The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!

What happened after my van was broken into (or how you can harness a customer’s negative experiences for good!)

My van was broken into the other night.

Someone removed the front front side window, from the outside, without breaking the pane. They took a dashcam and walkie-talkie but kindly left the window pane in the gutter unbroken!

The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!
The [passenger side] window in question – right above the door handle!
I’m ok, all is well but I had a problem:

  • I had a van with no front, forward, drivers side window
  • I had a pane of glass, and empty hole in the seals where it should be

What were my options here?

1) Fix it myself – if it just ‘came out’, it must ‘just go back in’ – how hard can it be?

Result: Had a go. Turns out, quite hard.

2) I drove to my favourite garage to get them to fix it.

Result: They were busy until Friday and I got the sense they didn’t really want to look at it.

3) I drove to my second choice garage.

Context: This is the garage that my parents always used to use, but recently the long-time owners retired and some new mechanics took over. I had no experience of them at all.

Result: When I arrived, the lead mechanic was busy doing an MOT, but told me that when his colleague got in in 15 mins time, he’d put him straight on it. I was happy to wait!

20 minutes later, with creative use of string, dishwasher fluid and elbow grease, my window was back in the frame where it should be. And I was standing there in awe, very glad to have outsourced that to the experts – and convinced it’d have taken me several hours of blood, sweat and tears to give up – without the same techniques.

I went to pay – happy to be in one piece again and be able to move on with my life.

But they wouldn’t take any money off me. The lead mechanic said “you’ve had a shit night – it’s nothing – I won’t take any money off you”.

I was floored. I was insanely grateful. Almost uncomfortably grateful. For the next half hour I kept wondering – how do you repay something like that?

Analysis: If we look at what he did through a business lens: They’re in a situation where perhaps they are re-establishing and want more business. The customer (me!) has had a poor experience – and at no fault of garage. The garage does something expected – and offers timely fixing – then does something unexpected – and does it for free. The customer is very happy.

But perhaps they also know that the customer will talk about that poor experience (everyone talks about getting broken into) and that for a relatively small cost (perhaps time that wouldn’t have been used anyway) they could position themselves, in that customer’s story – as the one’s who came to the rescue when things went wrong.

No-one tells their friends about an MOT they just had, but a story of how “someone stole all these things, but then the garage were so lovely afterwards” – that’s a story people do tell!

And from a human angle, it’s win-win too. Everyone loves the feeling of doing something that someone is profoundly grateful for – so it feels good too.


The garage in question was Fairways Motors on Arundel street in Glossop.

If you visit them, feel free to mention this story. I don’t imagine they’ll do the same thing everytime, but for what they did yesterday morning, I’m truly grateful.

Will they become my first preference garage? Well, at least now I’ll consider them. ;-)


I wonder where else you’ve seen this used? Do you ever have sad customers coming your way you can help? I’d love to hear more examples of this kind of thing – tell me your stories in the comments!

Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don't realise you've lost until you do.

Why I failed at a Sales Conversation that looked like it went well

Back when I was a technical sales person trying to help customers find the right hosting solutions for their products, I had a sales memorable interaction.

A customer “Alice” get in touch, looking for an onsite meeting to discuss what they needed. Me and a less technical colleague, “Brendan”, went to visit.

At the meeting, we picked up the basics of the situation: Alice was a solo senior developer within a nontechnical organisation, working on a business-critical piece of software that the organisation used every day. The organisation was hoping they might spin the software out and get other organisations in their niche to use it – SaaS-style.

Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don't realise you've lost until you do.
Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don’t realise you’ve lost until you do.

Alice had complete technical control over the development, and whilst I didn’t know the technical realm too well, I asked LOTS of questions. “How were they handling this?”, “What libraries were they using?”, “How were they deploying?”, “Would they be comfortable working like this?”, “Who was looking after these kind of things?”, “When was the system in use?”.

Alice loved it. She took me through the technical architecture in great detail, with me treading along the edge of my conversant line of that technology, with my colleague Brendan well out of his depth.

After we left, Alice tweeted about how great it had been to chat to sales people who understood and took such an interest. I was elated. What better feedback could you get from a prospect?

One thing that’s better is an order. We didn’t get the deal.

During the entire conversation, we’d done a great job of winning Alice over, but failed to discover the key decision maker was Alice’s boss. This cost us the deal.

Ultimately, Alice’s Boss, a nontechnical decision maker within their organisation, made a decision to go with a household-name brand because of a sense of familiarity and legitimacy. Failing to discover and anticipate this caused us to sell to the technical person, but miss the opportunities to address the Boss’s concerns.

We could have asked “When are you looking to make a decision about this? Who’s involved in making this decision? How do things like this get decided in your organisation?”. I could have been presumptuous and just asked “Does your boss give you the freedom to decide suppliers like this on your own?”. It’s possible I’d have got some reply along the lines of “I’m not sure” – and even that would have better than being blindsided by it later.

If we’d found out that their Boss was involved in the decision, we might have been able to provide some extra context or collateral to Alice to take to the Boss – maybe organisations in their sector using us. Maybe a very tailored case study written from a nontechnical perspective of an organisation also trying to make a side business selling their line of business software. Maybe things mentioning the very precious business critical things we kept running and supported everyday. Crucially – none of this would be aimed at the highly technical person – Alice.

Classically trained sales people have used mnemonics for years to help them check (amongst other things) that the person they’re talking has the authority to make the purchase they’re discussing with you. This was a timely impetus for me to revise up on those things to check for – we shouldn’t have stumbled on such a basic hurdle.

Being such a great fit for the on-the ground users really rubbed salt in the wound – we could have done better!

Live & Learn!


Names have been changed.

Do you have a story of a sales conversation that didn’t go to plan? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Listen First, Then Listen More

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Listen First, Then Listen More”

Everyday we hear things, TV, people talking to us, but how much do we listen?

Sometimes, it’s quite easy to talk – if someone tells you about their recent holiday, sometimes it’s tempting to talk to them about your recent holiday the moment you get a chance. But that’s not always what you should do.

Lots of people, starved of good listeners, find actually actively being listened to a very powerful thing. You can gain respect, make friends,  simply by listening to people.


When I tried to do politics, and stood in the 2010 general election for the Pirate Party, we learnt this the hard way.

If you ever get involved in a political campaign in the UK, you’ll find that the best way of engaging with voters, is knocking on their door. This is kind of scary the first 2-300 times, but to some degree the fear subsides.

What we came to learn was that it was much easier, and much more effective to knock on people’s door and ask them what problems they had in the neighbourhood, than knock on the door and try and get them to vote Pirate.

A couple of weeks ago, I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which pretty much codifies, and expands upon what we learnt on the streets: people like being listened to.

During a council election campaign, there was this one council house that we knocked on, and asked if they had any problems with the council. At first they said “nope, we have no problems here”, and then “well there is just one thing” and showed us an uncollected recycling bin, and then “oh well there is one more thing”, and showed a half-smashed window, and another bit where the council hadn’t made a correct modification to accommodate one disabled resident, and a string of other things. When we got back to our base, we had huge wad of issues we knew we could help them with, and we knew their life stories.

In contrast, I remember a lovely lady, I once tried to persuade to vote for me. She’d lived in the area for ~30 years, and I’d lived there for ~2, and in the nicest possible way, she batted questions at me to try and get me to justify myself. I suspect I talked myself out of her vote, simply by answering honestly. It was around then, that I decided that trying to influence politics was less enjoyable than I’d hoped, even at the best of times.


My girlfriend once described me as an extroverted introvert, and I sort of agree:

When you first meet new people, sparing using your words, and encouraging them to do the talking can help you to understand where they’re coming from and how to help them relate to you.

It’s easier this way too – you don’t have to say much, and can get a feel for what they’re interested in, and how best to respond to them.

It can even help over email.


One theoretical problem I’ve often thought about is, “if you meet someone very well known, who you respect the work of, but have little to say to, what should you say?”  What should you say if you met Tom Cruise, or Katy Perry or David Beckham or someone?

It’s complicated, but, my feeling is that relying on pieces of wisdom like these can help:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.”

-Plato

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

-Abraham Lincoln


When it comes to customers, and business, encouraging customers to talk about things that they care about can make a great deal of difference. I like rock climbing, and I was looking over this customer’s website, and I noticed the person I was talking to was also a climber, so I asked them where they’d been recently. It was as if I’d opened a floodgate – suddenly they were recommending me places to go to develop my climbing, and suddenly it felt like we were communicating on a friend-to-friend basis, rather than a business-to-business.

Another memorable moment is once when I went to a customer site to work out how we could help them. Talking about the tech they were building, where they were, where they were going, what their challenges were made a real impression on them. I thought I was just sort of gathering information, somehow, by being interested and asking them questions about how they planned to do things, they were delighted to have someone to explain it to. They took me through these details, those plans – and by the time we left, I understood a great deal about their system. The customer was so happy, they broadcasted on social media about it, and still remembered it a few years afterwards.

I think it’s also relevant if someone has some criticism aimed at you, or something you’re in control of. Going and giving them your full attention, and saying “you’re absolutely right, this does sound serious – thanks for bringing it to my attention – I’d like you to tell me all about it”, can make someone feel a lot more valued, and pacified. Do that with enough passion, and it’s completely possible to turn their relationship with your business from frustration to love.


Listening is more difficult than it sounds, but you can learn to do it, and it makes people happy. :)

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.
Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Notes on a book: Pitch Anything

I’ve recently read Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff.

Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff
Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

It’s an interesting book, on the back someone’s written “move over Neil Strauss – Pitch Anything is the new the Game”. I think I can see why – they both inhabit an area of applied game theory or applied NLP, which when put into words, is likely to be quite polarising.

Pitch Anything explains an approach, or rather a toolbox of techniques, which one can use when trying to negotiate some kind of deal/pitch something to somebody.


A few months ago I read Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People (a very good book I need to reread and write about here) which quite early on explained the difference between co-operative and competitive negotiation strategies. Co-operative negotiators try to find out if there’s other concessions that can be made that might make a deal possible – for example in terms of a salary negotiation – the worker might explain that he’d like more money, explaining his young child needing childcare – his boss might offer instead that perhaps he could work more flexibly and together they could work out something that’d work for both parties – and the could review it in a few months time to see whether it was working. This is a classic example of where competitive bargaining techniques aren’t likely to get the best results.

A competitive bargaining situation might be where you’re buying a used car, you see the car listed for a bit more than you’ve seen other similar cars listed for, and you think it doesn’t look like it’s in such good condition as was promised. In addition, you’re unlikely to see the seller again (NB: a different approach should be taken when buying from a friend) so if you don’t competitively bargain, you won’t get the best deal. You might say you’d see similar cars listed for a lower amount, and you think it’ll need a bit of work doing, so you’re only willing to offer 70%. Then you might stick to that, and gradually move to say ~75%, but only when the seller has moved to ~80-85%.

(If this sounds scary and interesting – Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People is amazing.)

Most people have a native default to either co=operative negotiation styles, or competitive negotiation styles, which they prefer to apply to things.

The thing is, a co-operative negotiator and a co-operative negotiator will find a good result and a competitive negotiator and a competitive negotiator will find a good result (though they may not find as good a solution), but co-operative negotiator put against a competitive negotiator will lose out, big style.


Pitch Anything doesn’t cover any of this, nor does it say that in co-operative negotiating situations, you should probably avoid anything written in this book. The author’s background is investment banking, which clearly has a much more competitive atmosphere to negotiating deals.

I think this book is excellent at providing advice on how to teach yourself to approach a specific type of negotiation with a competitive mindset.

Various parts of it might seem like “being a dick” – and I think it’s worth being aware of that. Ignoring someones receptionist, and storming through a building, opening every door asking to speak the managing director *is* rude. In the context of someone who’s effectively stolen $600k your money into a ponzi scheme? Perhaps that what you need to do to show that you mean business.

In fairness, the book makes it very clear about keeping it fun, and like any tools, you can apply them to situations as you see fit.

The book is heavy on detail, and Oren is a master at starting stories and leaving you waiting for the ending (in itself a pretty fun trick), but I think it will be two or three reads through before I’m funny able to grasp his approach from start to finish.


It’s a fun book, and if you’re generally quite a co-operative negotiator, then I recommend it – it’ll improve your confidence in those slightly more competitive situations, (which you don’t like, because you feel people walk all over you).

I’d probably recommend reading the negotiation strategy book mentioned above, first, but feel free to just dive in.

If you’re a traditional sales person, you too, might find it interesting. Basically it’ll throw out everything you’ve ever learnt. It’s polarising, and I suspect many traditional sales people won’t like, specifically because it walks all over them.


Anyway, that was fun. I’ve various other books on the go, and hopefully I’ll write them up when I get to the end of the next one.