The Biggest Win: Hearts and Minds

What if that big deal you're working on has zero to do with price?

In fact, there might not even be a formal transaction or trade as we typically think of it.

I’ve written a few times recently about Novak Djokovic’s highly principled position against taking the Covid vaccine; how he’s pursuing his own major win (public support) against stiff opposition from his competition - the "establishment" Who are also trying to win the public’s support.

There's no direct financial transaction involved, no best and final offer (BAFO) to work with, nothing. Nothing but Djokovic's entire career at stake.

It started, of course, with the huge controversy surrounding his entry and eventual deportation from Australia courtesy of the Australian Border Force.

Djokovic's silence, leading to an eventual exclusive interview by Amol Rajan.

The Influence War

It's important to frame this piece in terms of which stakeholder is winning the war of influence in this particular global conversation - the right to decline to take the vaccine and, if that right is exercised, at what cost does it come?

Is it the “establishment“ i.e. government/professional bodies who have won out or is it one man sticking steadfastly to his principles? And which of these actors have played the best strategic moves so far?

If Djokovic had simply left Australia, tail between his legs and returned to Serbia to lick his wounds, he could have forever become the laughing stock of world tennis.

Instead, disciplined silence followed by an exclusive interview with a respected BBC journalist has allowed Djokovic to get his message out there, pretty much unfiltered.

Let’s face it, the interview itself was undemanding. Whilst Amol Rajan asked some interesting questions, it was by no means tough. In fact, Rajan seemed positively deferential to Djokovic at times, especially towards the end of the interview with laughter and mutual back-slapping. Too cosy by half.

The other side of this argument - the establishment - will be regarded as the villains; Big Brother bullies seeking to exert absolute control over the individual.

However, Djokovic had the time, space and platform to set out his side of the story - an elite athlete who cares deeply about what he puts into his body (a temple). for me, Djokovic comes out of this as the hero sticking to their principles.

Moreover, in terms of the battle of wills that we will no doubt see over the weeks and months ahead; will Djokovic really miss the Paris Open and/or Wimbledon just to stand true to his principles?

That is the price I am willing to pay

if we liken this stance to a negotiation process, it feels like a game of brinkmanship - “will they walk away from the deal if they don’t like the terms?”

And that’s the point with negotiation, you only have power if the other side believes you’ll walk away if you can’t get the deal you want.

In this case, the deal Djokovic wants is to exercise his right to not take the vaccine.

Will he walk away from Tennis?

No-Lose Position

Whichever way the court of public opinion‘s pendulum swings, Djokovic is, I believe, in a no-lose situation.

If the establishment capitulates and allows him to play in the upcoming tournaments, Djokovic will be welcomed back by the crowds with open arms, by the players and by the establishment too, who still need to be able to claim victory and also need him as a major box office draw.

If the establishment sticks to its guns and refuse to allow him entry to their respective countries, they will look like the bad guys and Djokovic will become a martyr; the victim of establishment bullying.

Notwithstanding the obvious disappointment for tennis fans should he be prohibited from entering certain countries, there is almost no downside here for Djokovic. Even if he never picks up a racquet again, he will still be one of the greatest players of all time and will forever be remembered as a champion of libertarian principles.

He will still be rich beyond most people’s wildest dreams and, at the age of just 34, still has many options open to him, though probably not as a professional tennis player.

Djokovic is idolised in Serbia, so a career in politics would be easy for him to take up.

You’ve got a hand it to Djokovic, he has been a dream client for his advisors. He’s stayed resolutely focused, landing the right message at the right time to the right audience. His principles, character and value systems are intact. A model political strategy by any measure.

He's also taken his advisors' advice (which of course he is under no obligation to do) and come out on top. The benefits of procuring great advice…and then actually taking it.

I’m guessing elite athletes such as Djokovic will use the negative energy created over the last few weeks of controversy to fuel his desire to win.

Not many would bet against him.

My Take

1. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. No matter what you think, whether he’s right or he’s wrong, Djokovic’s conviction is admirable and gives his followers confidence. Do your clients know what your message is and do you have a similar conviction? 🤔

2. Don't (re) act too soon, time is an important factor in very big issues

3. Stakeholder management: you must map and communicate with all the stakeholders (actors) that could influence the decisions you want to win.

Depending on the size and the scope of the deal and the culture of the organisation you're hoping to influence, that means either talking to anyone and everyone (extremely time-consuming) or researching who's who in order to determine who is powerful enough to bring your plans to a shuddering halt if they say No.

What to Do?

If the decision you're seeking is that big and the impact for your company is that great, then you will need to have covered all the bases with the right message to the right people at the right time.

You'll need to know the customer account you’re trying to win inside-out. Whether it’s the World Tennis Association, the Australian Border Force or a global investment bank, you'll need to do your homework.

But as a team of 1, you cannot possibly do it all on your own.

The good news is that you don't have to.

The organisations that have the most effective sales cultures understand how to unleash the sales capacity of their organisations to help them sell into big customer accounts.

Is your organisation firing on all sales cylinders or are you doing everything


Let's talk about how we can help you turn that around.

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