As I have been in the past, I think it’s important to be transparent about my mistakes. Even though I coach and consult others on how to sell more successfully, have better conversations, and be more mindful, I’m not perfect. I mess up.
Recently, my own mistakes almost led me to make what would have been a terrible decision and would have quickly sent me the wrong way.
Over the past two years, I’ve started more than a few projects. Some of them are small pivots inside my main consulting company (Adapted Growth) and some of them are starting new companies. Some have worked, some have gone down in fiery flames. But because I consider every mistake a learning opportunity, that’ll never stop me from trying again.
A few months ago, I was working on a couple of projects at the same time that are not part of my main company. The two projects couldn’t have been more different, and because of that, one is still moving forward and the other, you guessed it, went down in fiery flames. For me anyway.
So what happened?
First of all, there are lots of little details about it that all led to the end, and it went on for several months. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty; you can reach out to me if you’re that interested.
A few months ago, I received a message saying that I should meet an investor that helps small business owners grow their business. The idea is that he comes in, invests a small but significant amount of money to help the business grow to a certain level, and then helps them sell it for more money.
Nothing too crazy, and everyone benefits from the transparency of the process.
But to do this, he needed a sales team to sell his services, and he was told that I was the guy to talk to.
I’ll be honest, the mistakes started right there on that first call.
My understanding was that they had a budget to build a sales team, they’d already had past success and a pool of investors available to help on certain projects. I don’t know if it was miscommunication or my own selective interpretation, but I thought that they were somewhere that they were not.
So when we talked about me coming on as a sales team leader, I didn’t ask nearly enough questions.
Turns out, this project was very new. They had no specific budgets, no investors, and didn’t even want me for the thing I thought they wanted me for.
However, even after I found this out, I was excited about what they had going on and how I could be involved. And it probably didn’t help that there were some big numbers and equity in the company being thrown around. So I continued to move forward. For a while…
Although the first couple of meetings were very exciting, that downhill slope came up fast. The scope almost immediately went from building one team slowly to building lots of teams quickly.
That’s not how I work. But again, one of the partners was making huge statements about revenue and profit compared to other companies doing the same thing that it was hard to think rationally. Especially since, as a Captain Literal C, I don’t always take hyperbole for what it is.
Then it all started to spiral. Nobody was on the same page, both my role and my pay were consistently disputed between the partners, and it became quickly obvious that they were operating on chaos, not order, plans, and processes.
So when the CEO came into these meetings talking about all of these scope changes, bragging about being a closer himself (more on this later), and removing any chances for equity or the commissions that were originally discussed, I could no longer ignore my internal screaming alarm.
And then he dropped the biggest bomb. There was NO budget for building a team; he was expecting me and my partner on this to BE the team.
He didn’t want another partner. He wanted somebody to come in, do it his way, and be thankful for the opportunity.
And that’s when I hit a wall and could no longer stay silent.
The money, at that point, was the least of my worries. I had no intention of giving up the company I already had or the time I spend with my podcast and building my personal brand. What he was asking for would take up way more time than I had available.
But not even time was the biggest issue for me, it was the positioning…
When you’re going into business with somebody, how they frame that relationship is very important. To me anyway, and it probably should be to most people.
If you’re asked to come in and do it their way, you’re little more than a vendor. You have no voice, no autonomy, and quite probably no upward mobility. You’re a drone. If you’re okay with that, then drone away. It’s not ideal though in the majority of cases though.
But if you come on as somebody with their own ideas and processes that they’re interested in at least hearing about, if not incorporating, then you’re entering into a partnership. Maybe not in terms of owning or running the company, but certainly in terms of being valued and in working together.
(If you don’t see how those two frames are very different in sales and business, you should take a look at my course.)
We were never going to be viewed as partners; we would have always been nothing more than a vendor. They didn’t think or wouldn’t admit that they needed us, so there was no real motivation to make it work with us. (I’ll talk about why and how this is important in an Adapted Growth blog, Identifying Your Value.)
And since the CEO had been a closer himself, he thought he had enough knowledge and experience that he didn’t need to listen to other ideas or ways of selling. For him and at least one of his partners, we were a ‘nice to have,’ not a ‘need to have.’ That’s not a spot I ever want to be in, but especially not when I’m investing time and resources that I don’t really have.
On top of all my worries and lack of clarity —something I really don’t handle well!— I couldn’t stop comparing this project with the other one.
My other project, the one that’s still going and progressing every day, is a mastermind for real estate agents. Don’t worry, you’ll hear a lot more about it soon!
I’m working with two other people, we’re all partners in this, and we’ve been methodical about building out timelines, assigning responsibilities, and setting goals and deadlines. There was—and still is—lots of planning and clear expectations.
The two projects couldn’t have been more different. One was clearly headed in the right direction, and I felt good about it. The other… we couldn’t even nail down my role in it, much less the goals and processes for building the company.
I’d reached my limit. Something either had to change or I was out.
So I met with the two partners I was going to be doing this with and laid it all out. I told them:
- I might not be the right person to help them out with this project or additional projects going forward. They said that they liked my ideas and approach and still wanted to work with me.
- If I am the right partner, we need to start being intentional about how we operate in conversations around this project and other ones in the future. They agreed.
- This project was going to be rough due to the difference in how they work vs how we wanted to work, and should we proceed with the project knowing that? It was admitted that it was not ideal but it should be easy to do and would give us revenue for being more particular in the future.
During this time, I had been thinking about it and journaling about it so much that I was completely detached from the possibility of a huge win on this project. Being able to take a step back allowed me to ask these questions with no attachment to the response.
Also, there was a lot of intention in how I delivered those questions. Each question was pointless to ask if the one before it was answered with a no. I’m I wasn’t the right partner, then talking about how we operate going forward was moot. If they didn’t think things needed to change, then there was no reason to talk about why this project might be wrong for us.
The way I asked each question left no room for me to make assumptions about where they were. And each question gave them the opportunity to share their views free of judgment or sway from me.
So after going through this process with my partners, I felt better about how I would approach the next meeting.
Unsurprisingly, the CEO did not like our terms (even though he kept asking us to come up with our own and then shooting them down every time instead of discussing it with us. Again, vendor vs partner). So since I had already detached myself from the outcome, I could easily tell him that we wouldn’t be able to work together, but we’d be open to the conversation if they decided they needed partners like us in the future.
I intentionally framed it in several ways.
- I made it clear that I only wanted to talk again if he wanted to partner with us, not just hire us to do his bidding.
- A conversation only made sense if he realized he needed us.
- No pleading or begging, and no guarantee that we’d be available. Just that we’re “open to talking about it.”
And then we parted ways.
I talk about framing conversations in sales all the time. I talk A LOT about how important it is and how to do it in my upcoming book.
But framing is about more than just conversations. It applies to relationships, and it applies to working styles and mindsets.
When one person or group of people frames their working style around chaos or go with the flow, it makes it very hard for people like me to work with you. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that style. It definitely works for a lot of people.
Not me though.
That’s what makes the other partnership work so well. We’re all likeminded in how we frame projects and how we frame conversations with each other.
The TL:DR of this is that:
- You have to be aware of how you work and what you need to perform at your highest level. Then find businesses or partners who work within those parameters. No two people will be exactly alike, but you at least need to be in the same chapter, if not on the same page. (I wasn’t even in the same book with this CEO, and my mistake was not recognizing that a lot quicker.)
- Frame your needs, goals, and process in a way that makes it clear. There’s always room for compromise and flexibility, but if you don’t frame it to begin with, it makes it a lot harder to work together later. And also, pay attention to their frames as well!
- Just like in sales, ask as many questions as it takes to qualify them and qualify yourself. You don’t want to put yourself in positions where you’re not equals, and asking qualifying questions can help you avoid that.
- Finally, don’t make assumptions. Ever! And always follow your process as much as possible. End of story.