216. What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard: Lessons in People, Sales, Negotiation & Business Mgmt

What they don't teach you at harvard university by Mark McCormackPublished in 1984, the late Mark H. McCormack‘s  book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is an extremely informative book that notes lessons he learned on managing people, sales & marketing, negotiation, and running a business while starting and building IMG.

Managing people and their egos

Successful business and management are really just people management. If you can read other people (to the same effect that psychics and cold readers do), you can better predict how they will respond in the future. This insight into people and the predictability of their present and future behavior can lead to small but nevertheless useful advantages. The more advantages you have in your corner, the ‘luckier’ you will be.

When judging others, humans have a tendency to put more worth on how people behave than what they say. Further, “what people do and say in the most innocent situations can speak volumes about their real selves” because while people will put on an act and do everything they can to make themselves look as rich, successful, powerful and seductive as possible, nobody is good enough to keep the act up forever and eventually, consciously or unconsciously, they will slip up and who they really are will reveal itself.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in his lecture Negotiation: Common Mistakes, Underhanded Techniques & How to Improve that:

  • Building relationships, even in seemingly one-time negotiations, is a safer bet to your future than violently taking the other side for all they are worth, that
  • Effective negotiation really boils down to creative problem solving and effective relationship management, and that
  • If you’re good at relationships, you’re good at negotiation.]

But arguably the most important part of managing other people and their egos is to understand yourself and your own ego. Until you know your own strengths and weaknesses, how can you be sure you are accurately assessing other people’s strengths and weaknesses or simply projecting your strengths and weaknesses onto them?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on workplace communication problems, watch Timoni West‘s talk Critical Thinking: 8 Biases That Hinder Progress In The Workplace.

For more on logical fallacies and politics, check out the video Critical Thinking: How Donald Trump Uses Language to Persuade.]

Sales & Negotiation

“Effective selling is directly tied to timing, patience and persistence – and to sensitivity to the situation and the person with whom you are dealing. An awareness of when you are imposing can be the most important personal asset a salesman can have.”

Obviously, the less a potential client knows about you prior to your contacting them (or their contacting you), the longer the sales process will probably take, therefore it’s in your best interest to start by upselling to clients who are already happy doing business with you. Upselling to an existing client doesn’t mean waiting until the client’s contract is almost finished to renew it, but about proactively approaching the client when your relationship is the strongest – preferrably after having just brought them a huge win or accomplishment. Likewise, approaching potential clients just after they have been extremely let down and disappointed by one of your competitors is another great way of getting new clients.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in Blair Enn’s talk How To Start A Startup: 10 Proclamations To Win New Clients Without Pitching that as a specialist when it comes to winning new business, you want to:

  1. Win without pitching (if possible)
  2. If you can’t win without pitching, try to derail the pitch
  3. If you can’t derail the pitch, try to gain the inside track
  4. If you can’t gain the inside track and be seen as meaningfully different, then it’s probably time to walk away with your integrity, positioning already established as an expert in your space, and preserve your future business opportunities.]

Another major component of selling is knowing the value of your product or service, and being able to communicate that value to your buyer in a way your buyer can understand and relate to. To do this you should answer a few important questions:

  • How unique is what you offer? Do competitors offer the same thing at a lower price?
  • Can you package and brand your offer and actually sell it at a price higher than your competitors?
  • Do buyers want, need, or cannot live without what you offer?
  • What alternatives to your offer exist, and how much would it cost the buyer to completely replace your offer with other alternatives?
  • Is what you’re selling a one-time sale, or an on-going relationship with the buyer?

Starting & Running A Business

  • Address the hard questions. Some ideas are destined to be bad forever, no matter how much time and money you throw at them. Be able to recognize this and either pivot or walk away before you’ve wasted too much. For more on this, check out my lecture How To Start A Startup: 25 Reasons Businesses Fail Within 4 Years.
  • Start small and keep it simple. Being realistic and having attainable goals helps you connect each goal to larger goals, thus turning small wins into a large, successful business. For more on keeping your goals long-term, watch the lecture How To Start A Startup: Managing Your Professional & Private Life.
  • Share your success.  Pay people what they are worth, not just for what they do. If a person in your small startup comes up with an extraordinary idea that brings in a ton of money and/or new clients and opportunities, that person deserves much, much more than a simple pat on the back and a measly bonus. Reward people based on the value of their contributions to the company, and your company will never risk becoming stale and out-dated.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For even more information in addition to what is in this book, watch the Y Combinator lecture series at Stanford University.]