Long gone are the days where selling ice to Eskimos is considered the pinnacle of successful influencing. Apart from the polar ice cap issues (and the obvious conflict with your company’s environmental policy), convincing stakeholders or customers to ‘buy’ a solution they don’t need results in two things: buyers remorse, and a frustration towards you, the influencer. Convincing your stakeholders or customers a second (and third, fourth, or fifth) time around to buy into your ideas again can be almost impossible as a result of the damaged relationship.
What’s in it for them: creating value
When you propose an idea, the first question your stakeholder will ask is, “What’s in it for me?” So your ability to gain buy-in to a proposal or idea is linked to your ability to convince others of its value – to their organisation, to their team and to them personally.
While many realise the importance of demonstrating value, more than a few of us fall into a dangerous trap: When people say ‘no’ to our initial proposal, we try to ‘sell’ the idea back to them. Then, if (or when) it fails, we simply accept their decision and give up.
The most effective influencers don’t try to ‘sell’ ideas – and they certainly don’t just accept the first ‘no’ they receive. Savvy influencers engage their stakeholders in a problem-solving discussion. And they do it by using skilful questions to uncover the key drivers, needs and concerns that motivate their stakeholders – and then by working with them to generate creative solutions to address key concerns using the ‘value generator’ (which we work through with our clients in our influencing workshops).
Framing proposals as opportunities to solve problems
Let’s say you’re trying to introduce an accelerated development program for a talent pool in your organisation. When you propose this to one department head, she replies, “Sorry, we can’t do it this year, maybe next year.”
Your task now is to uncover why she won’t accept your proposal. What are her underlying reasons? What are her key goals for 2013? Perhaps she wants to minimise unnecessary spend before the end of the financial year, and only invest money with a guaranteed return on investment. Or she may want to retain talent and develop future leaders, but minimise interruptions to their daily work.
Once you’ve identified her key goals and concerns, you’re well positioned to propose options to meet these needs.
If she’s worried about more spending in this financial year, you could suggest that the planning and selection (which is unlikely to incur a high cost) occurs in this current financial year and the bulk of the program rollout at the start of the next financial year. If she’s concerned about interruptions, you could suggest a program to run for a year with some sessions to occur after work hours or in lunch breaks.
If you can engage her in this sort of option generation process, chances are you’ll be surprised by the creative solutions that emerge.
The CMA team