Why influencing is more important than selling

Business Impact: Why influencing is more important than selling
Business Impact: Why influencing is more important than selling

Who are we to say that selling is not important? Selling, however, is a subset of influencing. And it does not have a good reputation. When you ask which words or phrases people in organisations associate with selling, responses often include ‘manipulation’, ‘self-interest’ and ‘pushy’ – in other words, almost always negative words or phrases.

So, the key skill to focus on, if you want to get ahead in any career, is that of influencing, up and down in an organisation and with key external stakeholders.

Influence more people, more of the time

Influencing is about producing an effect on an individual or group by imperceptible or intangible means. It is about shaping and determining a response, which will be linked to your outcome. There are few things more fundamental to success in today’s work environment than an ability to influence effectively. It’s strange how so many people have limiting beliefs about their own ability to influence. Anyone in business can improve their ability to influence if they are self-aware and willing to learn what it takes to influence more people, more of the time.

It was not many years ago that personal success had much more to do with positional authority and power. In recent years, however, the world has changed significantly. Daniel Priestley’s book, Become a Key Person of Influence, describes how in many areas of commerce and work there are KPIs: Key People of Influence. These are people who exert a greater influence on the system than those around them or, indeed, their positional authority would suggest. What will it take for you to become a KPI?

Whether you are in sales, management or some other business role, you increasingly need to influence people at all levels to succeed. Over many years now, we have been fascinated by the subject of influencing, first as salespeople, then as managers in a variety of organisations and now as consultants and trainers working with people at all levels in business. We also know that a lot has been written about the theory of effective influencing by Robert Cialdini [Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University], Noah Goldstein [Professor of Management and Organizations at UCLA Anderson School of Management] and many others. Our focus, however, is on the practical ‘how to’ of influencing – what does it take for someone to be able to influence effectively in any situation, on an everyday basis.

Attributes of those who influence effectively

Typically, businesspeople who are exceptional at influencing share a common set of attitudes and behaviours that consistently get great results through:

  • Listening attentively.
  • Uncovering needs and wants because they appreciate that everyone is unique.
  • Empathising continuously.
  • Identifying benefits of solutions.
  • Neutralising resistance, often through ‘pre-suasion’ (a term coined by Cialdini: influencing in advance).
  • Finding alternative ways to influence others and demonstrating high levels of flexibility.
  • Improving sensory awareness. This means that their senses are finetuned to notice the smallest details, including non-verbal signals that are sometimes different from what a person is saying.
  • Creating a high degree of rapport.
  • Base the success of their communication on the response it produces in others.

Just consider this for a moment – think of a time in the last six months when you wanted to buy something. You did not need to be persuaded about a product, the price was acceptable, and you walked into a retail store but left without buying the product. If this has ever happened to you, there is a good chance that the person serving influenced you not to buy! The salesperson may have done one (or more) of the following:

  • Confused you with feature overload.
  • Did not listen to what you wanted.
  • Ignored you.
  • Did not ask you any questions.
  • Asked you what you perceived as being an annoying question.
  • Did not have the exact information you wanted.
  • Seemed to lack confidence.

Evidence suggests that, when confronted with these sorts of scenarios, many people are prepared to pay more for the same service or product from another supplier or, more likely nowadays, online.

Confidence, credibility and connection

Maybe you have also had the experience where you bought something from someone you really liked and then suffered from buyer’s remorse at some stage after the sale had taken place, as you realised you did not really need what you had bought.

What is going on here? How is it that even sophisticated people are influenced in this way? It seems, on the face of it, entirely irrational. What is happening is that you are being affected by the foundations of influencing – confidence, credibility and connection. What we call the ‘C3 Model of Influencing’.

In most influencing situations, it is unlikely that anyone will buy an idea, product or service off anyone unless they have demonstrated confidence, established credibility and built a connection with the other parties.

It is ‘C3’ because its strength comes from when you have all three elements in place – it’s exponentially more powerful. If you only have two elements working, you will be far less influential. These three components are the foundation of effective influencing. If you focus on developing these, you will be able to utilise the skill of influencing in any situation.

Anyone can influence effectively – you only need to pay attention to three key elements to develop your influencing skills and/or your mindset.

Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird are coaches, trainers, keynote speakers and co-authors of Brilliant Selling (Pearson).

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