Venice has the most incredible ones. Perhaps in the world.
I’m not talking about their canals or the pigeons at St. Mark’s Square. Venice has the most ornate, original, innovative, and beautiful Venetian Carnival masks you will find.
If you look back throughout history, the wearing of masks was problematic for centuries. In 1268, the city’s governing bodies, in an attempt to control masquerading, voted for the first of many city statutes that would control the wearing of masks in public. Venice tried to control when and how and who wore masks in public.
So why do your decision makers get to wear masks?
In 1608 a decree was issued declaring that the wearing of the mask posed a serious threat to the Republic. Every citizen, nobleman and foreigner alike, was obliged to only wear a mask during the days of carnival and at official banquets.
As the tradition continues today, visitors from around the world come to Venice to take part in this exceptional event of uninhibited celebration during the Venetian Carnival.
In your daily professional life, who is wearing a mask?
Come with me through the sales cycle. You do your homework to find the prospect. You identify the decision maker or they identify themselves. You meet. You painstakingly craft a polished proposal. You return to the prospect to present the perfect proposal or email the proposal and wait for the YES to be transmitted back to you. You wait. And then comes the email or phone call to tell you that someone else, with whom you never met, has misgivings or has rejected the proposal. Has this scenario ever happened to you?
How do you know who really owns the project? You know buy-in is important, but buy-in from whom? Some decision makers wear the mask of the non-decision maker. Some non-decision makers wear the mask of the decision maker.
You are ahead of the game if you know that prospects and clients wear masks. You may win the game if you know how to identify the decision maker behind the mask.
Who is wearing a mask in your professional life? How do you know?
What can you do to strip away the masks to find the real decision maker? Who is wearing a mask to project more responsibility than they have? Who is wearing a mask or to prevent you from going through the real decision maker?
How do you know?
The only way to distinguish the real decision maker from the one masquerading as a decision maker is to ask questions. Questions are all you have going for you on your side of the equation. The masked marauders have the information edge. Three tips to help you identify who is wearing a mask, with grateful contribution from Alan Weiss, Ph.D, Summit Consulting Group, Inc.
1. Adopt a no-mask mindset
Adopt the mindset to disbelieve the decision maker, regardless of their title or believability. Be diligent in asking questions, even if you think you are talking to the real decision maker. Remember, nothing changes after the words EVEN IF.
Even if you think the CEO has the authority, ask three questions.
Even if your contact has identified himself or herself as the owner of the project, ask three questions. Perhaps they are planning on bringing someone into the project or want someone else to share in the responsibility.
2. Be prepared
Let’s be honest, how do you ask someone if they are important or if you can skip them?
Are you important or just pretending? So how do you really ask?
Prepare questions that you would really ask:
At the end of the day who will sign off on this project?
Is there anyone else you want to bring in to this process?
From whose budget will the funding come?
3. Practice asking the questions.
To better your odds that you will unmask the decision maker, ask a series of three questions. It is difficult for people to hide or pretend consistently through three questions
Practice asking the questions out loud. Practice in front of a mirror.
Practice asking on a faux phone call.
Your goal is to get to conceptual agreement with the decision maker. Once you get conceptual agreement you have a baseline to hold them accountable later.
Perhaps most importantly, hold yourself accountable. Hold yourself accountable to ask the questions to find the authentic decision maker. Swords are bloody when you have to fall on them. Bloody once shame on them. Bloody twice, shame on you.