Expert Witness, Expert Credibility

By Barry Maher

The CTO of the information technology company was more than a little irritated.

“In our high tech business,” she said, “when people buy our products, they’re really buying into our conception of the future. Some of us of us have an innovative vision for where our company can fit into that future. Unfortunately, right now the company simply reacts to the marketplace and the competition. The CEO’s favorite saying is It might be the early bird that gets the worm, but look what happens to the early worm. And it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese. Unfortunately we’re never even the second mouse—or the third. By the time we get there, the cheese is long gone. But every time any of us try to push through our point of view, the CEO turns the discussion into an argument. Which of course, we eventually have to let him win.

“We’re losing out to birds, worms, mice, and cheese,” another senior executive added. “Underneath it all, I think [the CEO] sees the logic behind what we’re saying, but he’s not comfortable acting on it. Which always leaves us on the verge of civil war.”


Motivating by Expert Witnessing

What these two non-sales executives were confronted with was a basic sales problem. If a salesperson pushes, his prospect usually pushes back, and the salesperson loses. If the prospect pushes and the sales person pushes back, the salesperson loses. Every sales rep knows you can never win an argument with a prospect.

I’ve done a bit of expert witnessing. When you appear in court as an expert witness, you have your expert point of view and you express it. You sit on your little throne at the front of the room and, like Moses from Mt. Sinai, you deliver the Word of God down to the mere mortals who sit at your feet. They not only hang on your every word, they write it all down.

The attorney on your side, like some attending angel, tosses you soft-ball questions which you proceed to knock out of the park. (I know it’s a mixed metaphor but you get the idea.)

Then comes the cross-examination. That’s when the opposing attorney (also known as Satan) gets his chance.

During the cross-examination, you quickly see what the opposing attorney is trying to get you to say, and the tendency as an expert is to contest every one of the points he’s trying to make. After all, you’re the expert, you’ve staked out your position, you’ve delivered the Word of God and he’s attacking it. So by extension, he’s attacking you. Maybe even attacking God.

But the first thing the attorneys on your side will tell you is that if you do that, if you contest every one of his points, you lose all credibility as an impartial expert. Now on this matter of impartiality, everyone in the courtroom knows you’re being paid big bucks by the side you’re on. And if they don’t know it, the opposing attorney—Satan—will point it out the first chance he gets.

Still, the more you appear to be acting as an instrument of objective truth, granting the other side their legitimate points, the more believable the points you make for your own side become.

As a salesperson—and at times each of us is a salesperson—you should always present yourself as an expert witness. First, you make your best possible case. If you are an advocate, you don’t have to pretend not to be. When I was selling, I’d go so far as to say, “Hey, I don’t want you to forget I work on commission. The more you spend the more I make. Now let me tell you why you need to be spending more and making me more money.”

“Hey, I know it’s in my self interest to support the restructuring,” you might imply or even say. “But that doesn’t mean, this isn’t the best possible option for the corporation. And here’s why.”

Tip: The more firmly that best possible case is rooted in reality, the more convincing it is likely to be, the easier it will be to remember, and the better it will stand up to cross-examination.

You make your case, then you grant the opposition—the doubting Thomas within the mind of each potential buyer—grant that doubting Thomas his legitimate points. His legitimate points. Once again, even as an advocate, the more you appear to be acting as an instrument of objective truth, the more effective your points—the points you need to make to make your case—will be.

Tip: When you’re not an advocate, as matter of common courtesy, effective people-skills and simply helping the other person get what he or she wants, this expert witnessing technique works equally well.

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