EPISODE 525: Collaborating with Customers for Sales Abundance with Patrick Aylward

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on March 19, 2022, featuring Patrick Aylward, author  of “The Collaborative Path.

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PATRICK’S TIP: “If we are going to interact with others in a way that we can be effective, then we need to know how what they’re doing and saying makes sense to them, instead of judging that, “That doesn’t make any sense. Why are they doing that? What a waste.” We need to shift from judgment to curiosity, and that really becomes the foundation of collaboration. In the same way that you can’t debate without being judgmental, you can’t collaborate without being curious.”


Fred Diamond: My guest today is Patrick Aylward and we’re very excited. He’s the author of a book that came out in 2020, it’s called The Collaborative Path. We haven’t really spoken about this particular topic in a while. We’re basically going to be talking about collaboration with your customer, what used to be called negotiation. It’s still called negotiation by a lot of people, but in the book, I think it’s an excellent approach on how you can all succeed to improve your quality of relationship. It’s great to see. You’re up in Prince Edward Island up in Canada?

Patrick Aylward: Yes. Prince Edward Island up in Canada, up in the Atlantic.

Fred Diamond: Good for you. Let’s talk about this. Tell me a little bit about your approach and what does it mean? What does The Collaborative Path mean?

Patrick Aylward: The real difference between it and most other approaches, even than basic negotiation or even then interest based or principled negotiations arising from the Harvard Negotiation Project, is that my approach starts at the moment of the interaction, not when things get tense. You think about it as any relationship, it’s easier to build than renovate. Just like a house, it’s cheaper to build than to renovate in a lot of cases. It’s hard to make a bad relationship good. It’s easier to make a good relationship better. As salespeople, salesmen know that all very well. The idea of collaboration is don’t let the relationship get to a bad state. Start from the outset and build from there. It keeps the relationship strong because it starts in a strong foundation.

Fred Diamond: I know you’re an attorney. What led you to writing this book? What led you to devoting a portion of your career to helping sales professionals become more effective at what they do with The Collaborative Path?

Patrick Aylward: Litigation is just so expensive, Fred, and you just see so much carnage from it. Then I’d studied conflict resolution and I thought, “Wow, I found the holy grail to improving communications.” The problem with it was it was all about how to fix relationships and how to fix contracts that went bad. It’s too late. There is too much damage and scar tissue from that. I looked at, “Where does conflict come from? How do we get to that stage?” How we get to that stage is we use debate as our fundamental approach to interaction.

Now, for customers and suppliers, that debate is friendly, isn’t it? It’s not fierce, it’s friendly, and it’s still doing the same thing. What are the two options? Well, here’s the pros. Yeah, but those are the cons. Yeah, but what if we do this? It’s still back and forth in that same win/lose type of approach to things. What if instead of taking that win/lose approach, you start from the outset and structure the conversation entirely differently? That really became the motivation, was to say, “Can we get to the problem before it becomes a problem?”

Fred Diamond: Well, Patrick, as we’re doing today’s interview, it’s March 24. It’s the beginning of the spring, we’re still in the pandemic and there’s a war going on. I got to ask you the big question, of course. You just said it’s very difficult once the relationship has gone astray to repair it. Well, sometimes you have to. Let’s say there’s a huge investment from the company, into your technology or your tools, and they’re deeply invested, but something happened. Maybe a new leader came on board who has his own solution he wants to put in play or something. What do you do in those situations when it has to? You need a resolution no matter how far gone it’s gone down the path.

Patrick Aylward: Right. The earlier you get to that problem to start to build that resolution, the better. How do you do that? Six simple steps. The very first one you do is not talk about the solution. The first thing you do is set parameter for the conversation. Instead of talking about, “What are we going to do to fix this?” Talk about, “How are we going to talk about how we’re going to fix it, before we have the conversation on how to fix it?” At that point, you can set the parameters so that the conversation does not become a blame one, and does not go to quick fixes that later turn out to be disastrous. Instead, it opens up the conversation in an atmosphere of safety and respect. Then permits the participants to have a conversation where they exchange perspectives around, “How are we seeing the problem differently? How are we being impacted? What are the impacts of it?”

From there, one of the problems with the debate, even the friendly debate, is we pick two options. We go, “Well, it’s got to be either this or this. Those are the only two choices.” Then we argue pros and cons. In my collaborative model, instead what we do is we define the issue neutrally and broadly so that it doesn’t attribute fault to anyone. It opens up the situation for the exploration of possibilities. After that, then we have a conversation around, “What is important to us? What do we want and want to avoid when we figure out the solution to this?”

When we know what we want and what to avoid, a couple of things will happen. But really the key thing that happens at that step is that there’s a growth in mutual understanding, because for every good supplier and every good customer, there are mutual interests around satisfaction, good quality work, value for money, that’s important to one side as it is to the other. When we reduce the situation to what we want and what we want to avoid, we’re going to see that commonality and compatibility of underlying interests. When people see that, they go from what would normally be a debate either/or, to a variety of things that are important that fit together with some level of compatibility. When that happens, there’s a growth in mutual understanding.

Usually we don’t have trust when we’re negotiating. We negotiate because we don’t have trust, not because we do. Mutual understanding becomes the bedrock for it. At that point, when you know what you want and what you want to avoid, then when you start to develop options, the options can be targeted to get you that, “What can we do now, next, or differently?” That will help us to get what we want and avoid what we want to avoid. Dramatically different approach than a debate.

Fred Diamond: We have a couple of questions coming in here. Jeffrey says, “What if my customer doesn’t have the same attitude of collaboration that I do and they’re basically a hard-bargainer?” Let’s talk about that for a second. It’s great that we have hopefully a couple of thousand sales professionals listening to today, and they’re going to read the book, The Collaborative Path by Patrick Aylward, or they’re going to listen to today’s show and say, “You know what? I’m going to attack it differently. I’m going to start from the approach that Patrick has.” I think most people, Patrick, want that.

Salespeople, they don’t want conflict. They want to get their solution into the hands of the customer. Most customers too. Most customers want to get the solution because they have a problem and they need to solve it. Hopefully your technology, or solution, or service, whatever it might be, is going to solve it. But some people think they have to hold onto a job and save a nickel, whatever it might be. Talk about that question from Jeffrey. What about the hard-bargainer? How does this model help or what?

Patrick Aylward: I love that question. I addressed in my book, a portion of it is dedicated to that, that whole idea of the poster concepts for why collaboration won’t work. People say, “What about the hard-bargainer? What about trust? What about bad faith?” and so on. The deal, Jeffrey, with the question that you ask about the hard-bargainer, sometimes it works, collaboration works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s no magic silver bullet that fixes every situation. The big thing is that in the set parameter stage, you can talk about, “How are we going to talk about this situation? How are we going to talk about building the solution before we start to build the solution?”

You can explore at that stage the attitudes and approaches. In doing that, you’re more likely to set the atmosphere for a collaborative conversation, even if that isn’t the other person’s ideal approach to things. You know what? If it doesn’t work, you’re at step one of my model. You can step back from it and go, “Okay. It’s going to be hardnosed negotiation. We can do that.” Question would be, “Why would we start at hardnosed negotiation when we could start at collaboration first and explore whether or not we can work with the hard-bargainer at the outset when we’re setting parameters?” Step one of the model.

Fred Diamond: We’ve got a question here from Tammy. Tammy says, “I’m not confrontational. I love to collaborate. Should I hand off my negotiations to my manager or someone else in the organization?” How about something like that, Patrick? Can everybody deploy this? A lot of times we know that when the deal reaches a certain point, there’s someone in operations, or maybe there’s someone who this is their job. Probably someone who’s an attorney, I guess, is probably going to be in that role, the corporate attorney. How about something like that? Are there skills that you’re teaching here that sales professionals can take all the way to the end, which would be, of course, a signed contract that needs to be implemented? Or do you recommend, “You know what? No matter how smart you are, get out of the way, hand it off to somebody else.”

Patrick Aylward: That’s an interesting question indeed. I think there’s always a point in the process where things have to be reduced to writing and the formalities. There’s always paperwork, no matter what. There is a stage where that happens. In the actual building of the relationship and accomplishment of the task, then yes, this collaborative model can be employed by the direct person in contact from customer to supplier, supplier to customer, and they can work it out to the point where they’ve outlined, “Here’s how we agree to proceed. Here’s how we see the problem. Here’s the issue defined neutrally and broadly. Here’s what we want and wanted to avoid. Here were the options we came up with. Lastly, here are the solutions that we selected for these reasons.” At that point, then it becomes relatively easy to hand that off to those who will formalize that into an agreement.

Fred Diamond: What do you see salespeople do wrong? Again, the audience of the Sales Game Changers Podcast are typically sales leaders, typically B2B, and people who work for them, B2B enterprise technology, enterprise software, media, commercial, real estate. It’s enterprise corporate level sales. What are some of the things, Patrick Aylward, that you see them doing wrong time and time again, that you hope they could correct?

Patrick Aylward: I would say they go in probably two veins. One is starting into the task, making the sale before building the relationship. The second one would be avoiding and accommodating too early in the process so that the competitive person on the other side is permitted full control of the process. That’s the beauty of collaboration. In my book I define collaboration as the pursuit of dual outcomes, better solutions to situations, and stronger relationships among participants. My model allows you to accomplish both the task of the sale and the strengthening of the relationship at the same time. It’s not choosing one over the other. I think that really is what sets it apart from most other approaches. Negotiation in the end is really a task-oriented type of approach.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. You do need to eventually get to some degree of agreement so that the work can begin, the transaction can happen, and things like that. Most of the sales professionals that we deal with here, we’re not talking about nuclear arms. We’re talking about the purchase of technology. Sometimes because of the way software has shifted to it being as a service, the purchase of the software has shifted over the last couple of years, which has led to some challenges with that. I’m kind of curious, software primarily was sold as an enterprise. You would buy on-prem, they called it, and you would buy a big chunk of it upfront. Now a lot of software has gone to the service model, software as a service. Are you familiar with that much? Has that changed some of the approach to some things you talked about in the book?

Patrick Aylward: I don’t think it does. No matter where you start in that, no matter what the transaction is about, it depends upon conversation and relationships to accomplish the tasks. The purpose of that is to accomplish it. It’s like international treaties. You mentioned war at the very start. People say, “Well, countries negotiate treaties.” Humans negotiate treaties. It depends upon the humans having the task of reaching the agreement and their ability to do that depends upon the strength of the relationship. Often it’s the interpersonal relationship among the negotiators as much as it is the substance of the treaty.

Fred Diamond: Actually, we have a question here that comes in from Jeremy. Jeremy says, “To be successful, I need to know what’s going on with my customer that he’s not telling me. How much does this play into today’s discussion?” Let me reiterate that a little bit. I think what Jeremy’s trying to say is we want to have inside information. We want to know things inside the company that we may not know about. Maybe there’s a big transaction happening. Maybe there’s an acquisition. Why are they looking to purchase our solutions when they haven’t been a customer before? Something must have gone wrong with another vendor, or something’s not happening. To be successful, we have to know that stuff.

Just to reiterate Jeremy’s question here, Patrick Aylward, how much should we know or do we need to know beyond the face-to-face conversations that we’re having with people, for us to be successful in the collaborative model? Do we need to do that sleuth type work? I’m not talking about spy stuff, I’m talking about just trying to get some inside information.

Patrick Aylward: Our ability to access information from others is highly dependent upon the strength of our relationship with them. When we start out on step one of set parameters for the conversation, when we start talking about, “How are we going to talk about what we’re going to talk about? How are we going to talk about how we form a business relationship and whether we can do that in a way that works for both of us?” That opens up an opportunity to have a conversation around, “How much does disclosure are we going to give each other? How are we going to play that out in a way that works for both of us? How much do we need, how much is appropriate, and where are the boundaries for that? Let’s talk about that before we talk about what the actual commercial transaction is going to look like.” If you have that conversation upfront and you’re really open about it, then you will find some reciprocation on that. If you don’t, then maybe this isn’t really where you want to go, or the commercial relationship you want to engage in.

Fred Diamond: In the book, Patrick, you say that collaboration is easy to learn and you can begin with two small changes. Where are those two small changes?

Patrick Aylward: I often say that you can start with, if you don’t want to try out all six steps at the outset, start with an attitude and an action. The action would be set parameters for the conversations. Start with, “How are we going to talk about what we’re going to do together before we actually decide planning what we’re going to do together?” That is huge. It gets conversations off to a great start, gets relationships off to a great start, and relationships that start well, conversations that start well, end well more than 90% of the time.

The other is an attitude, shifting from a judgmental attitude that you need for debate, to an attitude of curiosity that you need to collaborate. If you make that shift from judgment to curiosity, exploratory questions and exploratory conversation will casually open up things for you. If people just wanted to start to, “If I wanted to experiment a little bit with collaboration to become a little more collaborative in my approaches, how would I start?” That’s where I would start. I would start with asking that question, “How are we going to talk about our commercial relationship, the development of a relationship on an ongoing basis?”

Fred Diamond: Can people change, from your experience? If somebody’s been let’s say debate, confrontational. Again, we’re the Institute for Excellence in Sales, the main host for the Sales Game Changers Podcast. We believe that sales professionals, sales as a science. Of course, there’s some degree of, “You need to have courage. You need to be able to speak,” et cetera. But closing a $2 million software deal, you just don’t walk in and say, “Would you like to buy $2 million worth of software?” There’s a whole process. It can take 20, 30 steps. It can take months if not years for it to happen. You need to be a scientist in some regards, or an engineer, I should say. Is this something that people can change on a dime, they can shift by reading the book or bringing you on board to provide some training or consulting?

Patrick Aylward: Doug Hall, when he wrote Jump Start Your Business Brain, Doug was actually one of the testimonials on my back cover. He said that people only listen to one radio channel, WIIFM, What’s In It For Me? Yes, they can change and they do change when they start to embrace the collaborative model, because there is something in it for them. It makes conversations, and relationship formation, and task accomplishment easier. It takes less effort. It produces more stable results, it’s more efficient. It takes a little bit more time at the very outset. Then once you’re into that relationship with the individual, it will become easier to grow and maintain that relationship with the customer so that you’re not renovating and you’re not having walls falling in on it.

Fred Diamond: One last question and then we’re going to ask you for your final action step. We’re coming out of the pandemic, hopefully. We’re doing today’s interview in March of 2022. Thousands of people are going to be listening to this in spring and early summer 2022. What is your suggestions, again, for right now? Here’s the thing, Patrick. We talk every day. We’ve been doing a podcast every single day since the pandemic kicked in. It’s unbelievable that it’s been two years and we’ve seen so many things change and here we are still two years later, and hopefully we’re coming out, but you and I are both in our homes right now, I presume. You may be in an office, but it looks like you’re home. We’re doing today’s interview. I’m going to be doing this out of my home for the foreseeable future, but I also had lunch today with somebody. Things aren’t “back to normal”. We don’t even know what normal even means moving forward.

I’m just kind of curious. You published the book in November 2020. You probably started writing it before the pandemic, but here we are today. Give us a recommendation. I’m going to ask you for your action step in a second, but give us some of your thoughts of where we are right now and why The Collaborative Path can be such a critical resource for people in today’s world right now.

Patrick Aylward: In today’s world right now, even outside of sales and commerce, we’ve never seen – I think Doug Hall referenced that actually too in his endorsement of the book – we’ve never seen a society as polarized as it is right now. I’m not talking just United States, I’m not talking internationally only, Canada has its own versions of that, as do many other countries. We need to change the conversation for humanity, for effectiveness, for development, for advancement, for innovation. We don’t innovate, we don’t progress, because we’ve landed at great ideas by debating. We do that despite the fact that we use debate, and we need to change the conversation in order to prevent conflict before it ever begins. That’s really why I wrote the book.

It’s not about money. It’s never been about money. It’s about making an impact. We need to change how we interact as human beings in order to advance society. We can do that without sacrificing, and in fact, with enhancing productivity, commerce, trade, and business. A strong economy goes with a strong society, and we can have both. We have to change how we have conversations.

Fred Diamond: Again, Patrick Aylward, you’re the author of The Collaborative Path. I want to acknowledge you for the work that you’re doing for the book, which is hopefully going to help change the pathways of how people go about interacting. We’re talking about this all the time, not just collaborative, but we need to be more empathetic. We need to come to the table, be more vulnerable, be more transparent. Win-win has to be win-win. It can’t be me win, you lose. Those days are long gone. Nobody wants to deal with that anymore, we don’t have time for that anymore. Patrick Aylward, again, congratulations. Give us a final action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas. Give us one more specific action step people should do right now as they wind down listening to the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Patrick Aylward: Become more curious about why people say what they do and do what they do, on every level. I often say, Fred, that even the criminally insane have a reason for what they do. It makes sense to them. If we are going to interact with others in a way that we can be effective, then we need to know how what they’re doing and saying makes sense to them, instead of judging that, “That doesn’t make any sense. Why are they doing that? What a waste.” We need to shift from judgment to curiosity, and that really becomes the foundation of collaboration. In the same way that you can’t debate without being judgmental, you can’t collaborate without being curious.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. Once again, I want to thank Patrick Aylward, the author of The Collaborative Path. My name is Fred Diamond. This is the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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