What is influencing?
Influencing successfully means getting a result which meets the needs of both you and your customer. Often called a win-win situation. It might be persuading a company to take a course of action i.e. purchase your product or use your service or it could be to persuade someone within the company of your point of view.
21st Century influencing is not forcing your views or bargaining or twisting their arm or nagging or telling and hoping that the firm will take on your viewpoint or service.
Influencing is much more subtle and requires a host of skills to be able to pull or push the customer towards your goal. It is essentially a person to person issue and needs excellent communication skills to be effective. Influencing is therefore a collection of personal skills all used in harmony just like an orchestra of dozens of musical instruments working together to produce magnificent music.
How does it work in a B2B environment?
Since influencing has to be done at a personal level, you need to decide who within the company, you need to be influencing to arrive at your goal. A strategic approach here works wonders to give you a plan as you’ll want to draw up a list of people within their organisation who collectively can make the decisions to agree to your course of action or buy your product. Often known as a Decision Making Unit (DMU).
Each person within the DMU is a stakeholder i.e. someone who can influence others within the firm. An analysis of the DMU will be extremely helpful before you make your first entry into the company. Here’s a template you could use:
- Who are the key people involved?
- How influential is this person?
- Are they a decision maker or influencer?
- How do they view you? Supporter, against or neutral?
- What are their challenges and issues?
Armed with this information you need to begin the influencing process with each person and this stage can take some time, this is why B2B selling can be complex and the sales process can be extremely lengthy.
Let’s have a look at how we can step up our influencing skills to get to the goal we have set.
Influencing behaviours – pull or push.
Influencing behaviours can be conveniently spit into pull or push and this helps us to determine which style we may have used in the past and which we would want to use more of in the future.
In a B2B environment there is room for both but in modern consultancy selling, the pull variety generates more success.
Pull influencing involves motivating people, using your personality to its full effect to pull people towards your viewpoint, using benefits to help solve problems and issues. In other words dragging the customer to your goal which also satisfies their goals as well.
Success factors to be able to use pull influencing techniques involve:
- The quality of the questions used to obtain information and check understanding
- The ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes
- The skill to build on your customer’s proposals.
- The ability to forge relationships and coalitions to influence people
As we can see these are classic consultancy selling skills, problem solving and objective achieving.
Pull influencing can bring extensive results often culminating in a long term relationship and a trusted adviser status being achieved. Your ultimate goal in B2B selling.
But both pull and push have their place
Push influencing is the opposite and uses your skills to persuade and move the customer to the position of change which brings about the win-win relationship. Using logical arguments and facts to persuade, bargaining and negotiating, using punishment or rewards to coerce the customer or authority to move them.
Some of these will blatantly not work in a sales situation but are used by others to influence particularly in management and team situations. However many traditional salespeople will attempt to persuade by extolling the virtues and benefits of their product or services by using logical arguments, benefits and will over come objections at the drop of the hat to push the customer towards a decision.
Success factors for push based influencing come down to:
- The quality of your ideas and reasoning
- Your credibility and authority
- Your ability to get the right people to support your proposal
Push based influencing has its place but is not as effective as pull based influencing. The reason is that power forms the basis of much of pull influencing. And power can be too forceful in sales.
Power in Influencing
The use of power in influencing has been used successfully for centuries. Let’s have a look at how power can be used in B2B selling situations.
Power can be divided up neatly:
- Personal power – your personality, magnetism, gift of the gab. Many salespeople drown the customer in their charisma attempting to be liked and this can be effective pull behaviour but won’t work with every customer and is quite an old fashioned approach.
- Positional power – your rank, position in the organisation, who you know. For example your sales director may gain access to your customer whereas the foot soldier would be turned away by your customer’s PA.
- Expert power – your knowledge of your product and industry, being a specialist in the field, being logical in your approach. This power can influence considerably but can be overdone by subject matter experts who like to soak the customer in the features and aspects of their product. Using expertise to push the customer to your goal can be overbearing.
- Coercive power – exerting pressure to force a decision, deadlines, buy now whilst stocks last. Buyers see right through this technique nowadays. Coercive power is essentially the stick. Something we use with our children to influence or persuade. Not appropriate in a sales situation.
- Reward power – the opposite of coercive power where the use of rewards can still bring about decisions but have to be used carefully in the modern economy. Corporate hospitality, gifts come to mind here. However rewards such as additional help and advice, your expertise on tap, support from your colleagues within your organisation, information, marketing assistance are much more subtle and are the currency of a trusted adviser.
What styles of influencing should we use in B2B selling?
A mixture of both pull and push can be used successfully however the ultimate rewards will go to the salesperson who can be flexible in their approach and use a variety of methods to achieve a win-win outcome. But win-win does mean investigating the customer’s needs and problems and issues and then providing the benefit of your solution to solve these problems or meet their needs.
This has neatly described pull based influencing which will help you build a long term relationship and further you towards your goal of trusted adviser status with your customer.
So the key to influencing in B2B selling is to use your personal power to build a relationship of trust and rapport, rid yourself of any “ego” that tells you that you already know the customer’s problems and issues, and to motivate yourself to enter into your customer’s shoes.
Personal power to be able to understand your customer’s issues, problems, goals and challenges. Diagnose their challenges and goals and what matters to them in their department or team or sector. Remember different people have varying challenges and problems depending on what their responsibilities are.
To fully appreciate these we have to be curious and ask really good questions. Understand their values and beliefs as people, what motivates them as a person, how they like to be dealt, how they like to communicate, how their world works…and only then can you ever think of easing them towards your goal. Don’t rush this vital part and don’t expect this to happen in 5 minutes, it may take a number of meetings or contacts.
When the customer is ready you can use your personal power to show how your product or service can help to solve their problems and meet their needs. Or you might be wanting to just get them on your side as a stakeholder to move onto other people in the organisation – that depends on what your goal is. You simply might want then to agree to an additional meeting to discuss their problems further.
But use your pull and push influencing strategies to do this. Provide benefits of your solution, use your expert power to show them logically, motivate them, help them appreciate your arguments, be assertive to overcome their concerns, provide a compelling vision or case – whatever it takes to get to the win-win end goal.
- Build trust and rapport.
- Truly understand your customer – their style and personality, their needs and problems.
- Ease them into the next stage.
Paul is an international speaker, sales trainer, author and coach based in the UK. His expertise and experience is in selling and sales coaching, his books and articles focus on rapport selling which puts the customer at the heart of the sale. Visit his website http://www.archertraining.co.uk to sign up for his Weekly Sales and Coaching Tips or visit his blog at http://www.paularcher.com where you’ll find his unique style of weekly blog posts for you to enjoy. firstname.lastname@example.org
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