There is a fable that goes something like this: An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.” The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

While the author is unknown, I think we owe the original writer appreciation. The story shows that what we focus on becomes our perspective. What we feed becomes larger and more powerful. What we starve becomes weak and withers.

As it applies to sales and business development, consider the two wolves that the prospect has living inside of them. One is Opportunity. One is Fear. While it might be nice to believe that our prospect truly only feeds one wolf, the truth is that both are being fed. They may feed one wolf more for a season, but then comes the next season (or hour) of feeding the other.

Let us update this little fable a bit. A seasoned sales warrior tells her young sales recruit, “My young and ambitious friend, there are two wolves that live inside every decision maker. One is Opportunity. It sees the world as a place of abundance; a place of opportunities for something greater, better, more inspiring than the status quo. The other is Fear. It is concerned with preservation and protection. One is growth, but it carries risk. The other is stagnation, but it festers in the ‘comfort zone’ of the status quo and the realm of ‘no decision.’ It also carries a more frightening risk … the risk of death by obsolescence and irrelevance.” The young newbie politely asks, “Oh wise one, which wolf wins?” To which, our sales veteran quietly responds, “Ah, that depends.”

Now that probably didn’t end the way you expected, did it? Well come now, life isn’t that clean. None of us expect that we can simply find decision makers who are focused on Opportunities or turn those who are in Fear back toward the light. Let’s be real, OK?

What we can do is understand that human nature shows us that both wolves will be fed — different amounts at various times. In the initial stages of the discussions, your decision maker may be excited and clearly “bought in” (as your call report states) but over time, the wolf of Fear is being fed. You see, when Fear is not fed, he tends to rumble. And that may not be such a terrible thing … depending on what he fears.

Let’s take a moment and see how the wolves are fed.

Our intrepid rep approaches a major account with a revolutionary new idea that could improve the customer’s revenue by 25 percent, add 10 more points to gross margin and drive their market share from No. 17 to No. 1 in less than 90 days. The meeting goes splendidly. Action items are created. Dates are confirmed for future presentations, proposals and a launch time frame is agreed to, “assuming everything proves out and we get buy-in.” The deal is baked. The wolf of Opportunity has been at work, feeding up at a ferocious rate. However, his opponent, Fear has been listening, lurking about and will not be left out of the feeding frenzy. Opportunity asked, “Is this a promising idea?” Fear asked, “Can this all go horribly wrong … for me …?” Suddenly our decision maker has to weigh the excitement of opportunity against the possible ravages of fear. The debate rages. The decision maker probably isn’t even aware of it. However, calls go unreturned. Progress is slowed. Deadlines are missed. And then Fear gets fed. “If we do this, am I the one who has to do all the work?” Score one for Fear!

Is it a promising idea = Opportunity

Could I get hung = Fear

Do I have to do all the work = Fear

Fear wins 2:1. No decision is made. Nothing happens.

Next time, let’s look at how we can use Fear’s hunger to our benefit. Until then, feed your own Opportunity and starve your own Fear. In the immortal words of the Highlander, “In the end, there can be only one.”

Brad Roderick
Brad Roderick

is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at broderick@inkcycle.com.