Lost in Baltimore Part 2: Selling to the Worst Buyer in the World, the Brand New Executive

Wow! My post on this topic has gotten thousands of views! I really appreciate it. In this second part, I want to apply the technique to proposals a little more, as well as talk a little about the ethics of selling.


As I’ve thought more about this, I’ve started calling the two-step process the “Baltimore technique.”

You can easily see how inventive thinking like this can help in proposals, just as much as in direct sales. You lose one. You do a version of the Baltimore technique that you’re comfortable with. The client likes you more now. You’re well positioned to win the next one.

Yet doing this sort of thing is well outside most of our comfort zones. But why? I think it’s a combination of two things. First, there’s the fear that we’re being manipulative. Second, there’s the fear of being embarrassed.

Research shows that your integrity strongly influences whether someone buys from you – especially if you’re selling services. And, of course, you want to have integrity simply because that’s the right way to be. So, not only is important that you not be manipulative, it’s also important that you not appear to be manipulative.

So is doing this sort of Baltimore technique manipulative?

Let’s ask two philosophers. Immanuel Kant, in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, formulated the categorical imperative – the basic morality by which people should live. As applied to people, it says, “Act in such a way that you treat people always as ends in themselves, never as mere means.” In other words, don’t use people. Treat them with respect and dignity. No surprise there.

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, formulated the doctrine of double effect. What this basically says is that, as long as what you’re doing is for good reasons, it’s OK that your actions have foreseeable side effects – regardless of the desirability of those side effects. (The example that Aquinas gave was killing in self-defense. Normally, it’s wrong to kill. But it’s ethical to defend yourself. Under the doctrine of double effect, it’s OK to defend yourself with lethal force because the goal of your action is defending yourself. The lethal force is foreseeable, but it’s not the goal. Whew. Luckily, we’re not dealing with anything nearly so heavy.)

What happens when we put these together? We get a general principle of how to act towards prospects. As long as we treat the prospect with respect and dignity in our interactions with her, it’s OK that we happen to know that the client is also going to like us more as a result.

Does this comport with common sense? Yeah, sure. When we crack a joke with a client, we do it because it’s funny and enjoyable. It doesn’t make it wrong to have fun just because we also happen to know that the client will probably like us more as a result.

As applied here, all of this simply means that, as long as we’re genuinely interested in what the executive or proposal prospect has to say, it’s OK that they’ll also happen to look upon us more favorably.

The key is the purity of your intentions. If your intensions are good, that outshines everything else. You will come across positively, just as you should.

This is the same key as to consultative and relationship selling. If you care about the person you’re selling to as a person, you’ll also happen to sell more. It’s not unethical to know that. It doesn’t taint you. It doesn’t make your sales dirty.

So, think to yourself, “This is an accomplished, bright person. I can learn a lot from them. I can apply it to make our organization better.” And then give the Baltimore technique a shot.

But now we come to the second concern. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of being different. Fear of looking foolish if you fail.

There’s no doubt that conformity is safe. Look at a bell curve. Being average gives a person a lot of company.

Of course, by definition, that company is other average people. And most people don’t dream as children of growing up to be average.

Well, being great means taking chances. Ultimately, being willing to take chances is often a matter of reminding yourself that the risk of failure is actually pretty low. And, as we’ll see, you can also do things yourself to lower the risk of failure.

So, what’s the worst that would happen if you, with good intentions, tried the Baltimore technique?

The prospect thinks you’re trying to pull one over on him and goes crazy and will never do business with your company again? What are the actual odds of that? 0.1%?

Or, despite your pure intentions, the client is suspicious and it leaves a bad taste in her mouth? Well, if you had good intentions, how likely is that? 5%? 1%?

The reality is that, in our everyday life, we don’t go around disliking and mistrusting people who are genuine and kind and interested in us.

What do we do instead? We become friends with them. That’s the whole basis ofHow to Win Friends and Influence People. What I take from the Baltimore technique is simply a clever way to start a conversation so you can apply those principles. It just happens to use a person’s vanity as a way to open the door.

With that in mind, here’s a low risk way to apply the Baltimore technique in a proposal post-mortem with a prospect who didn’t choose you:

Prospect: “…and that’s why we felt we got the most value from the AllPak proposal.”

You: “Well, I can understand your decision. I’m convinced we offer the most value, but I must not have done a good enough job of explaining it. It sounds like, from your perspective, you look for how good the match is between your problem and our solution, as well as cost, when you’re evaluating value. Is that right?”

Prospect: “Yeah. Those two things are critical. There’s also things like…”

And then a few weeks later, you could call up and say, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about what you look for when judging value. I’d like to do a sort of ‘Voice of the Expert’ training article for my proposal writers about it. Do you mind if I take 10 or 15 minutes of your time at some point and just ask a couple questions on what you think proposal evaluators look for? I’d love for my people to really understand how a proposal looks from the selection committee’s point of view.”

Does that come across as something that could lead to embarrassment? Charges of manipulation? To me, it feels real because it is real. This is incredibly useful information. And your proposal writers will learn from it. You don’t need to feel bad about phrasing it in a way that will also help your company’s cause in the future.

Yes, you called it “Voice of the Expert.” Yes, they’re likely to chuckle and claim not to be an expert. Maybe they’ll joke that “flattery will get you everywhere.” But inside they’ll feel good. Because they do think they’re an expert.

When you read the part above where you called up after a couple weeks, were you overwhelmed with a desire to say no? If not, then why would the prospect? Just because they got one proposal decision horribly wrong doesn’t mean they’re completely unreasonable. They’ll say yes 95% of the time.

(As a side note, by saying yes, they’re also doing you a favor. This produces what’s called the “Benjamin Franklin effect.” By asking someone to do you a favor, they end up liking you more once they’ve done the favor for you. Paradoxical, but true.)

What if they do say no? If they say no, it’ll almost certainly be a polite “I’d love to but I’m swamped.” It’ll almost never look worse than this: “Oh, thank you, but I don’t think it’s appropriate given our roles.”

To me, that feels pretty curt. But what of it?

If you get tripped up in moments like this, then you just need to have something ready to say. “OK, I understand. No problem. Thanks again for sharing your previous thoughts on our proposal. You have an exciting opportunity there. I certainly wish you the best of luck on it and we’re looking forward to working with you on the next one.”

And they still appreciate being called an expert and you’ve still helped yourself.

But, again, the vast majority of the time there’s nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about. They have great info that they’re happy to share. It just so happens that the same vanity that will cause them to share the info will also cause them to like you more. Well, that’s OK. Life is funny like that sometimes.

Try out the Baltimore technique. Let me know how it works for you. I’d love to put together a follow-up post about your successes.

Best of luck!