Using Trust to Navigate the Big Meeting
Fast Track to Funding #2
In my last post, Why Vision Masters Need to Master CPR, we discussed the CPR, a tool that I’ve found to be truly invaluable in creating the type of alignment that creates trust within your team and trust among third parties like investors. I hope you’ll take on the practice of creating a CPR for each important meeting that you have with your team and third parties.
But sometimes even the best tool, like a CPR, breaks down in the stress and high-level, high-stakes game of business because you or someone on your team “goes rogue.”
What do you do in that instance?
Is there anything you can do to fix the proverbial leak in the boat, or is it inevitable that trust is going to be broken and the boat is going to sink?
In this last post on trust, The Tale of Two Endings – The Power of a Promise Fulfilled, within our “Are You Fundable” series, I’d like to offer my best advice for those specific times when:
- You’ve gotten the big meeting with an investor
- You’re conducting the meeting with both Vision Master and your Execution Master present
- Teamwork between the two of you is crucial to investor trust; and
- Something happens that threatens to break that trust
In these circumstances – which happen fairly often in my experience – there are three important things to do and not to do:
- Don’t directly contradict your partner on the spot. Instead, interject something like “let me add to what John said,” or “another way you might look at this is . . .”
The idea here is to find a way to modify what was said that you strongly feel went outside the context and purpose you created together for the meeting so that you can help bring it back within the proper context or purpose. When you directly contradict your partner it disempowers them and makes your overall team weaker in the eyes of an investor. After all, who wants to put their time, money and reputation into a team that throws another team member overboard when things get tough? Instead, recognize that your business partner just accidentally fell off the boat and throw him or her a life raft.
- Don’t change the subject. Instead, find a way to explore the subject from other perspectives
Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that your team thrives within an exchange of multiple ideas and perspectives and communicate to the investor that a variety of viewpoints makes your team stronger and eventually leads to the best solutions. Engage the investor in looking at the issue from multiple viewpoints. This can be a perfect and powerful way to get the investor involved with your team and company.
- Don’t make the assumption that “all is lost,” instead recognize that an opportunity has arisen to demonstrate good leadership.
All problems are opportunities in disguise.
Winston Churchill once quipped that, “when you’re going through hell . . . keep going,” and this is a perfect example of that. Something has gone awry, someone said something off context or purpose, the red lights are flashing “danger, danger, danger” in your head. Now is the time to lead by bringing the issue and the meeting back to the CPR, without throwing a teammate to the sharks, without panicking and without stepping over the issue.
This problem is an opportunity to demonstrate teamwork under stress.
I’ve written extensively on how both Vision Masters and Execution Masters can demonstrate excellent leadership in challenging situations and encourage you to read some of my thoughts and the ideas of other thought leaders on this subject here. [link to writings on the leadership styles of the Vision and Execution Masters]
For now, let’s look at an example – a true story – that will help you navigate the big meeting.
A colleague was one of two Execution Masters involved in a start-up in the electronics industry. The Vision Master, Ron, was primarily a “sales guy” that knew the product and market very well but lacked the skill or interest to manage and to deal with the mundane world of spreadsheets and operations.
My colleague arranged the “big meeting,” with a governmental funding source that was ready, to write a big check that very day, because the business would create hundreds of jobs. Prior to the meeting, it was decided that the Execution Masters would field most of the questions and build up the Vision Master as the wise and seasoned expert. Throughout the meeting, the Execution Masters fielded the many questions about the business model, use of funds, operations and projections.
Everything was going great and as planned.
But at that final, critical moment, the last question was posed:
“What is the primary risk involved?”
My colleague started to address the issue, but the questioner stopped him. He wanted to hear from the Vision Master on this question.
They’d rehearsed how to answer this question before the meeting and had even created a list of three primary risks and how to handle them.
But in the moment, when asked, Ron (the ever-optimistic Vision Master) said, “There is no risk.”
The Execution Master were horrified. The investor was more than surprised and asked the question again, thinking he has misheard.
“There is absolutely no risk at all in this business deal,” Ron repeated, sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest smugly.
Suffice it to say the deal never went forward. Trust that had been slowly built up over several calls and meetings was shattered in that moment.
As my colleague tells it, there was never really alignment between the Vision Master and the Execution Master, because the Vision Master simply didn’t believe that any of the types of things I’ve been writing about over the past weeks would work – things like being vulnerable in an appropriate way, asking for help and input from the investor, being confident but humble and saying “I don’t know” when it’s the truth.
Instead, this guy felt he needed to be invulnerable, all-knowing, confident to the point of cockiness and with the attitude that he was doing the investor a favor rather than vice-versa.
I asked my colleague what he thought he could have done differently, in that moment, that might have saved the deal.
He recalled the exact moment when the investor had put his hand up and said, “No, I’d like to hear from Ron on this issue of risk.” I could tell it was painful for my colleague to even remember how the events unfolded.
“Neither of us contradicted Ron in the moment,” my colleague recalled.
“That’s good,” I replied, “that might have just further eroded investor trust. Well, what did you do?” I asked.
“Nothing really. The meeting just kind of ended with a ‘we’ll call you’ kind of thing,” he replied.
“What could you have done?” I pressed.
“Thinking back, probably I could have tried to explain that Ron meant there was little, if any, risk on the sales side, because we had a number of contracts in place for purchasing the components we were going to make, but that the primary operational risk was that our team was somewhat young and hadn’t worked successfully together before.”
“OK that would have been helpful,” I responded. “Anything else?”
My colleague thought for a moment and then brightened and said, “The factor that makes our team so powerful is that we have a balance of Vision Mastery and Execution Mastery. Our Mission Master Ron here is naturally optimistic. THAT IS WHY HE BRILLIANTLY DECIDED TO PARTNER WITH US, to provide a balance, to provide team members who could see the risks that he can’t see and let him know.”
“And Ron’s really good at listening.” (Be careful not to glare at him when you say that. A wink would work better.)
“Exactly!” I said. “What do you think that might have led to?”
My colleague sighed and paused and then said, “It would have opened up a whole new subject for the meeting where I could have engaged the investor around how our team has complementary thinking styles and we can handle the stress of it.”
“Bingo,” I said and we both mulled over what could have been.
Key Takeaway: Even when you plan well and create an empowering CPR for the “big meeting” things may go awry. When they do don’t panic! Keep your focus on the context and purpose by steering the conversation right into the heart of the storm. Every problem is an opportunity in disguise. Throw your partner a life raft: The best way to deal with differences of opinion is to point out how your team is strong because of it. Explore the issue together with your investor and you will have a good chance of getting to the result that you wanted for the meeting and eventually the relationship.
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