Super-Heroes of Persuasion: Mastering the 9-Step Process Key Influencers (KIs) Go Through
In our last blog post, we examined the 9-Step process which Decision-Makers (DMs) go through when contemplating a critical decision. We pointed out the steps of the process not just for the benefit of future DMs but also from the perspective of a salesperson. Ultimately, if you are trying to get someone to agree with your position, you’re selling. To be great at persuasion, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the DM. It’s also important to consider the perspectives of the Key Influencers (KIs)!
Rather than being the ultimate DM, a KI will play a vital role in the decision-making process and will offer critical input. This crucial player is often ignored, or their contribution and influence is underestimated. For the salesperson, this represents a lost opportunity to shape the decision-making process, and could ultimately spell the difference between getting that winning YES or that NO of defeat.
Step 1: Should I Get Involved?
The role of a KI isn’t always a voluntary one. Sometimes a KI has no choice, because he or she is dragged into the decision-making process by a DM. It can sometimes be frustrating to be put in a position of significant involvement while simultaneously lacking decision-making authority. I’ve heard it likened to ‘pushing on a wet string’. I’ll suggest that the role of the KI is extremely important. KIs should become as involved as possible up to the limits of their experience and subject matter knowledge. The DM is soliciting input from individuals whom are trusted and who typically have a vested interest in the decision. Being a KI can not only play a crucial role in shaping the ultimate decision, but will better prepare the KI for the moment when he or she becomes the DM. Here’s the other side of the coin, though. Don’t exceed either your authority or your level of understanding of the decision topic. Make sure you check any preconceived biases or personal agendas before taking on the responsibilities of a KI. Always keep in mind that reaching the best solution is the ultimate objective when deciding if or how much to help the DM. Remembering those key points will keep you from wading into troubled waters.
Step 2: Fact Finding Mission
Identifying the actionable needs, which exist, and then embarking on the process of collecting data are key roles the KI must embrace in this step. Make sure your DM has a clear understanding of the total scope of the decision, and make sure you as a KI have an equal understanding of what the DM is looking for from you and other KIs. If there are areas of concern or ambiguity, try to resolve those at this early juncture. Often vendors can be great sources of information. Sure… they are likely to tout the strengths of their own solutions, but they can also identify key decision points which might otherwise be overlooked and can help illuminate weaknesses in competitive solutions that other vendors may hope remain hidden. Key Influencers typically do much of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of research and initial analysis. A salesperson should identify what areas a KI is responsible for and insure that he or she is supplied with any critical data, which is necessary to fully accomplish the role. KIs can be influenced at the same time they are influencing. Too often this is an overlooked opportunity. Critical attention to detail during this process by KIs can make or break good decisions. Both the KI and the salesperson should have an understanding of how much weight the KI has on the decision-making process. The role can be impacted by factors such as trust, credibility, tenure and the research shared.
Step 3: Staying Connected and Vested
When a KI has performed a significant amount of fact-finding and has followed that up with passing along reports and/or recommendations to the DM, it is important that they not abandon the DM or the process at that point. Similarly, they should not be made to feel they have been dismissed from the process. Often, the KI has specific expertise in a critical area (e.g.; budgetary or HR-related), which the DM lacks. Also, the DM needs to make sure there is appropriate buy-in from all the KIs as the decision-making process moves forward. If a KI feels disenfranchised or feels their input is somehow being discounted, regardless of the solution chosen, the sales job to insure a successful implementation just got a whole lot more difficult. DMs rely heavily upon their people to get things done correctly and on time, so it is important for them to know that the decisions they make are very important to the KIs and will be accepted. Without the proper buy-in and support from KIs, DMs know that things can go very wrong.
Step 4: Earning the DM’s Trust
What’s the KI’s primary motivation? While the politically correct answer might be to reach the best possible solution, that might not be correct. It might be near the top, but a strong motivator for any KI is to look good in the eyes of the DM. They want to be thought of as earning trust, of providing important, valuable input, of helping to shape winning strategies; all so they can grow in stature and advance in their careers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s basic human nature. Such vested self-interest is best achieved by providing the DM with the best intel, the deepest drill-downs, and the most insightful analysis. A KI should be a master of due diligence. If appropriate, recommendations should be made as long as they can be supported by said analysis. Decisions are often only as good as the information upon which they are based, so the best way to be a great KI, and eventually a great DM, is to become a superstar in assisting the DM. Don’t merely pass along data. Data is just information. Data in context is actionable. Actionable data is knowledge. If you are a salesperson working with a KI, try to make sure you assist them in creating actionable knowledge. That’s the best way for you to influence the decision through the KI. KIs often will not feel comfortable making just a single recommendation. It’s more likely that they will try to offer a few of what they believe to be the best options. The KI should be objective. An experienced DM will look for objectivity and will discount input from KIs who can’t function objectively. As a KI, remember that your credibility with your DM is at stake.
Step 5: Plug the Leaks
A KI must help resolve last minute concerns. Just like a new ship about to be launched, there are bound to be loose ends and final details and glitches, which must be sorted through and resolved. I refer to this set of last minute concerns as ‘plugging the leaks’. Just as that ship will be taking a shake-down cruise to make sure it’s seaworthy before attempting a long voyage, a KI must make sure all the concerns and details are resolved. Those details may make the difference between a smooth and successful decision and a disaster. Often times, there are animosities or unresolved feelings of uncertainty that exist right before a decision is made. Last-minute efforts to change the DM’s mind can create major problems when the opposition comes in fast and hard to attempt to reverse a decision. KIs are vital at this point, helping to calm the situation and ensure that the rational decision is made. One of the trickiest things about KIs is that there are often several of them, so competing opinions might erupt into major confrontations. Ultimately, it is the DM who chooses, but often the most impactful KI gets their way.
Step 6: Make Your Choice
You’ve done all your due diligence. You’ve tried to provide your DM with insightful analysis. Now, the KI will be placing him or herself in the shoes of the DM by making a recommendation. The KI’s recommendation should be the best advice available based on the KI’s judgment. There will be times when the scope for the KI will only relate to a portion of the decision. There will also be occasions when the interests of the KI aren’t perfectly aligned with those of the DM. There might even be times when those interests are in direct opposition to the DM’s interests. A breakdown in the process can occur when a conflict of interest exists between what’s in the best interest of the KI versus the best interest of the DM. Sometimes it’s okay for the KI to choose what is best for them, and at other times they need to choose what is best for others. In either scenario, the KI should disclose any perspective or personal bias affecting their input. It’s possible the DM already knows of its existence, but this is no time to leave such a crucial disclaimer to chance. Typically, the best path for the KI to take requires them to set aside their personal agendas and place the best interest of the DM as the top priority. The relationship of trust between the DM and a KI hinges upon how the parties look out for one another’s best interest.
Step 7: Get Onboard
Once a decision has been made, the KI’s role changes immediately. This change is made more difficult and more important when the DM’s decision is different than the one recommended by the KI. It’s now time to communicate and support the decision. It’s likely that the KI’s staff and coworkers know what solution the KI recommended. Therefore, especially when the solution chosen differs from that recommended one, they will be looking for guidance and clues from the KI regarding how to react to the solution chosen. That’s why it’s vital for the KI to embrace and support the decision from the outset. Once the decision is made, everyone needs to pull in the same direction to make it a successful one. After decisions are made the real challenges begin to emerge. Implementing a decision in a live environment requires support from all involved, especially the KIs. DMs utilize the KIs to shape decisions and then expect support after pulling the trigger to offer the chosen solution the greatest chance for success. The KI’s attitude and actions sets the tone for how others view the decisions made and impacts their compliance and enthusiasm levels. The best KIs stand by their DMs 100%, assuming, of course, that the decision is both legal and ethical.
Step 8: Make It Fit
No solution is perfect, and there will always be challenges to face during implementation. Here’s where the KI must take all the knowledge obtained during the due diligence and evaluation phases of the decision-making process and turn them to maximum advantage during implementation. Actively help implementation of the decision made. Don’t be passive, especially if the decision wasn’t in line with the KI’s recommendation. Support in communicating the decision is important, but actively helping implement the decision is even more crucial. The KI can’t just get by with smiling and hope for a successful implementation. In addition to genuinely supporting and positively communicating the decision made, the KIs must take hands-on actions whenever possible to help the decision flourish. Trust me, it won’t just be your staff and co-workers watching. The DM will be watching too.
Step 9: The Times Are Changing
Changes over time are inevitable. The modern business environment is more volatile than at any time in history. The digital era has brought on an unprecedented level of disruption. Further, the pace of change will only increase. Yesterday’s innovative solution is tomorrow’s outdated process. Since change is essentially a constant, KIs must become experts at change management and change philosophy. To support the DM’s decisions over time, KIs need to be aware of how decisions impact the real world around them. A decision might need to be modified in response to unanticipated events or changes in the external environment. KIs need to maintain the flexibility required to adapt solutions to not just achieve an initial fit, but to make sure those decisions continue to fit in an ever evolving scenario. It’s not defeat to recognize flexibility needs to be incorporated in any decision-making process before and after decisions are made.
Think of the DM as the fighter pilot, pulling the trigger while flying high over the field of battle; involved to be sure, but largely above the fray. The role of the KI is more like the foot soldier, working on the ground, in the trenches, doing more of the heavy lifting and digging, lighting up the target with a laser. That analogy isn’t completely accurate, but it’s right enough to provide an effective visual of the differences between the two roles. The KI wants to influence the DM. The KI wants his input to be valuable to the decision reached. The KI wants to one day be the DM, and understanding and fulfilling the role of KI is one of the most effective ways to make sure that occurs. A good salesperson will assist a KI in imparting impactful knowledge to the DM. The DM will usually be swayed by the most impactful KIs. While it is always preferable for a salesperson to go straight to the DM, that option isn’t always available. When it’s not, providing the best assistance to a critical KI is the next best way to position your solution to be the one the DM says YES to. The KI will also remember who was of assistance to him or her and who was not.
Although it may be tempting or seemingly expedient to skip over KIs and not spend energy on them, it can handicap your chances of obtaining the answer you seek. Make a list of all the ‘players’ involved in the decision-making process. Distinguish the people into two categories; DMs and KIs. Then plan out your communication with each of these sets of players and take persuasive actions to guide them. Learn information about each participant as you progress and communicate so you gain valuable insights. To be a master of persuasion put yourself in the mindset of your KIs because your DMs certainly will.