The Power of Three

Joe Lyons, VP of Business Development, discusses adding value to meetings by inviting a third party.  

The power of three is a concept I’ve seen in many contexts, and I want to share how I’ve incorporated it into my management and sales process with tangible results.

If you’re unfamiliar with the power of three, it’s an idea built around the fact that people naturally gravitate to groups of three. From the Three Bears to the Three Musketeers, from Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion to Thomas Jefferson’s three inalienable rights, the power of three appears continually in our lives.

I made it a part of my management style when a former director added a third person to our 1-on-1 meetings. Including a third person added value by bringing new perspectives while keeping the group small enough that everyone was engaged. It led to us asking better questions and enabled us to probe into what people were thinking about and working on. Plus, an extra mind keeps people honest about what comes out of the meeting. Everyone is on the same page.

Expanding Your 1-on-1s

The value of 1-on-1 meetings is well documented. But in my experience, adding the third person—let’s call it a 1-on-1-on-1—has noticeably changed the value to my employees. They like the format, and gain more insight and holistic understanding. It’s a big improvement if your 1-on-1s have become too routine or rote. Whether I include someone from a different department, a peer, or another executive, the conversations take on a different dynamic. When there’s a third person involved, it even forces me to think differently about the conversation so I can take advantage of that person’s perspective and expertise.

The Power of Three in Action

When I saw the value of the power of three for my team, I wanted to bring the same results to my meetings with clients, and found that creating interdependencies between three stakeholders can help drive business.

Here’s an example: I was working with a client that had a back-to-school deadline and wanted to launch an initiative in August. Unfortunately, Legal said it would take 12 months for them to sign off on everything. I saw no way to meet the deadline on our own, so I asked the client if there was anyone else we could work with to meet the launch deadline. As it turned out, they had a managed service provider that we had already been working with. Boom, we got the deal done by working a pass-through with the MSP. The addition of the third party—the power of three—allowed the client to close the deal. We all benefited.

Here’s another: I was discussing a deal with a prospect that sells IoT solutions to other companies, providing them a service. Because my service ran on Amazon Web Services, and the device that the customer sells is driven through amazon.com, the power of three popped into my head. Not only did I have a better chance of closing that deal, but everyone was interdependent on each other: The prospective customer is selling its product on Amazon, my service was running on AWS, and Amazon wins on both fronts if they do the deal. Presenting this thinking to Amazon, they bit—hard—saying they’d never seen anyone do a deal this way before. It was this outside-the-box thinking that led to a win – for everyone involved.

A New Approach to Sales?

Businesses—at least the smart ones—understand the importance of interdependencies. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. While you may not be able to group three entities together in all of your deals—in some instances it just won’t make sense—there are likely a few opportunities where a three-company partnership will be beneficial for all parties.

Great salespeople understand the importance of switching things up from time to time and trying new tactics. Roll the dice on the power of three, be patient, and see what happens. Chances are you’ll love the results.

The Power of Three

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