Influencing People, Not Customers

Posted on 06/17/2014 in Influence Skills

I was asked recently to speak at a national sales meeting. Prior to the meeting, the VP of Sales and I discussed topics to determine an appropriate message for the sales team.  We mutually agreed that the best salespeople don’t think of themselves as "selling products” or "selling services.”  Instead, the most successful sellers must excel at "influencing people.”  

Notice that we are intentionally using the word people rather than customers. To sell well in today’s complex sales environment, a sales professional needs to influence customers, colleagues, and others (such as convincing a supplier to do something special for a customer). 

The opportunity to use influence in sales is critically important. For example, consider these two situations that require the salesperson to influence one or more other people:

Situation #1 – Influencing a Customer: One of your existing customers recently acquired another company. This acquisition means that there are several new sales opportunities.  In order to capitalize on these sales opportunities you need to meet with some customer contacts that don’t know you at all.  You would like your current contact to assist you in setting up these meetings with the other customer contacts.  Based on your prior experience with this person, he/she tends to act as a gatekeeper and limits access to other people. You suspect that he/she will do the same thing when you make this request.  Use your influence skills to gain his/her support without making him/her feel as if you trying to go around him/her. 

Situation #2 – Influencing an Internal Manager: One of your key accounts has threatened to give a large piece of business to one of your competitors unless you make a significant concession (for example, a price reduction, extended payment terms, special packaging, and so on). You need to speak with an upper-level manager to get his/her approval for this customer request.  Use your influence skills to get this manager to agree to this concession or something comparable in scope.  Highlight the negative consequences to your company if you lose the business at this account.

Salespeople rarely, if ever, can use positional power to do their job.  As shown in the above two situations, sales professionals must influence other people.  Fortunately, influence skills can be developed and improved. 

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