In part one we saw how Leon, an Account Executive with impossible growth goals, used an influence strategy to identify and pursue a high-value opportunity in his account. The opportunity requires Leon to align many leaders in the account behind a multi-product and cross-stack solution, delivering a strategic impact all stakeholders benefit from.
The influence strategy tells Leon who to influence and in what way, the best placed person to do that, and the optimal sequencing of this across the account. But how can he ensure that his team are actually having the intended Influence Effect with the stakeholders identified in the strategy, whether ‘in the room’, a video call, or sending an email?
If they can’t influence how their stakeholders think, feel and act at a personal level, they won’t change the perceptions and buying decisions needed to secure this high-value opportunity.
Sara is an experienced Account Manager in Leon’s team. She has an upcoming meeting and, if successful, it will be a big step towards reinforcing their coalition of support around the strategic buying-decision. But she’s not feeling confident about it…
She knows why her meeting objectives support the strategy, but she doesn’t know how to achieve them. Her relationship with the stakeholder in question has been tactical and delivery focussed to date - but the influence strategy now requires her to have an honest conversation about the impact to his business unit caused by issues with a legacy, bespoke tech platform. This platform is owned by another BU and was built in-house, making the conversation even more difficult to navigate. Her other objectives are to create excitement about their solution’s relevance to him personally and persuade him to take a risk sponsoring her to his peers. The discussion seems a big step to Sara, and she doesn’t feel equipped.
Then, Sara and the team learn the influence skills the need to put their strategy into practice…
Discipline 2: Plan For The Personal Agenda – or how to influence with skill and precision
She begins by building a Profile of her stakeholder, capturing what she and her wider team know about him using the DNA of Influence – a model they all understand, and which facilitates rapid knowledge transfer across the team. This surfaces useful and previously hidden knowledge about his attitude towards a relevant technology and a strong dislike for being overpromised. She now knows that he likes visual data to understand things and is most creative and open to new ideas in the morning.
Already she’s feeling more confident and has a better sense of what to expect from him in the meeting.
The First Rule Of Influence Is To Understand
Sara and the team are excellent at explaining the technical value of their solution to stakeholders. The problem is this stakeholder isn’t a tech-focussed leader – meaning technical benefits won’t resonate with him as they do with their typical stakeholders. Sara creates clear messages that articulate the business and financial value to him, greatly helped by the rich business picture they surfaced during their influence strategy, which revealed what is most important to him over the next 6 months. But to be truly persuasive, they know they need to make it personally valuable, and this requires an understanding of intrinsic motivation. If they can identify his desires and fears at play (the ‘personal agenda’), they can frame the relevance of their offering around them so that it resonates and excites at a personal level.
Their assessment suggests his strong desires are Independence and Curiosity – two of the 16 basic Desires. They also consider if any fears are impacting his decision making; fears are caused by ‘threats’ and are often unconscious – it is likely the stakeholder doesn’t recognise it as ‘fear’ himself. Sara knows that issues with the legacy tech platform are causing disruption to his BU’s performance; this is a threat and will be causing unconscious (or possibly conscious) fear. If she asks the right questions and builds sufficient trust, she can understand his fear better and frame their solution to reduce it.
Every Battle Is Won Before It Is Fought
Sara builds this into her Influence Planning for the meeting and she works out the messages that align their solution’s value to his desires. For Independence, their solution reduces the stakeholder’s reliance on other BUs for technical support and removes external approvals from a key process. For Curiosity, a solution of this nature has not been seen before in the client and there is new and exciting learning and capabilities required to make it a success. A key part of Influence Planning is preparing for what might go wrong, what might go right, and what is likely to happen. This reduces cognitive load in the meeting and will enable her to capitalise on key moments; given this is a critical moment in the influence strategy, she involves others in the team to stress-test her plan and thinks through various scenarios.
Sara has actively developed a relationship with this stakeholder’s EA over recent months, so she is able to schedule a virtual meeting with him for a morning slot (based on his profile this is his most energetic and creative) in only a week’s time. Having a clear plan going into the meeting increases her confidence and ensures she knows exactly Influence Effects she wants to achieve with him and how, in order to achieve her objectives – create excitement and persuade him to take a risk with sponsoring them.
Her Influence Planning, identified various topics she knows he’s personally interested in. Her previous approach to building rapport was to find common points of interest and attempt to create opportunities to discuss them. But this could feel inauthentic and clunky to Sara, like she was forcing ‘rapport’ at the start of a business conversation and so she preferred to focus on the facts and operational matters at hand. Now she’s an elite-influencer, she knows better, and has tools and skills to accelerate trust and project credibility.
No Plan Survives First Contact
In the meeting she connects quickly with her stakeholder, using their shared attitude to a relevant technology as identified in his Profile, which creates a sense of unity and being on the same team. The Rapport Escalator guides her, enabling conscious effort to make him feel safe before asking more sensitive questions about the impact of the legacy tech platform on his BU. Using the Elicitation Funnel, she gets him to tell her about what he and his organisation are trying to achieve through the intended digital transformation. Strong Active Listening skills means it feels natural to him to continue talking with only minor encouragement needed from Sara and she is able to steer the entire meeting with her Elicitation and Active Listening skills.
During the video call she is focussed on his expressions and voice and becomes aware of what he is most excited about – her messages about enabling his curiosity and independence seem to resonate. She assumed in her planning he was concerned about how the transformation would affect his status in the organisation, but now realises there are ways in which his active involvement can help meet this. She discusses how her solution can support him and that working together will give him the opportunity to shape it. She explains how this approach has been successful with some of her other clients. This leverages two of the seven External Influence Factors that she knows – Social Proof that the approach has worked before and Unity, creating a team where one does not formally exist.
Towards the end of the call, he suggests a further meeting with Sara to bring in another business leader, and for them to understand the risks of Sara’s solution together, his intent being to create a coalition of support. Fortunately, she planned for what might go right and is prepared; she can talk with confidence of this new stakeholder’s priorities. By the end, Sara’s stakeholder feels valued, listened to and excited about the commercial and personal value that a joint approach will bring.
Usually, it would have taken Sara several interactions to progress to this stage. Using her Influence Skills and planning for the personal agenda, she has brought this forward by several months and has delivered a crucial stage in the wider Influence Strategy. This gives Leon increased confidence in his sales pipeline for the account and sets the rest of the team up for success for their contributions to progressing the strategic opportunity.
* - Reiss, S., 2002. Who am I?: 16 basic desires that motivate our actions define our persona. Penguin.