Sales strategy

Larry Peterson lpasoc at
Mon Dec 21 06:17:39 PST 1998

When an organization needs to questions its basic assumptions, or key
strategic assumptions and appears not to have the internal capability to do
so, then I suggest a guided process--like future search or a modification of
it before opening space. This is particularly true if it needs to do some
grief-work and let go of those assumptions. Some folks do not what to take
the time or pay the price for such reflection. Then, for me, Open Space may
or may not be appropriate. In those situations, the dead moose that is there
and not seen clearly by anyone, even the consultant, can emerge. This can be
most painful and it can lead down a road to substantial, transformative
change that will be healing in the long run. It may not mean that the client
thinks the consultant is wonderful in the short run, but truth has emerged
in a way that the organization can deal with it, if it so chooses. I believe
that risk has to be stated frankly to any client in the "sales" process. It
is a risk for consultants that the world cannot be neatly tied in pretty


-----Original Message-----
From:   OSLIST [mailto:OSLIST at] On Behalf Of Denis Hitchens
Sent:   Sunday, December 20, 1998 6:37 PM
To:     OSLIST at
Subject:        Re: Sales strategy

>Consider this an experiment. In making my reply, I have also left all the
>prior elements of the conversation. It makes for a rather long message, but
>at least a newcomer will have some idea what is being talked about. See how
>it works. H.
Following Harrisons lead, I'll continue with the thread but with only two
back  DH

>>Harrison, just told us why he never sold any open space.  But at the same
>>time he is a heck of a salesman.
>>He told us the secret, which makes him hot  --  the customers wants an
>>outcome and is usually unimpressed by the process.  But that is only half
>>it  --  the customer wants an outcome that offers some benefit to him/her
>>Most do not willingly pay to be harmed in some way.
>>And this is where Harrison the super star shines  --  he gets people to
>>even though they don't know that it won't necessarily not harm them.  (how
>>many negatives is that ??) Super.  I guess however there is some value in
>>providing customers with infomation of what might be harming their
>>businesses but that has not surfaced or the customers have not yet
>>John Naisbett in the original Megatrends (1983) said words to the effect:
>>"Even Ronald Reagan, both as B-movie cowboy and as President knew that it
>>was easier to ride the horse in the direction it wants to go".  Knowing
>>direction is probably of considerable value especially if you think you
>>to go in another direction.  And it could just be that OS will do just
>>for your would-be customers.
>>I guess if I would offer any advice it would be to discern some desired
>>beneficial outcomes and work on your 'open' manager in the vein of "well
>>you'll find out what is your likelihood of success", as the horse is
>>and carrying you with it.
>>The list of 'promises' do not in themselves constitute beneficial
>>though their content might.  Here we are faced with the important
>>between 'form' (or framework) and 'content'.  They do not tell you what
>>real outcome will be and have very high potential to lead an organisation
>>far from its managers' strategic intent.
>>Taking one view that could be terrific because it might save the
>>from disastrous mistakes, but the other side is also possible.  The
>>approach has been shown often to be completely incorrect.
>>I share your concern with sales strategy
>There is, as we all know, good news and bad news about Open Space. The good
>news is that it works. The bad news is that it works. But sometimes (you
>are quite right) the outcomes may not be quite what you expected (always)
>or wanted (sometimes). But either way, I have never found them to be
>non-useful, although in the moment some folks will have a very different
>view. My favorite story along this line is about a client I once worked
>with. It was a small consulting firm in a northeast city, and they had
>invited me to do an Open Space around their future. By 1pm on the first
>day, it was apparent to all that they (as an organization) had no future,
>and by the end of the afternoon, the organization had been radically
>re-configured, and to a certain extent, disbanded. All of this was done
>without rancor and with a great sense of relief. These were good folks,
>doing good work. But they had all been there and done that -- and now it
>was time to move on. Problem had been that nobody had put the Dead Moose on
>the table. But when they did, everything smelled an awful lot better.
>So there are risks, and some folks are very risk averse. Those folks,
>sooner or later, tend to go out of business.
When I was CEO of the Union at RMIT,  Brian Bainbridge was one of my Board
members.  We had mostly elected members, he often told me in my deepest
frustrations that:  "popularity does not equate to competency (or even

The major difficulty I perceive is that the popular prevails.  I see that
"Whoever is present is the right people" but if they simply lack competency
then all the chat, enthusiasm, energy etc will not help since they will
attempt to solve the problem with what Howard Gardner calls 'the
five-year-old mind":  that is, from something like first principles.

My story(s) is different.  I went to OZ OS on OS, and the topic arose that
all were interested in:  "How to market OST"  Now with the exception of me
(a former Australasian Marketing Manager for the Computer Group of Hewlett
Packard) all had no formal knowledge of marketing and few had more than the
fleeting experience of brochures and flyers.  At that point I had two
choices, in my view both bad,  because if I told them what really appears to
happen they wouldn't understand;  and if I let them embark on yet another
brochure without following the well established practical rules, they would
waste their time like the three times before.

The problem is that to do things well you in fact need a deep knowledge of
the domain.  And we are suggesting to people that a superficial, popular
view may suffice.

In Harrison's case, being consultant's (though unspecified ones) the
outcomes suggest that there were some underlying competencies in the
strategic planning arena, because without them the Dead Moose would not have

I work with two quasi Government agencies in the welfare arena.  Until this
year they were block funded, that is, they received a grant from the
Government and eked it out through the year.  Their clients were referred to
them from other Government agencies.  Accordingly there was no need to
understand marketing or selling, and fifteen years or more experience of not
needing these things was installed.

The BIG Day arrived and the Govennment announced that they had to find their
own clients and they would only be paid for the ones they "captured".

No amount of 'brainstorming', appreciative inquiry, or other techniques
would help because quite simply they did not have the models to follow.  In
one case their CEO had completed a respected MBA;  but of course, had no
experience.  He could quote text books, but had no idea how to string
together a cohesive plan.  In fact, he couldn't even work out a new purpose
for the organisation.  I don't think that is a fit for OST.  No doubt they
would have had a great time and they might have constructed a plan of sorts,
but without the necessary underpinning of a real knowledge of business they
might just have well never have started.

They needed to learn before starting on a process.  They needed the start of
a deep knowledge of the business domain before anything made sense to them,
but they could have been 'sold' OST as a 'saviour' on the basis of
Harrison's story.

The question is not that it works in either direction, but how do you
provide psychological safety (to use Ed Schein's words) to the customer.  Ed
believes that change is inhibited by two opposing forces which he calls
'survival anxiety' and 'learning anxiety'.  OST appears to me to address
these simultaneously and therefore could easily be one of  the most
important things in the world.

But you still have to sell it.  And in this case we are not talking about
techniques but the over-riding principle of meeting the customer's need.
This requires discernment of the need and indication of a strong likelihood
that they will receive a beneficial outcome.

It is not a question of writing them off as 'risk averse', they should be
regarded as prudent, because you can't assure them that you won't harm their
business, including their own livelihoods and that of their staff and other

The question is "How do you characterise OST so that you can qualify the

Lists of what might happen and 'it depends on' are not sufficent and suffer
from the very lack that I suggest is inherent in most spaces, that is, lack
of depth of domain, and, unless real capability is present, lack of depth of

That got a bit long, but it is a big issue and very important to solve in my

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