Extra Edition / Business Management

The Positive Power Of Negative Preparation

October 14, 2004
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Dan Kennedy at a speaking engagement.
I've been involved in what I've labeled "the success education business" since 1976.

Since 1978, I've been an active member of the National Speakers Association - fraternizing and consulting with hundreds of people who earn their livings as professional lecturers and seminar leaders, including some whose names you know.

During that time, I've spoken to nearly 6 million people from the platform, maybe more, about success-oriented topics. I've delivered as many as 100 speaking presentations a year for major corporations and associations and at large public events. (Only in the past couple of years have I deliberately cut back that pace.)

And I have frequently been mislabeled and misintroduced as a "motivational speaker" from the platform, in meetings, and at cocktail parties. As a result, I've had more conversations than I care to count with my students, clients, customers, peers, and friends about "positive thinking." Through it all, I've come to the conclusion that:

At least 95 percent of the people who think they're positive thinkers actually have no idea what positive thinking is really all about.

Too many people think it's some kind of mystical, magical shield from the real world. They believe that if they just think positive, bad things cannot happen to them. If something bad happens to somebody, they say: "See, you weren't thinking positively."

But it just doesn't work that way.

You can think positive until you are turning blue from the effort, but you'll still run into obstacles from time to time. People who believe that positive thinking is supposed to keep the bogeyman away eventually wind up frustrated, discouraged critics of positive thinking.

Being a positive thinker does not mean that you should refuse to acknowledge the way things are. In fact, people succeed in business, sales, and marketing by dealing with "what is," not with "what ought to be."

The true positive thinker acknowledges potential and existing negative circumstances and reactions, and engineers a plan to overcome them, to achieve positive results. In selling or negotiating, I call this:

The Positive Power of Negative Preparation.

There's a great sequence in the movie Patton where General Patton is dozing the night before a battle in World War II. He has a book on his lap: German Field Marshal Rommel's book on tactics. The next day, Patton's troops drive Rommel's troops off the battlefield into retreat. As the gunfire and other noise ends, Patton is standing alone, leaning forward, stage-whispering across the battlefield:

"Rommel - I read your book."

Some people would say that acknowledging Rommel's expertise as a tactician and preparing to counter any possible successful moves was being negative. They're wrong.

It was positively brilliant.

In several of the most successful, profitable, complex negotiations I've been involved in - buying and selling businesses; assembling capital; developing relationships with celebrities, manufacturers, and producers in the TV infomercial business - I've prepared by anticipating and writing down every possible question, concern, and objection the other party could raise, and then formulating my responses in advance.

I carefully analyzed every weakness in my position that might be attacked, and thought of ways to respond effectively. I thought of every possible thing that could screw up the deal, and then thought of some preventive measure to take in each case.

I was thoroughly prepared, from a negative perspective.

In 1999, I sold one of my companies. That entire process, from first approaching my chosen buyer to cashing the check, took only six days. In 2003, I sold another of my businesses, in less than 20 days.

These are typically complex sales situations fraught with peril, from deal-killing lawyers to hidden agendas to misunderstandings, and on and on. The speed with which I completed these sales is testament in large part to careful negative preparation.

Who Else Uses The Positive Power Of Negative Preparation?

I'm a bit of a sports freak, and as a public speaker I've had the terrific opportunity of spending time backstage in the "green room" with champion athletes like Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, George Foreman, and Mary Lou Retton, and with top football and basketball coaches. I have talked about this subject with all of them and found consensus. These champions have super-strength positive attitudes, but they also widely use the positive power of negative preparation.

Most successful coaches go into each game with more than one prepared game plan.

They have a plan to follow if their team gets ahead early in the game. They have a different plan to follow if their team falls behind. They have alternate plans ready to use different combinations of players, in case one key player is injured during the game.

That's not negative thinking; that's the positive power of negative preparation at work.

I've done a lot of work in planning, scripting, and implementing group sales presentations and training others to do the same. What I call "group presentation marketing" applies to everything from a Tupperware party to a seminar designed to sell $50,000 real estate partnerships.

There are a lot of special techniques for this type of marketing, but one of the most important is the anticipation and removal of the reasons for refusal or procrastination on the audience's part.

Sometimes this is done with subtlety, weaving the objections and responses into the presentation. Other times it's done quite openly.

One very successful presentation I designed ended with the presenter listing on the flip chart the four main reasons why people don't join - and then answering every one of them. But, in every case, every possible problem was thought out in advance and countered somehow during the presentation.

You also have to do this when you are selling in print. I am paid from $15,000 to $70,000 per project, plus royalties, as a direct response copywriter to write full-page newspaper and magazine ads, sales letters, infomercials, and other marketing pieces. More than 85 percent of all clients who use me once do so repeatedly, in spite of my high fees. Why?

One reason is my very thorough negative preparation. When I'm creating an advertisement, brochure, or complete direct mail piece, I make a list of every reason I can think of why the reader would not respond to the offer. I use that list of "negatives" as a guide in writing the copy.

And the other top direct response copywriters I know, like my friend John Carlton, also carefully consider these potential obstacles to the sale when crafting a message. This approach produces some of the most powerful selling techniques in print in the world.

If this strategy is important to us - the people who get paid as much to write one sales letter as many professionals earn in six months - then it should be important to you, too!

To help guide you, you may want to save and refer to the following.

Six Steps For Using The Positive Power Of Negative Preparation

1. Forget preconceived labels of "positive" or "negative."

2. Make a list of every question, concern, or objection that the other person could possibly come up with.

3. Make a list of everything that could go wrong.

4. Develop positive responses to all the negatives you've thought of.

5. Have your information, ideas, and documentation well organized, so you can lay your hands on the appropriate notes and materials at a moment's notice.

6. Take great confidence from your thorough preparation.

This article is an excerpt from Dan Kennedy's new book on "what really works in selling" - the updated and expanded third edition of No B.S. Sales Success: The Ultimate, No Holds Barred, Kick Butt, Take No Prisoners & Make Tons of Money Guide. Published by Entrepreneur Press, it's available in bookstores and via major online booksellers. For more information, visit the author's Web site at nobsbooks.com.

Publication date: 10/18/2004

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