I got cocky—and I failed. The setback would cost my team months of progress.
I’d connected to the Zoom meeting with a colleague to pitch our newest proposal—a premium service that would improve customer success and generate revenue for our company.
After a string of successes, I was riding high on my reputation with the executive team. I thought this meeting was a formality—an official rubber-stamp of approval so my team could get back to work.
After we presented our business case, the proposal went to a vote. The CEO, my boss, voted first.
“I’m not sure we understand the value proposition well enough,” he said, “so I’m voting ‘no’ on moving forward with this idea. I’d like the team to go back and get crystal clear on the value this new service would bring.”
I felt the hot flush of shame on my cheeks.
After my own boss, the CEO, had voted “no” to my proposal, how do you think every other member of the approval board voted?
I ended the Zoom and sat back in shock.
It wasn’t the rejection that bothered me. Leading at the highest levels, you get really comfortable with rejection.
I was ashamed because I knew better.
My own arrogance over past achievements clouded my judgement. I thought I had credibility based on my track record of successful projects. I knew I was a great presenter. I thought these decision makers would trust me to deliver more wins. I thought my past performance would be worth something.
But I’d neglected my own rule: Never present your business case without already knowing how every person in the room is going to vote.
Companies organize cross-functional approval boards, executive councils, and operating committees to vote on important actions. These teams use their collective experience and perspectives to make important decisions—where to invest limited resources to make the biggest impact, whether to halt a project before it incurs unnecessary expenses, or if a system upgrade is ready before unleashing it on customers.
Don’t walk in to one of these meetings relying on your reputation, presentation skills, or the logic of your proposal to win the vote.
Instead, use a tactic called the Meeting Before the Meeting (Mb4M) to ensure you get a “yes.”
And if you’re not going to get a “yes,” don’t take it to a vote!
The Meeting Before the Meeting (Mb4M)
The Mb4M is simply a 1-on-1 meeting you have with each stakeholder before the meeting with the vote.
In the Mb4M, you share the business case and allow the stakeholder to ask questions, express concerns, and make suggestions. If you need help getting on their calendars, use the CX Buy-in Magic Question—ask if you can have their advice on the proposal.
As you talk through the project with each stakeholder, listen for what is important to them. Ask for their recommendations. Discover what motivates them.
I wasn’t going to repeat my mistake, so before the next vote I met with the CEO, the CIO, and every other member of the board.
I reviewed the proposal and let them ask questions. And guess what? They had a ton of questions—but they hadn’t asked those questions in front of their peers.
One-on-one with me, they asked away. And through the conversations, I addressed their concerns. We made some tweaks to the proposal based on their recommendations. And I got some inside information I hand’t had before.
From the outside, this board looked united. Cohesive. Rational and resolute. But I realized they were just as human as the rest of us—navigating tricky relationships with their peers. Trying to succeed in a tough environment. Balancing work and life, ambition and exhaustion. Drowning in email, meetings, and deadlines—while maintaining the appearance that they had it all figured out.
The Mb4M gave them a safe place to ask questions they weren’t comfortable asking in the approval board. It gave them a chance to advocate for their teams and pet projects. And honestly, our proposal was stronger because of their recommendations.
The next time the approval board met, my colleague and I presented our revised proposal. It felt like a dog-and-pony show because I’d done it so many times in front of these people. But this time, we already knew how every single member would vote. A unanimous yes.
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