Pre-sale Relationship Plinko

There are a few other characteristics that I’d like to highlight from my experience there, and again, it really has nothing do with the specifics of that university in particular. It was a very large organization, with thousands of employees, and the division I belonged to, the military division, was really a fraction of the total workforce.

You know what? Check this out real quick: ever play a game called “Plinko” at the fair? That’s the game that has a big board that’s standing upright and it’s got a bunch of pegs all over it with slots down at the bottom for a disc (or ball) to land in. You drop the disc / ball and it bounces around, going peg-to-peg-to-peg, bouncing left, bouncing right – and who knows where it will wind up?

There’s one slot that’s usually dead center on the board, and if it lands there, you win 500 tickets! But if it lands in any one of the other [19?] slots, you’ll win 5 tickets, or maybe 10 tickets, or 2 tickets.

And of course I know there can be different amount of tickets to win on different boards, but I’m sure you get the point – it’s chaotic and there’s really no way to predict where the disc is going to go and there’s really no way to make it go to the 500 ticket slot in a predictable and replicable manner.

I haven’t actually built a “Pre-sale Relationship Plinko Board” yet, but I’ve drawn this out for training purposes and demonstrated how chaotic it is when you have a bunch of different team members doing things in different ways. The chances of landing in the “Ideal Experience” slot are very slim in comparison to all the other variations of “Not-so Ideal Experience” slots, like:

  • phone / email tag
  • varying degrees of professionalism
  • unresponsiveness / cancellations
  • desperate voicemails / nasty break-up emails
  • mixed messaging
  • failure to launch

So when I drew it out, the pegs represented all the different kinds of communication obstacles that ultimately detract from the pre-sale relationship experience.

And I’m realistic about things, too, meaning: I believe that there’s no way to remove ALL the obstacles.

But I know that SOME of them can be removed, and what this creates is streamlined channels of communication that increases your organization’s chances of landing in the “Ideal Experience” slot.

Think of it like this: the more variables you reduce from the equation, the more control you have over the experience. As you remove pegs, the “Ideal Experience” slot widens while the others narrow, so it increases your chances of landing in it.

Of course there will always be the chance of some chaos occurring, but this will reduce those chances and lend a sense of order and predictability to the experience your organization provides as your potential clients progress through the stages of your sales cycle while working with different team members.

And when you think about it: communication is really behavior-based, meaning it’s something that is directly in your control. Better communication equals better behavior, and organizations that out-behave their competition will out-perform them.


Anyway, back to the university: in an attempt to put things in perspective, there were times when we were 300+ team members strong in the military division alone.

There wasn’t really a “communication framework” during my time there, but they tried. After I was there for about four years (sometime around 2011), they hired some consulting group to come in and try to teach us some new tricks.

It wasn’t really described to us that way as it was more of: “here’s how we’re doing it from now on because management says so.” Every team rotated through a live, 90-minute session with some stranger consultant-guy, so really, not to sound too pessimistic, but it just didn’t go over that well.

Everyone (including me) was skeptical, and even though the concepts were really good (in hindsight), no one really bought in because the way they rolled it out to us was not ideal. The idea was to have a more structured initial conversation, but no one really gave a solid reason why (other than “management said so”), and the people who had been there for quite some time, like me, just fought it.

Realistically, I didn’t see the purpose of it all at the time, especially since I had been doing just fine for quite a while there (and of course, same with many others in my position).

So they wanted us to follow this conversation structure and no one understood why. And remember from earlier, how “we couldn’t script anything because we’re in higher-education,” but there were certain things they wanted us to say and a certain order in which they wanted them said in, so realistically, there was a lot of hinting and guesswork and frustration going on on both sides of the workforce and management fence.

I don’t recall anyone really embracing the framework, either, and for a lot of seemingly good reasons. Like, it seemed purposeless and no one really understood it. I mean, we all used bits and pieces of it here and there, sure, and then we’d get call coaching at times with how things should have gone, even though we can’t script it out.

I remember telling my manager at the time:

  • “Look, I understand the employer to employee relationship … just tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”

And of course, I’d be told how we can’t do that, but “you should have really said this” or “really said that,” or:

  • “Ask more questions.”
  • “What questions would you like me to ask?” I’d ask.
  • “We can’t tell you what to ask,” he’d say, and round and round we’d go.

Like I mentioned, it was frustrating for both the workforce and for management. And then of course humans have a pack mentality and we tend to stick with what seems safe, and realistically, anything new pretty much gets classified as threats anyway (more to come on that later).

And also, you have to consider how when you have 20-something 12-person teams that belong to a division of that size (and an organization of that size), that means there were plenty of places to hide because think about it: there’s safety in numbers, and who’s going to get management’s attention in any workplace? The people who struggle.

So as long as you weren’t the slowest water buffalo in the herd, production-wise, no one really seemed to care too much about sticking to the framework. Meanwhile, it was actually quite brilliant, and for quite a few different reasons – none of which I would come to realize until many years and several organizations after my time there.


Here are some reasons why it’s brilliant to have organizational alignment when it comes to communicative behaviors:

Asides from the obvious benefits of closing more deals and making more money, when you have a team that grows to a decent size, you will undoubtedly have team members who do really well at times, and you’ll have team members who will struggle at times, and that’s just part of the game.

So, if an organization has a specific, step-by-step, simplified communications framework and process that is time-tested and proven to produce consistently excellent results, this will help the leaders to help their people get on track for success and (primarily) stay on track.

Of course, people will still fall behind at times, but if you have a framework and strategy that provides the leaders with the right tools, they can then provide specific and timely coaching and feedback to help their people get back on track and stay that way. Also, it breaks down information silos and makes it possible for the place to not fall apart when a manager leaves (a lot of my thinking on this was influenced by the Army).

And realistically, every organization out there, regardless of industry, has competition. More to come on this later, but a modern communications trend I’ve noticed throughout the years is that it’s become increasingly normal for people to struggle with communicating in real-time. So think about the competitive advantage an organization would have if its client-facing team members had their story straight …

Okay, “story straight” may sound a bit harsh, but just imagine what it would be like if your organization had alignment around best communicative behaviors – especially when it comes to your client-facing team members.

Even though I believe it to be true, I never really cared for the “people tend to enroll people who are just like themselves,” mentality. In large numbers, this is undoubtedly true, but I think it leaves way too much up to chance and there is a way to be proactive and get more deals without having to rely on “luck of the draw” as far as personality types lining up.

Consider this: what if you’re dealing with a potential customer who just so happens to not be in-line with your personality-type?

Do you just cast him or her aside and wait for the next, and just hope this one’s a better fit? That tactic might work on an individual level, but as an organization that’s looking to maximize opportunities and grow, that “sink-or-swim” tactic doesn’t exactly fit into the big picture.

Although I think it’s true that people tend to buy from people who are just like themselves, there is a way to reduce the variables of personal preferences and compatibilities, and it’s really a game-changer when it comes to communicating effectively. Neuroscientifically-designed communications really gets down to the root of things: how the human brain is essentially hardwired, meaning the way we receive and process information from a physical standpoint.

Don’t worry, we’re getting there!

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