read other poker players at a table is similar to the technique you need when talking with new potential customers. You know, being able to get the “real story” that the potential customer isn’t giving you.
The problem is when you use poker as an analogy for sales you set up a “zero-sum game mentality”. Here is a video from the VeraSage Institute that helped me with this realization. Read the comments below it. In other words, there is a winner and a loser. And in any successful sales transaction there should be two winners, the customer and you.
Ultimately when you play poker you are trying to knock out your opponents. Unless it is a cash game, you want them to keep buying back in. But with sales, you are hoping that the conversation between the two of you leads to a point where you are shaking hands and smiling ear-to-ear because you both got what you want. This would never happen in a poker game.
Another point I was trying to make is that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Using skills that I honed while playing poker seemed to be a useful metaphor for getting to the decision of whether we want to “play” with this customer (read qualify). And really that is what you need to figure out early on in the process.
So the analogy only works in the sense of whether or not you want to have the initial conversation. It is used in the sense of the introduction. Do they like your “game”? Do they think your “rules” are fair? In the long term of the sales cycle, poker does not make sense as an analogy.
Another way to look at it would be like this. Poker is an individual game. You are looking at increasing your chip stack while decreasing your opponents. That fact alone shows it is not a good comparison for sales. If you presented a proposal to a customer that said the cost is $20K and never said what they would get for it other than spending $20K, you would most likely not get the business. If you have not shown the customer the value of what they would receive, they will never buy it.
Sales is a team effort. You and the customer must work together in order to come up with a fair proposal that both parties agree on. Now maybe if there was “team poker” this analogy might work. Then again, probably not.