Bob Markman, a talented financial advisor of my acquaintance sees Japan entering a lengthy period of decline. His logic: China will become an economic superpower and the other “Tiger” nations will continue to thrive. Since the rest of Asia has long memories, Japan’s actions before and during World War II will lead to the rest of Asia excluding it from joint ventures and regional development efforts.

Time and the global economy will reveal Markman’s ability to prognosticate. I thought of his analysis after reading that both CompuServe and America On Line initially chose to deal with Netscape, largely spurning Microsoft. Not very long ago, Microsoft announced its entry into the on-line services business, describing cut-throat pricing and bundled interface software. This led to jitters throughout the on-line services industry, and a great quote from Steven Case of AOL: “Tell Bill Gates this will be his Vietnam!”

I thought of Markman’s analysis again now that both CompuServe and AOL have signed deals with Microsoft. It appears America On Line follows the lead of America On Earth, which counts Japan and Germany among its close allies.

Some of us admire Microsoft’s aggressive business practices, others decry them. Regardless, I wonder if it will find itself in the position Markman predicts for Japan: will companies base future alliances on the memory of Microsoft’s past tactics, or will they follow the American model, pragmatically allying with former enemies?

The same issues apply on an individual level – to you and your business relationships, which usually follow the Asian model. Adversarial relationships can last a long time.
People care deeply about the programs they sponsor and adopt. People view projects, programs, vendors … stuff they’ve bought into … the way they think of their pets (hence “pet project”) or maybe their children. They … we … become personally involved, and sometimes lose perspective completely.

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to focus on winning this one issue, losing track of the larger context in which you’re operating. When you choose tactics to win that damage your relationships in the organization, you’ve reduced your ability to win the next point. Eventually, the process of winning will result in your complete inability to function, and you’ll have to move on to the next jungle, where you can start your practice of slash-and-burn agriculture all over again.

So here’s some practical advice: choose antagonistic relationships (the word “enemy” is so melodramatic!) carefully.

Whenever you’re trying to make a point, win an argument, sell a program, or whatever, you’ll encounter resistance from one quarter or another. I suggest the following 5-step approach:

1. Take a deep breath and decide how important it is to you. Is it worth your full effort, or does it make more sense to simply make your case and live with whatever decision happens?

2. Exploit your relationships with key decision-makers, guiding them to the “right” perspective, which is to say, yours. If you haven’t built strong relationships yet, get going. They’re more important than all the logic you can muster.

3. Build a relationship with those taking the opposite side. Try to win them over, if not to your opinion than to understanding you’re taking a legitimate, professional position. Create mutual respect.

4. Find something to create the appearance of a compromise – something to give your adversaries in the process. In other words, make it look like both sides win … to your adversaries, not just to outside parties.

5. Don’t be a sore loser. If it doesn’t go your way, don’t walk away grumbling about office politics and plotting your revenge. This is an opportunity to show some class. Take advantage of it. Buy the winner lunch and figure out how you can jointly sponsor the next program.

And how should you deal with your adversaries in the future? Opinion: holding grudges is a mistake. Forgetting character is an even bigger mistake.

Let’s do some math. You manage 1,000 nodes in three locations within one city. Figuring a three-year life per node, that comes to something like $700,000 per year for PCs, maybe $30,000 per year for file servers, $10,000 per year for concentrators, routers, and so forth, and maybe another $25,000 per year for your WAN. Add sales tax and do some rounding and you’re spending a million a year.
Of course, your bosses selected you on the strength of your skills in product selection, negotiation, and contract management.
What? Nobody ever trained you in these skills? You can bet your adversaries, professional salespeople, have had a lot of training. In fact, they have well-defined tactics for dealing with you. People in sales do what it takes to make the cash register ring.
So look out for your own best interests. That can mean neutralizing the more unscrupulous tactics many sales professionals use. You don’t believe they play hardball? Here are some steps taken from the marketing strategy of a major manufacturer in our industry. The strategy assumes that when the customer chooses a competitor’s product, it’s not because that product has superior technical features or a lower cost but because the sales team made “marketing errors.”
To remedy these “errors,” the sales representative and his or her manager will pay a call on the decision maker, asking for specific details on why the decision went against them. Then, within a few days, they will call on the decision maker and his or her manager to refute the decision. If cost is one of the reasons, the salesperson might say something like, “Don’t expect to get something for nothing.”
The next call goes to the manager without the decision maker present, with the sales manager trying to discredit the decision maker as having made errors, losing track of the business purpose, and becoming emotionally involved in the decision.
According to the document: “An important part of this strategy is to occupy management’s time, to worry the recommender and evoke displays of emotion from him, thereby giving proof positive of his loss of objectivity.”
This same marketing document describes the “Three ‘S’ tactics:” scare, stall, and sell. Included under scare is “May jeopardize your job,” “May try to get you fired,” and “Go over your head to your boss.”
When their management explains to your management that you’re just an overgrown tech weenie who doesn’t understand the business issues, do you think you’ll win by hauling out your Request for Proposal and walking your management through it?
Nope. You’ll win if, when you announce your decision, you remind your management of the facts of life: that you’ll have one winner and four losers, and that at least one of them will try to go over your head to discredit you, your process, and your decision.
Encourage your management to say it has been fully informed about your decision. Ask them to express complete confidence in it. Ask them to note that the sales force failed to get the company’s business and clearly has an axe to grind.
Then, when a sales representative calls your boss, you have some assurance he or she will answer the telephone with a clear head and perspective.
When they call you, make it clear that if they accept the loss gracefully you’ll welcome them into the next competition, but if they try to go over your head you’ll make sure they never get a dime of business from your company as long as you’re there.