The Murder Board

The essential but horrible sounding named murder board.  Every time I bring it up with a new person, I get confused stares – yet I think its an essential tool for both salespeople and entrepreneurs.

What exactly is a murder board?  Murder Board is a term that was originally coined by the U.S. military and referred to the practice of preparing people for oral exams – particularly for oral exams related to becoming an instructor.  A panel of several people would be convened to hear the presentation of  the candidate, and to become the worst set of students that this instructor would ever face – and to see how they would handle the frustration. humiliation, and the general situation.  The thought process was that if they could handle that panel of people, then there would be no student that could topple them.  At the end of the murder board, the instructor would get a thumbs up or down, and in the case of a thumbs down… subjected to another murder board.  This ritual was part training / part hazing, but actually probably quite effective at weeding out bad instructors and preparing good ones.

So what does this have to do with sales and entrepreneurship?    When we talk about murder board as it relates to sales, it is not a hazing technique, but rather an essential tool to arm the salesperson with responses to all of the tough questions that a customer can ask.  It has the same roots, but can truly be critical in making sure that you don’t blow that meeting that you worked so hard to get.

I recommend murderboarding early and often.  It is very easy in the early stages of a company, or in a tight knit sales team to get into “group think” where you start to actually believe everything that you say in your pitch and about your product without taking a very hard and critical look at it with outside eyes.

A murderboard should be conducted with one person taking the role of salesperson, and the other people taking the role of hyper-critical clients that have a problem with anything and everything.  This should NOT be a hazing experiment to see if you can throw this person off their game just for the fun of it, but it should be difficult.  The point is to prepare yourself, to learn about your product, and to get better and better pitches (and perhaps learn something more about your product in relation to your competition, the world in general.”   The people serving as the clients need to object to any and every part of the product and pitch that is presented:

I already use one of your competitors

Its too much money

That claim can’t be true

My company already has a solution like that

I don’t need this

Cloud solutions will never get past my CIO.  We NEVER host data outside our company.

I have more important priorities

This is a “nice to have”

Your competition is cheaper

and on and on…  If you have heard the argument, or think about the argument, you should bring it up.  The person in the line of fire should be able to respond to each and every question in a proper way.  Don’t be afraid to get specific about your product and its features – because your potential customers wont.

When you stump the person presenting, you should stop and think about the question.  Why did that particular objection or response throw you?  Is it an overlooked product feature?  Or a place where your competition trumps you?  Or is it just something for which you haven’t thought of a proper response.  No matter… if you get stumped… THIS IS GOOD! Its means you are learning something about your product, your pitch, or your ability to pitch.   Work on and practice better responses to each objection and incorporate them into the arsenal you use in your selling.

The sales team should take turns on this, and iterate the pitch over and over again.

How often should you murder board?  Often… especially in the early stages of a product.  It should help bring out deficiencies in the product and how to deal with them in the sales pitch.   If you get a new objection in the field or lose a sale, bring it back into the next murder board and use the experience to determine if there were ways to better handle the objection, or deal with the competitive threat.

Murder board when you get new salespeople.  Don’t subject them first, but let them be the “bad client” first.  Chances are their outside view will bring up something you haven’t dealt with before and help the experienced people pitch better.  Then, once they have heard the pitch a few times, they can role play themselves and have the experience of battling overly-critical prospects.

I’m not sure how I would get better or how to train my teams better without the murder board, yet I’m always amazed when people in sales and start-ups say that they aren’t murder boarding.  Sure… there are a lot of people claiming to role-play, but that is not completely the same thing.  In role-play, there is not necessarily a concentration on raising all the possible objections.  I’d love to hear in the comments other ways people are training themselves, their sales staff, and just sanity checking their pitch/product other than murder boarding.

  • Great read on murder boards. I’ve seen them used in project management, but never in sales. This makes perfect sense.