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The Command Position Principle

Living where I do, in a small village in rural North Wales, getting anywhere means driving along narrow country roads. Most of these are just about passable when two cars meet.

If you’re driving too close to the centre of the road, when two drivers meet you stop, glare at each other and no one goes anywhere. Drive too close to your nearside and in summer you’ll probably scratch your paintwork on the hedgerows, or in winter you’ll sink your wheels into mud.

Driving these lanes requires a balance between caring for your own vehicle and consideration for someone else’s, but all too often, I’ve seen drivers pushed towards the hedgerows and mud when someone who’s inconsiderate drives too wide because they don’t want to risk scratching their own paintwork or getting their wheels dirty.

If you learn to ride a motorcycle, you’ll be taught about the command position:

Approximate central position, or any position from which the rider can exert control over invitation space either side.

The command position helps motorcyclists stay safe, because when they ride in the centre of their lane it prevents other people, usually car drivers, from driving alongside, either forcing them into the curb or potentially dangerously close to oncoming traffic.

Taking the command position isn’t about motorcyclists being aggressive, it’s about them being confident. It’s them knowing their rightful place on the road and communicating that through how they ride.

I’ve recently been trying to take that command position when driving my car on our lanes. When I see someone coming in the opposite direction, instead of instinctively moving closer to my nearside — and in so doing subconsciously invite them into my space on the road — I hold both my nerve and a central position in my lane. Since I done this I’ve noticed that other drivers more often than not stay in their lane or pull closer to their nearside so we occupy equal space on the road. Although we both still need to watch our wing mirrors, neither of us gets our paint scratched or our wheels muddy.

We can apply this principle to business too, in particular to negotiations and the way we sell. Here’s how we might do that.

Commanding negotiations

When a customer’s been sold to well — more on that in just a moment — and they’ve made the decision to buy, the thing that usually stands in the way of us doing business is a negotiation over price. Some people treat negotiations as the equivalent of driving wide. They act offensively, because their aim is to force the other person into getting less, usually in return for giving more.

In encounters like this, it’s easy for us to act defensively. We might lack confidence in the price we ask for, or the value of the product or service we offer. We might compromise too early because of that. When that happens, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll drive away with less than we deserve unless we use the command position principle to help us.

Before we start any negotiation it’s important to know that both sides ultimately want to reach an agreement. This isn’t always obvious. If one side isn’t already committed, at least in principle, then it’s not a negotiation at that point, it’s something else.

For example, a prospective customer may be looking to learn our lowest price so that they can compare it to our competitors. When that’s the case, we’ve probably failed to qualify that prospect properly as, after all, who wants to be chosen simply because they’re the cheapest? In this situation, negotiating is a waste of time since we don’t yet know that it will result in us making a deal. We should enter into a negotiation only when we know where we stand. So ask confidently: “Are you looking to [make a decision]?”

When that’s been confirmed, it’s down to everyone to compromise until a deal’s been reached. That’s because good negotiations aren’t about one side beating the other, they’re about achieving a good deal for both. Using the command position principle helps us to maintain control over our negotiating space and affords us the opportunity to give ground only if we need to and only when we’re ready. It can also ensure that the person we’re negotiating with gives up some of their space.

Commanding sales

It’s not always necessary to negotiate when we’re doing a business deal, but we should always be prepared to sell. One of the most important parts of our sales process should be controlling when and how we tell someone our price.

Unless it’s impossible to avoid, don’t work out a price for someone on the spot. When we do that we lose control over the time and place for presenting our price alongside the value factors that will contribute to the prospective customer accepting that price. For the same reason, never give a ballpark or, worse, a guesstimate figure. If the question of price comes up before we’re fully prepared, we should say politely that we need more time to work out a meaningful cost.

When we are ready, we shouldn’t email a price for our prospective customer to read unaccompanied. Instead, create an opportunity to talk a prospect through our figures, demonstrate how we arrived at them and, most importantly, explain the value of what we’re selling to their business. Agree a time and place to do this and, if possible, do it all face-to-face.

We shouldn’t hesitate when we give someone a price. When we sound even the slightest bit unsure or apologetic, we give the impression that we’ll be flexible in our position before negotiations have even begun.

Think about the command position principle, know the price and present it confidently. That way we send a clear signal that we know our business and how we deal with people. The command position principle isn’t about being cocky, it’s about showing other people respect, asking for it in return and showing it to ourselves.

Earlier, I mentioned selling well, because we sometimes hear people say that they dislike being sold to. In my experience, it’s not that people dislike the sales process, it’s that we dislike it done badly.

Taking part in a good sales process, either by selling or being sold to, can be a pleasurable experience. Try to be confident — after all, we understand how our skills will benefit a customer better than anyone else. Our confidence will inspire confidence in others.

Self-confidence isn’t the same as arrogance, just as the command position isn’t the same as riding without consideration for others. The command position principle preserves others’ space as well as our own. By the same token, we should be considerate of others’ time and not waste it and our own by attempting to force them into buying something that’s inappropriate.

To prevent this from happening, evaluate them well to ensure that they’re the right customer for us. If they’re not, let them go on their way. They’ll thank us for it and may well become customers the next time we meet.

The business of closing a deal can be made an enjoyable experience for everyone if we take control by guiding someone through the sales process by asking the right questions to uncover their concerns, then allaying them by being knowledgeable and confident. This is riding in the command position.

Just like demonstrating we know our rightful position on the road, knowing our rightful place in a business relationship and communicating that through how we deal with people will help everyone achieve an equitable balance. When that happens in business, as well as on the road, no one gets their paintwork scratched or their wheels muddy.

About the author

Andy Clarke is one of the world’s best-known website designers, consultant, speaker, and writer on art direction and design for products and websites. Andy founded Stuff & Nonsense in 1998 and for 20 years has helped companies big and small to improve their website and product designs. Andy’s the author of four web design books including ‘Transcending CSS,’ ‘Hardboiled Web Design’ and ‘Art Direction for the Web’. He really, really loves gorillas.

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