What can we learn from an international arms dealer?
If you’re like me, when you think of arms dealing you imagine surreptitious deals, exotic locales, and high stakes negotiations with evil warlords. I assume American arms dealers look and act like Nicolas Cage in the movie Lord of War.
So you can imagine my surprise when I first met former arms dealer, Dave Chesson, who is 33 years old (and with a clean shave and bright smile he looks even younger). It turns out that most arms deals have nothing to do with dark smoke filled rooms and a lot do to with navigating the complex puzzle of international relations, legal regulations and coordination of multiple government agencies.
To patiently work through this system, most U.S. Embassies have an Office of Defense Cooperation Chief (ODC). This position is in charge of meeting with foreign nationals and handling all aspects of legal arms negotiations between nations.
While serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy, Chesson worked as ODC Chief in South Asia for several years. He has since retired from the military to become an entrepreneur. His website, Kindlepreneur, is devoted to teaching people how to sell more books on Amazon and he’s even launched a new software, KDP Rocket – neither of which have anything to do with the products he used to sell. He jokingly calls the move “from selling bullets to books.”
But regardless of what products Chesson is selling, he always tells any marketer out there the four tenents to good sales, which he learned by negotiating weapons deals for the United States.
Selling A Loaded Weapon
The most prevalent belief in weapons sales is to never sell a loaded weapon. But in reality, this type of thinking is wrong – unless you’re doing it illegally. No matter what kind of product you are selling, you need to ensure it encapsulates everything possible to ensure the buyer can effectively use the product for its intended purpose.
There’s nothing more infuriating than buying a remote controller and finding out it doesn’t come with batteries. There is nothing more frustrating than buying software, and having no adequate tutorials to teach you how to use it. There’s nothing more damaging to a country’s relationship than buying a multimillion dollar weapon system only to find out that they need spare parts, training, and guides in order to actually use it.
As a salesman, you’ll run across clients who will only request the bare minimum to purchase a system citing costs and savings. However, if and when that product breaks or supplies run out, they’ll look at that system and internally blame you for its ineptitude.
Chesson learned this first hand, thankfully from the blunder of another nation. While out on the field delivering new U.S. equipment to the military, a foreign general pulled him aside and pointed out a rusting boat keeled over in the field. (paraphrasing) “You see that, the Chinese gave us that wreck.” It turns out the ship was given for free. But without support systems and logistics, it now rots in a field and is seen as a “wreck” not a gift of good will.
Circumvent this by thinking through your delivery metrics. Are you giving them what they need, or will your product be seen as a “wreck”? In brief, provide so as to give a capability—a total solution—not just to give a product.
Speak Their Language – Benefits Not Specs
Specifications work well when you’re talking to engineers, but not so much when you’re talking to world leaders or corporations. Over Chesson’s time as ODC Chief, he had to repeatedly stop engineering teams for “over-nuking” the system with data and boring leaders to death with trivial details.
Instead of stating that the radar system covers 20 nautical miles at a particular clarity rate, tell them that the radar system will help them pick up illegal fishermen who have been using a particular area of the economic exclusion zone and will absolutely help their coast guard prosecute them better.
“I never fully knew how the radar system does what it does, nor did I care, but I absolutely understood what it would bring to that nation if procured. That’s what you need to sell them on!”
Purchasing Authority vs. Responsibility
In many cases, the person who you meet with to discuss product sales or weapons sales has the authority to make the decision but has delegated the responsibility to someone else. Therefore, never make the mistake of thinking the most important person in the room for your deal is the highest-ranking authority.
Before conducting your business meeting, make sure you know who will be there and ensure you know their roles in the purchasing process. That may seem obvious, but I’ve learned that most of the time, it’s not the highest-ranking officer you need to sway or convince. It’s usually the person whose knowledge and reputation has gained the trust of the highest ranking officer. This person is usually the most prepared and will be eager to ask the questions.
Knowing whom this is and their relationship in the purchasing process can go a long way in finding real success in a business deal.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
There will always be variables that are out of our control. No matter what you do, some things just won’t happen the way you like it. That’s why, especially in international arms dealing, you always under promise and over deliver.
New to the job, Chesson wanted to be a “yes” man and so he overstated the length of time it would take for a new set of equipment to arrive. “It wasn’t that we didn’t deliver what they wanted, but the fact that we took longer plagued future talks and made discussions a little harder in the future.”
If you’re late in delivery or can’t provide the terms requested and agreed upon, you’ll do more damage than if you just rejected the order in the first place. Over promising and under delivering will overshadow your deal, even if they still love your product.
In summary, whether you are dealing in arms, or books, or something else, make sure to focus on the benefits of the total solution, and make sure you deliver.