Poker and new business – dealing with imperfect information

I think new business can be split up into stages like Texas Hold ’em poker.  However the main reason I like the analogy is because in business like poker you are dealing with imperfect information.  

You just don’t know what is actually going on behind the scenes at the buyer’s end. But you can in poker like in business work out a range of scenarios.  An advantage in business is that you can ask questions and get straight answers sometimes too.

In Texas Hold’em poker you are dealt two cards – called hole cards, that only you get to see. Then you and the other players get to see three more cards  ‘The Flop’ and then there is another card ‘The Turn” and then a final one ‘The River’ card.

So each player has two cards only they can see and five cards in total in the middle of the table that everyone can see.

In between the each stage is a round of betting.

The best five cards win – you could us your two and three from the five in the middle for example. Hands are ranked as below.


Then there is a result at the end someone wins and everyone else is a close 2nd.

In business we get a business lead – your hole cards, we have meetings the flop and the turn and then a pitch is the river.

Resulting in someone scooping the pot and everyone else is a close second.  If you want to know more about poker listen to Nicky Numbers here

So here is some poker terms that could equally apply to new business.

A Fish
Poker: a bad player who doesn’t know what they are doing.
New business:  a person who is gullible in new business.

Usage:  I was such a fish today. Or stop being such a fish.

A Shark
Poker: A good poker player that rips it up.
New business:  A pro new business player that wins a lot.

Usage: I was a shark today.

Going on Tilt or Tilted
Poker: Steaming or letting your emotions get the better of you especially after losing
a pot.
New business:  Getting emotionally involved with a business deal or taking not winning personally.

Usage: I’m on tilt now or don’t get tilted.

Poker: How much money can be won in a hand.
New business:  How much can be won in a deal.

Usage: How much is in the pot?

Pot odds
Poker: The chances of you winning a pot.
New business:  The chances of you winning a deal.

Usage: What’s the chances of us winning this pot?

Poker: The strength or value of your hand. You can have high or low equity.
New business:  The strength of your new business lead.

Usage: What is our equity like?

Hole cards or pocket cards
Poker: The two cards that you are dealt at the beginning of the game, that determine (partially) how you’ll play the hand.
New business:  Where your lead came from.  Your hole cards are mega important in new business. It often determines how you will proceed with a lead.

Usage: What do you make of our hole cards?

A Monster (Hand)
Poker: A great hand, be it a strong starting hand or hitting a big hand on the flop.
New business:  A strong lead, a quality referral from your best client.

Usage: I’ve just picked up a monster.

Fold or Folding
Poker: Throwing your cards away, deciding not to play a hand.
New business:  Deciding not to get involved with a prospect, maybe turning down a pitch, RFI, RFP or even a meeting.

Usage: I am going to fold this one.

Poker: The first 3 community cards that all the players can see.
New business:  The first face to face meeting.

Usage: How was the flop?

The Turn
Poker: The fourth community card.
New business:  Your 2nd meeting with the decision makers

Usage: How was the turn? What are we hoping for on the turn? Who will be there at the turn?

The River
Poker: The 5th community card.
New business:  The pitch. Or the decision.

Usage: We are off to The River.

Poker: After The River the players have to show their hole cards to see who has the best hand and so so wins the pot.
New business:  The pitch reviews.

Usage:  I wonder what they thought of the show down. Can we win without going to a show down?

Implied Odds
Poker: Calling a bet even if the maths (pot odds) does not make sense to do so because ‘if’ you hit with the next card(s), the river and or turn then you’ll make a lot of money. Hooray. This is called gambling.

New business:  The chances are slim but the pot is big. A Fish mistake in general. Too many agencies work on implied odd rather than pot odds. They probably will not win it but imagine if we did! This is called gambling too.

Usage: Are we playing implied odds here?

All in
Poker: Sticking all your chips in the pot.
New business:  We are committed now to this lead.

Usage: We are all in.

Poker: Putting a big bet in to see if you opponent can handle the pressure.
New business:  A shark asking probing questions that cut to the heart of the matter to find out if they are column fodder or not.

Usage: I put him to the test.

A Shove
Poker: Pushing all your chips in the pot.
New business:  Pushing the prospect away, to see how they react.

Usage: Have you shoved?


Poker: Something that a player does physically that another player picks up on that gives the value or equity of their hand away.
New business:  Something that a Fish does that lets the prospect knows they are desperate for a sale or easy column fodder. Or something that a prospect does that gives the shark a clue how likely they are to win the business.

Usage: Do you think the way he said when we start, rather than if we start is a tell? Did you notice he kept looking past us and not at us? Is that a tell?

Poker Face
Poker: A poker player’s face that doesn’t give away the strength of their hand.
New business:  A hard to read face, be it the prospect’s, or the new business person’s.

Usage: Stick to your poker face. He had a poker face.

Reverse Tell or False Tell
Poker: Changing your face in the opposite direction to the strength of your hand. For example looking worried when you have a monster. Or looking pleased when you are playing a low value hand.
New business:  A shark looking concerned about issues that aren’t really that much of a concern to them really to get more value. Or a prospect looking overly worried about price or delivery times etc.

Usage: I think that was a false tell.

Poker: The likely hands your opponents could have based on their betting patterns. It looks likely they have either a small pair or an ace and middle range card for example.
New business:  What are the likely starting hands of the other agencies asked to pitch. Where is your agency –  column A,B, C or D? You better know your range! Is it likely there is an agency involved that has a better starting hand than yours?  

Usage: What are we up against. Could someone else be holding a monster hand? 

Having Heart or having Moxie
Poker: Being brave.
New business:  Being brave.

Usage: She’s got moxie. He has got a big heart.

Heads up
Poker: Just two poker players in a game of poker. Or when a tournament gets down to just two players left.
New business:  When just two agencies are left in a pitch.

Usage: We are heads up.

Winning pre-flop
Poker: Attempting to bet big enough to win a hand before the community cards are seen.
New business:  Win without pitching. The best strategy in new business.

Usage: Could we win pre-flop? Are our hole cards stronger enough to win pre flop.

Tanking or In The Tank
Poker: Thinking. Delaying a decision. Deciding what to do next, fold, bet, raise, or shove.
New business:  A prospect thinking about what to do next?

Usage: They’ve gone in the tank. Let’s go in the tank on this one.

Calling Time
Poker: If a player spends too long in the tank then another player can call time.  They are then given a set amount of time to make a decision usually one minute.
New business:  Tell a prospect that they have a limited time to decide, else you’ll fold.

Usage: I think we should call time on this one.

Poker: Complex thinking.  A bit like – I think, he thinks, that I think, that he thinks, that I think that he thinks, so maybe I should…arghhhh
New business:  Over thinking. Analysis paralysis. Procrastination.

Usage: Stop levelling or we levelled ourselves.

A Donkey
Poker: A bit like a fish, but anyone can be a donkey at times. It’s an insult. Stupid!
New business:  Being stupid.

Usage: I was a right donkey. The prospect was a donkey.

Close call or thin value

Poker: Being unsure if you are ahead or not.  So calling a bet being unsure if it is correct or not. Getting small amount of value.

New Business: Being unsure what column your agency is in. Perhaps you have a half decent referral or some reason that makes you believe you are in column A or B. But are aware that another agency maybe ahead.

Usage: It’s a very close call on whether we get involved or not.

Buying the pot
Poker: Putting in a big bet / a bluff. That makes a player with a better hand fold so you win the pot.

New Business: Pricing your services very low so you win the business.  Making it hard for the prospect to refuse really. Probably has more cons than pros. But the most obvious way to move from column C to A.

Usage – We could buy the business.  I think they bought the business.

Tight Aggressive (TAG)
Poker: A style of player who only plays premium hands and when they play them they bet big.

New Business:  Although the word aggressive has no place in new business this style of play is premium for agencies. Replace aggressive with assertive.

Usage: Let’s play tight.

Loose Aggressive (LAG)
Poker: A player who plays loads of hands. And so bluffs a lot.  Can be very hard to read this player.  Poker is now a very aggressive game.  They are ’agro” in poker terms.

New Business:  Loose is not a good method for creative agencies.  You’re probably getting involved with too many leads – you should probably considering folding some.

Usage: Why are we so loose? We need to tighten up.

The Grind or Grinding
Poker: The way you make money.  You have to grind out some wins. It takes patience and perseverance. Poker is  a grind. Don’t be fooled into thinking it is an easy way to make money.  

New Business:  Let’s keep grinding!

Usage – Back to the grind!


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