I have spent more than 20 years leading sales teams, and my entire career influencing change inside organizations. What has always been true is that Sales and Influencing are predicated on the same principles. And, when I say principles, I mean a principled and ethical approach. Let’s examine the concept.
In both cases, you want to drive an outcome. In sales, the outcome is that the client or customer selects you, based on the perceived value of your service or product. When influencing, you convince a colleague or group of colleagues to join you in building something new or driving change within the organization that will have an anticipated impact. In both cases, they are “buying” you, your ideas and the belief that you can create the desired outcome. In other words, they believe you can bring the value they are looking for.
So, what creates the belief in you? In their book, Insight Selling, the RAIN Group isolates the capability required to help create motivation. They refer to the ability to engage, understand the issues and then provide excellent insights that provide a unique perspective and the basis for action. From my experience, this is enhanced by the ability to understand the other person’s (or group’s) needs, concerns, barriers, limiting beliefs, or anything that is detracting from the ability to create the desired state—even after the insights are brought to light. That undertaking will identify the barriers to value-action. So, when applying the effort to identify the sources and insights of an issue or opportunity, what really creates value in the mind of the “buyer”?
Unless you are selling a commoditized or easily replicated item, sales are rarely lost on price. Even then, I could argue that price may not be the final determining factor. Similarly, failure to influence a change of direction within organizations seldom depends on the amount of discomfort associated with a project or change. The single most important factor is that there exists an intrinsic value-motive for the “buyer”; either an identified reward, real loss or risk of loss that is compelling and is the cause for action in a particular direction.
Whether developing salespeople or influencers, you can use a simple formula as the basis for creating value. Simply stated, the person across the table from you must be able to, “Name it,” “Own it” and “Value it.” In this case, the value could mean real dollar cost, opportunity cost or a desired future state not yet realized. Only by making that connection will you create an urgency for action with you.
Clients or colleagues may be great at identifying problems. The issue is they are often challenged with how to solve the problem. It can be that they are so deep in working in the business, that they are not able to step back to work on the business. They may not have time, or simply feel overwhelmed with competing priorities, and thus the solution and motivation for action are still equally elusive. Or, they just may need help. These scenarios are common given the pace of business today.
The first step toward action is to get your client or colleague to name the problem. It’s more than just stating it. Generally speaking, most people can readily cite the issue of most importance to them. It will be top of mind and likely one of the things causing them the greatest pain or presenting the greatest opportunity. But can they name it? For example, if a client is dealing with turnover issues, they can state they are having turnover issues. But can they name the problem? Is the problem poor leadership? Or lack of clarity of priorities and goals in the organization? Is it related to poor recruitment practices? Is that leader the problem? The key is having them self-identify the source of the issue. What we are talking about is moving from a cursory understanding of the issue to its underlying causes. That’s naming it. The same is true when working with colleagues on change projects inside an organization. Do they really understand the source of the problem that is being targeted, or is the initiative doomed because it is only dealing with the symptom? Naming the problem is only the first step.
The second step is getting the client to own the problem. Similar to avoiding a symptom-oriented or surface acknowledgment of the problem, owning it means they see themselves responsible for the problem and have an expressed desire to see the problem solved and a willingness to drive it.
Too many times leaders are simply afraid to take ownership of problems or change. Why? Because ownership involves risk, pain associated with change, or they may feel overwhelmed and just can’t see where the effort will fit in. I have seen people avoid taking on risky assignments or driving major change initiatives because they fear their inability to achieve the desired outcome. So how do you get a leader to own it when they are afraid of committing career suicide or may simply be reluctant to rock the boat, even when they need to? Sometimes it is about helping the leader see a clearer and more defined set of priorities.
The leader must also see that the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action. Additionally, the needed action is stated as a top three priority, if not the top priority. Whatever outcome has been identified, to ensure the underlying issue will receive proper attention and energy, it must be in the top three. And by the way, a leader or organization should never have more than three to five strategic priorities at any given time.
So, now you have their attention. But, this new, crystalized thinking only gets them partway there. While they may start to feel like the load is lighter due to your valuable guidance, and while the ideation of potential approaches may start to bubble up in conversation, there is still an issue. If you were to stop the conversation there, your client or colleague would likely just want to “think about next steps.” If you allow the conversation to stop here, you fail your clients or colleagues. The key now is to create the value-motive that puts urgency behind the priority.
This is where the crafts of sales and influencing, respectively, reach their apexes. At this point, you have the client or colleague wrangling with the problem. They have named it, they are starting to think about approaches, but the only way to compel action—the action you want, and you know they need to drive—is to get them to put a value to the problem.
For example, in the case of turnover, if the leader knows that poor leadership is the cause, then helping the leader articulate the cost to the organization will create the value-motive for action. There are real dollar costs associated with replacement. Then there are the issues of performance drops in the organization from having to train new people or the gaps created by turnover that result in lost productivity and overtime or overwork. This can result in customer issues, lost sales and can also compound the negative feelings and lack of engagement of an already-stressed workforce. All of these elements have a real value to the organization. Real dollar cost can be calculated. The same is true for other business issues. The key is identifying all of the elements and the costs associated with each one.
The power of this step is that now the leader has what is needed to drive urgency within the organization and compare the investment of change against the cost of not changing. It may be that the issue is isolated to a specific area, or it may be universal to the business. Either way, to initiate action within the organization will require the leader to bring forth a compelling argument to make this issue a priority and to rally the resources necessary for change. By having the complete outline of the cost, you helped the leader develop the fuel for the change to happen. The fuel is the value-motive. If done right, it is so compelling that push-back is mitigated, and the force for action is created.
The other side of the value-motive is the risk of inaction. It may be a missed opportunity, slow growth, non-achievement of goals or many other “opportunity-costs” that can be named. The first step here is having the leader identify the career risk and financial risk of inaction. Similarly, real dollars can be identified as the value-motive to make the effort to change a priority.
Assuming you have or can develop, the business acumen to have these conversations with clients and colleagues, there is a key component to success in these conversations that you must have. That is courage. Without the courage to challenge, dig, ask tough questions and help formulate a different vision with your clients and colleagues, you are just making noise about an issue they are already suffering from and likely irritating them.
Courage shows up in your willingness to be part of the solution; to be in it with them. This is the core of a principled and authentic approach. You cannot be some white-paper consultant that points out the problem and then says, “Have a nice day and let me know how that works out for you!” You must demonstrate courage through the willingness to be in it with them, from start to finish. That is the context for how you create value and the belief in you.
By demonstrating the courage to be in it with them, you are now part of the solution. That is the heart of creating value.