Leveraging the power of reframing, it is possible to turn a negative into a positive. By reframing into an appropriate context, even the most apparently limiting of traits may be seen as ultimately beneficial.

It is particularly sweet when you ‘steal’ and re-purpose a term or notion that your competitor uses as a weapon to denigrate your company or product – and use it against them.

Done well, such ‘appropriation’ not only inoculates your client from any negative message your competitors wish to spread, but can cause the client to become a proactive champion for your cause. And, it not only takes the weapon from the competitor, but causes them to shoot themselves in the foot if they continue to use it!

I give you as an example something I did when I sold for SAP: The sales force of another global ERP vendor (which also sold databases) was in the habit of describing our software as “electronic concrete” – implying it was grey, heavy, unyielding and inflexible. As someone who has always been fond of words and wit, I admired their concise summation. However, as I was also selling against them, I couldn’t afford for them to get this notion established in my marketplace – so, I decided to steal the term from them by pre-emptively using it myself whilst associating the positive benefits of concrete!

Obviously, concrete is grey, heavy and inflexible – it is also strong, consistent and reliable and hence is used in the foundations of virtually every major construction of the past 100 years. Having so ‘reframed’ concrete in that way, it was trivial to explain that SAP’s ‘electronic concrete’ was similarly strong, consistent and reliable by design, and hence that is why so many major corporations chose it as the foundation of their enterprise business process constructs.

“An organisation can be flexible, agile and responsive – provided that it has a firm footing – our ‘electronic concrete’ provides that” I would assert. I could continue with “as Archimedes said “Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth” so he was clearly anticipating our software.”

Whilst rather pleased with myself with how this new notion of ‘electronic concrete’ was received by one of my customers, I was absolutely blown away just days later when their CIO paraphrased my words to shut down one of his own dissenting staff (who had clearly been groomed by the competition) during a planning workshop I attended.

It got better. Within a few months of my initial appropriation – and having spread the story through the SAP Australia sales team – our Australian CEO ran with it as part of her keynote address to our Asia-Pacific Kick-off in Singapore. We had effectively inoculated the entire region!

The takeaway is simply this. If your competition is spreading negative stories about you, your company or your products – grasp, reframe and spread them yourself. It works just like an inoculation – a little piece of the virus, repurposed, becomes the cure.


Reframing – turning ‘not interested’ into ‘sold’

The practice of re-framing – the re-stating of an idea, position, proposition or problem (lets call it the ‘point’ of your communication) using different terms to evoke a different perspective for the audience, is one of the most powerful tools available to a sales professional – and one that all sales people must master.

The idea is that it is not simply the re-wording of the point being made – but the ‘re-defining’. You are not merely choosing different words with the same meaning because your prospect didn’t seem to ‘get’ the words you initially used – you are actually seeking to define the ‘point’ in a changed frame of reference or context more (and ideally, totally) aligned with the prospects perspective. Of course, this technique can be applied to many things – including selling – but is also common in politics and anywhere where ideas need to be conveyed and embraced.

A simple example may suffice: Say you are selling a box on ‘price:performance’ and the audience just isn’t buying it – it could be that they don’t care so much about cost but are VERY concerned for reliability and availability (this may be indicated by their existing choice of box – or by the very nature of their business). A simple re-frame might be “The real value of our box comes from the fact that at our prices, customers with the need can readily run multiple redundant systems at comparable cost to running single-point-of-failure configurations from other vendors. For those needing highest system availability, high levels of system redundancy is clearly the best path.”

With that reframing – the sell is now about reliability/availability, something this client is sensitive to, and with the added attraction of being able to run redundant devices just like the Internet/Military/Aerospace industry does (choose the best fit for the client) you have not only caught their interest but increased the size of the deal!

Key to mastering the ‘art of reframing’ is to understand that there are as many potential perspectives as there are people in the audience – so to win over that audience may require more than one reframe. Naturally such reframes should not be contradictory – they must support each other.

As with so many things these days – there is a lot of useful study material on the Internet, and I would recommend reading the following to develop your own understanding of reframing and its applicability. Here are some I think worthy of your time.

Of course, you may want to browse around from these places – and explore the likes of Milton Erikson and the evolution of NLP – worthwhile in my view.

Long time no blog

Whilst what follows may be very much contrary to ‘normal’ business-blog form, I feel that my blog-silence needs to be explained.

My mother, Marjorie – Madge to her many friends, passed away just three days ago after a three month ‘experience’ of cancer. For her it was neither a fight nor a struggle – it was a burden and an inconvenience – as well as a lesson and (dare I say this?) a gift.

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend all of January with her, to care for her and to talk with her – and often to just ‘be’ with her. In that time I believe that I saw that lesson, glimpsed that gift.

Despite her frail condition (she was 84 years old) with failing eye-sight and general weariness brought on by the cancer and other chronic conditions, Madge was positive, optimistic for the world (yet aware of her own fate) and demonstrably able to enjoy any kindness shown her; or any thought, suggestion, image or sound that might please her. She never once complained – not of the pain, the indignity or the seemingly endless diet of pills that her Doctors had prescribed and which she struggled to swallow every four hours. She had cleared a path through any negativity, any thing, notion or event that might interfere with her conscious embrace of remaining life and of impending death. She attained a state of grace, of calm, of acceptance of the inevitable – she was able to look into it and to see that her soon-to-be-realised death was but another life-experience.

Death came, mercifully, in her sleep – her breathing became so shallow it could no longer sustain her. She tapered off. Gently.