There is an icy slab of rock with a ghoulish reputation one mile below the summit of the Eiger. It holds the key to a successful summit of its north face, and up until 1936 it was considered uncrossable. In July 1936 a four-man crew consisting of Andreas Hinterstoisser, Edi Ranier, Willy Angerer and Toni Kurz perished as they were attempting to summit the north face, but not before Hinterstoisser cracked the code to traversing the slab. He performed an ingenious manoeuvre to get across and attached ropes so that his colleagues could join him.
The Hinterstoisser Traverse
When injury and bad weather forced them to abandon their attempt, they were unable to retrace their steps back across the rock as they had removed the ropes when they originally cleared it. They were forced to abseil down but all four died before they reached the bottom. The rock was subsequently called the Hinterstoisser Traverse in honour of the man who had solved the riddle. The cruel tale of the fate of these four men is told in the harrowing film North Face (2008).
There were a number of other fatal attempts on the north face until finally a team consisting of two Germans and two Austrians conquered it in 1938. One of the members, Heinrich Harrer, tells the story in the mountaineering classic, “The White Spider” (1959).
I often use the story of the Hinterstoisser Traverse as an analogy to illustrate that in order to achieve something of significance – in this case winning big business – you must have certain fundamentals in place. In this case it’s a complete understanding of your buyer’s concerns and beliefs. In “The Business of Belief” (2013) Tom Asacker wrote that “belief is what humans do. Our personal beliefs define our choices, shape our lives and, collectively, determine our futures. Nothing is more important than belief. If you want to change the world, if you want to change your world, if you want to succeed at work, in the marketplace, or in any other social endeavour or organisation, belief is your Holy Grail.”
Displaying an understanding of your buyer’s beliefs and concerns is the best way to show empathy. If you accurately play back to them what they want they will breathe a sigh of relief and say “yes, that’s it. These people are on our wavelength. Ok. Let’s see what’s on offer.” This is the first step in building trust – the key to making any relationship thrive. From then on, if what you design and develop for them is built on this foundation you are on firm ground and stand a great chance of winning the business.
In the Game
Once you’ve crossed the Hinterstoisser Traverse you still have a vertical ascent of 1,600m to navigate. There’s a very long way to go but look at the bright side – you are finally in the game.