This is the seventh in a series of articles for e-learning for Advanced Sales Training for IT and High-Tech Sales. "Sales Strategy – Influencing Key People”
Key People are Stakeholders who have the power and influence to shape the outcome of a sale, to affect the buying criteria, the final decision, and the success or failure of the project. Stakeholders are VIPs each with their own agendas, priorities, and levels of influence.
In IT and high-tech sales mastering the art of influencing these key people or stakeholders is paramount to the success of your sales programme, it can be the difference between a successful sale and a missed opportunity. Stakeholders can be champions who elevate your solution or detractors who could challenge its adoption.
In this article, we will delve into a four-step process designed to help you succeed in influencing Key People effectively.
Step 1: Identify Stakeholders through Stakeholder Mapping
The first step in influencing Key People is identifying them accurately. Conduct stakeholder mapping to create a comprehensive list of all parties that play a role or have an interest or stake in your proposal or solution. It's crucial to cast a wide net to ensure no influential party is overlooked. This initial mapping lays the foundation for your strategic approach.
Stakeholder mapping is an essential process in understanding and visualizing the interests, influence, and relationships of various stakeholders in a particular project or initiative. Tools that can be used in the process (amongst many!) include:
- Stakeholder influence diagrammes - A visual tool that displays relationships and the influence levels among stakeholders. Useful for understanding complex stakeholder environments.
- Stakeholder Circles - Stakeholders are represented as circles with their size indicating their relative importance.
- Mind Maps – Graphical representation of stakeholders around a central node (the project or organisation).
- Fishbone Diagrammes – as used in Japanese quality systems, the project is placed in the head and departments / functions and key people are plotted as bones from the spine.
Collecting Mapping Data:
- Interviews: Conduct meetings with primary contacts within the prospect organization.
- Observation: Understand the organizational hierarchy and dynamics.
- Research: Look at company websites, annual reports, and other publications.
- Include influencers both inside and outside the company. This could range from a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or project manager to external consultants or industry thought leaders.
Step 2: Estimate Their Power and Impact on the Programme
Once you've identified stakeholders, the next step is to assess their power and impact on the project or program. This involves evaluating the extent to which each stakeholder can affect the outcome. Consider factors such as their authority, resources, and the extent of their involvement in similar decisions.
- Classify them: Once you've listed them, categorize them based on their roles. For instance:
o Top management
o IT Heads/CTOs
o Finance decision-makers
o External consultants or influencers
- Estimate their Power & Impact on the Programme
o Power Analysis:
§ Understand the hierarchy - Generally, higher positions come with more influence.
§ Role in the Purchase Process - Who has the final say? Who can veto? and Who can influence those with the power?
§ Historical Behaviour - Past actions can indicate their power in influencing outcomes.
o Impact Analysis: Determine who will be most affected by the implementation of your solution. Those greatly impacted will usually have a more vested interest.
Step 3: Plot Level of Involvement and Support
With a clear understanding of their power and impact, it's time to plot stakeholders' level of involvement and support. –
- Surveys - Ask stakeholders directly about their stance.
- Feedback from Meetings - Understand concerns and levels of support.
- Indirect Indicators - Monitor communication, behaviour, and engagement levels
Create a 2 x 2 matrix or grid. On one axis, plot 'Power' (from low to high), and on the other, 'Support' (from hostile to supporter). Now, plot each stakeholder on this grid and categorize them into four key groups:
a) Hostiles: (high Power, Low Support) Stakeholders who are opposed to your proposals or solutions. These individuals may actively work against your interests.
b) Critics: (low power, low support) Stakeholders who have reservations or concerns about your proposals. Their support is wavering and can be influenced either way.
c) Supporters: (low power, high support) Stakeholders who, while they may not outwardly support you, believe in your solution or its merits.
d) Allies: (high power, high support) Stakeholders who are staunch advocates of your proposals. They have the power to drive decisions in your favour.
Step 4: Influence in Your Favour
With stakeholders categorized, tailor your strategies to engage them effectively:
- Neutralize Hostiles: Your goal isn't necessarily to turn them into supporters, but rather to mitigate their resistance.
- Strategies: Understand their concerns and address them directly. Find common ground and engage in constructive dialogues to mitigate their opposition. It might be useful to have one-on-one meetings, offer pilot tests, or provide additional data/references to alleviate their worries. Consider bringing in higher-level allies from your organization if necessary.
- Weaken Critics: Engage with critics by actively listening to their concerns and addressing them thoughtfully.
- Strategies: Engage in open dialogue, offer training or workshops, or make minor adjustments to your solution if it can address their criticism without compromising the integrity of the project. Engage them in the process and solicit feedback making them feel involved. Provide additional information or evidence (case studies, testimonials, trials, pilot results) to alleviate doubts and shift their stance.
- Strengthen Supporters: Build strong relationships with supporters by actively involving them in the decision-making process.
- Strategies: Recognize and appreciate their support, ensuring they feel valued. Give regular updates, providing them with success stories, additional data, and ensuring they're equipped to advocate for your solution in meetings or discussions. Seek their advice on navigating internal politics or addressing detractors and leverage their influence to rally others behind your proposals.
- Honor Allies: Nurture your alliances with allies, showing appreciation for their support. Collaborate closely with them to ensure they remain steadfast advocates.
In the world of IT and high-tech sales, influencing key stakeholders is a critical skill. The people and politics involved play a significant role in determining the outcome. By following the four-step process of identifying stakeholders, estimating their power and impact, plotting their level of involvement and support, and strategically engaging them, you can significantly enhance your chances of success. Remember, it's not just about changing minds; it's about understanding perspectives and shifting the narrative in your favour.
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