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Persuading With WIIFM (What's In It For Me)
Smart kids know the best way to persuade parents: start with WIIFM. Smart adults forget this and overcomplicate things. Don't! Always consider this high-empathy question to find win-win solutions.
Let’s start with front-loading the WIIFM to you, dear reader. Would you like be more effective at the following:
Negotiating and winning new business
Landing that new job
Getting that bonus, raise, or promotion
Evolving your current job from X to Y
Getting your teammates more enrolled and engaged
Convincing your significant other of your crazy new business venture
Raising capital for your startup
If not, feel free to move onto something more important. If so, please keep reading.
WIIFM thinking has helped me in each of the above. I’ve been the lead sales engineer on $1M contracts. I’ve had the benefit of 4 competing CTO offers without dusting off my resume. In one company I negotiated a 20%, then a 21%, and then a 42% raise based on performance.
I say this not to brag, but to underscore that it’s a lived experience for me. I know that I’ve worked my butt off, had some big successes, and some epic failures in my career history. I know that I’ve learned from all of this, and can transform these these skills and experiences to better and faster results going forward.
How I Got Started With WIIFM
Ben Fanning, my business coach, was invaluable at helping me in high-stakes negotiations (promotions, salary, customer contracts, etc). Whenever I started to get too fancy or frenetic in describing my approach, he brought me back to a key question: “where’s the WIIFM?”
What’s. In. It. For. Me.
It sounds transactional, but it’s a high-empathy question. Humans are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Businesses are mandated to seek growth and avoid bankruptcy. We all have challenges that keep us up at 2 AM in the morning. When the stakes are high and the moment is brief, how will you be able to apply your skills, experiences, and energy towards turning those challenges into opportunities?
WIIFM and The Interview Process
I was just on a mastermind call with a woman who kept getting rejected in the interview process for not being too technical enough. She and the interviewer were focused on the job requisition and whether or not she measured up on a bullet by bullet basis.
This is fine if she already scores 8 out of 10 or better on those dimensions, but what if she doesn’t?
One of the dirty little secrets in tech is that sometimes the most effective technologists don’t even write code. They can be great pattern-matchers that help connect and configure off the shelf programs to achieve an outcome at a fraction of the cost. They can be great communicators that help catch/clarify requirements, eliminating busy or unnecessary work. They can be great coordinators, helping to assemble pieces of code from multiple team members and ensure things are quality checked and shipped on time.
My suggestion? Ask the hiring manager ahead of time to get the top 3 challenges and opportunities the company/team/department are facing. Make sure to spend time digging deeper on the call to understand the cost of NOT fixing and the possible upside of resolving. Overlay specific experiences and skills where she’s done that in the pass, and highlight a 1 day, 1 week, and 1 month plan of attack to start moving on it.
In short, WIIFM. If the hiring manager is comparing her to another candidate, the hiring manager has a clear sense of where and how they will plugin and create value in the existing organization regardless of whether they are an exact match to the job req. Hell. It’s possible someone is a PERFECT match to the job req, but it was the wrong hire to begin with. The company may think it doesn’t have enough developers, but it may have a communication, management, or coordination problem. Help them uncover and fix that, and you can write your own job description.
Keeping Top of Mind
As I said at the beginning, smart kids know how to convince their parents. “If I get a car, I’ll be able to commute back and forth to school without you needing to stay in those long drive lines in the middle of your work day. You’ll no longer have to flex your hours later into the evening when you’d rather watch the game with your friends.”
But as adults, we want to create a 30 page proposal that talks about all the credentials and case studies we have. That’s fine if that is exactly what they are looking for. But 30 pages of strategy and tactics must fundamentally answer the question: what’s in it for me? If I do this, how exactly do I save time, make money, reduce stress, or otherwise benefit? If that’s not clear, then go back to the drawing board.
I said at the beginning of this article that this strategy could be effective at helping with everything from landing a job to landing new business. I provided some anecdotes from my own life, but also walked through an example with an interview process. It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t require keeping it at the top of your mind.
We are all the center of our own experience. Staying empathetic to the wants/needs of others is hard for a lot of people. But if you do try and adopt this philosophy, you will start to notice an increased ability to persuade and influence people.
Use this wisely and without manipulation. If you don’t, people will become distrustful of you. If that happens, your ability to persuade and influence people drops to zero. Like the kid that makes everything transactional, it saps the joy and life out of the relationship.
Keep WIIFM in mind, but don’t wield it like a weapon. Instead, use it as a sanity check to make sure that any big ask is proceeded with an even bigger give. Show the other person they matter, and that will help them trust this all comes from a good place aiming for a win-win.