Knowing Your Prospect's Influencers

  • Written By: Olin Thompson
  • Published On: November 15 2004



Introduction

A prospect is listening to many different people at the same time. While you are doing your best to influence the decision, the prospect sees you as only a single input to decision-making. Prospects listen to many, with each type of influence having a different degree of trust and therefore of influence. Understanding where you stand and how to influence the influencers can help you win.

Trust Is Critical

Everyone has outside influencers. Think about who can influence you. The influencing person or organization must have knowledge of the subject but more importantly, must have your trust. This applies to a vendor attempting to sell a product or service, but also any other source of information. Trust is critical.

As a vendor, you must build trust before you can influence the decision makers. Other influencers come with built-in trust. As sales people, you have limited or no ability to alter the trust or credibility inherent in these influencers. You must learn how to use the influencer's to your benefit to win deals.

Influencers and Trust

The amount of trust assigned to an influencer is a function of how the prospect sees that person or organization. Therefore, the relative trust will vary from prospect to prospect and from deal to deal. Looking at your prospect's influencers generically, we can develop a map that reflects the typical trust related to different types of influencers.

Your prospect will often seek out opinions from high trust influencers for their opinion. For each deal, you need to understand who may influence the prospect and how much trust or weight the input from each influencer will have. See the Sample Influencer Trust Map below.

The prospect sees the high trust influencers as both knowledgeable and untainted by competitive or monetary considerations. Often, these influences have long-term relationships with the prospect. The advice given by the high trust influencers carries significant weight and is seldom challenged. Although the vendor's customers (references) may be given high trust, they may also be perceived as biased and therefore instead given medium trust.

Medium trust influencers are seen to possibly possess useful knowledge but may have some competitive or monetary considerations influencing their advice. The advice from these medium trust influencers is inspected for both objectivity and accuracy. If accepted, the advice is assigned a lower weight than the advice from the high trust influencers.

The vendor must prove it has knowledge that is meaningful to the prospect. Yes, vendors have knowledge of their own products or services, but the prospect needs to see that vendors have knowledge of how those products or services can help in the prospects' specific situation. Prospects need to see industry specific knowledge (vertical market), general business knowledge and how the vendor's products and services can help with their objectives. Until you have proven yourself, you cannot have credibility and therefore you cannot have the prospect's trust.

Of course, the prospect understands that selling your product or services is how you make money and that means everything you say will be inspected and usually assigned a lower score.

Influencing The Influencers

Since the influencers have the prospect's trust, what they say can have a very big impact on your sales efforts. So, a key question has to be, "Can you influence the influencers?" The answer is some yes and some no.

For those influencers who you are confident will help your cause, how do you make certain that they talk to the prospect and that their message is assigned a high value? Your customers, partners, and friendly analysts and consultants can usually be expected to deliver a positive message. You can introduce them to the prospect yourself or, even better, introduce one of them and have that person introduce the others. An introduction coming through someone else will carry more weight. The best path is usually introducing one reference customer to the prospect and having that reference introduce others to the prospect. The prospect is most likely to want to talk to the reference and meeting other sources through that reference increases both the odds of a conversation taking place and the credibility of the message. To introduce a reference to the prospects, e-mail the prospect with the reference's contact information, copying the reference. That allows the reference to contact the prospect if necessary.

The influencers who have your confidence are part of your sales team. You have both a need and an obligation to brief them on the situation. The reference needs to know who will be calling (the company and the person if possible), the prospect's objectives, what you are trying to sell, and suggestions on what you want the prospect to hear from the influencer. After the call, make certain you follow-up with both the prospect and the influencer. Thank the influencer for their help and give any feedback that is meaningful (remember, you may need them again on this deal or a future deal.)

The prospect may tell you that they are calling an influencer with whom you have no history or relationship. Can you influence this source? Yes you can, if you contact and brief that person. Your job here is to help the influencer understand the situation, but no mistake about it, this is a sales call. Once again, you have to establish your credibility and build trust. Brief the influencer on how you see the prospect's need, what you proposing, why you think it will help the prospect. Give the influencer a logical checklist of considerations of your benefits and these will very often be used in their conversation with your prospect.

Of course, you will only know about some influencers after the fact or not at all. These cannot be influenced directly but only indirectly by the general reputation and name recognition of your product and services in the industry (yes that means marketing).

If the prospect received a negative message from one of these influencers, do not attack the person or organization directly. This will normally not be effective and may erode the trust you have built with the prospect. Your line of discussion may include your surprise at their (negative) point of view and curiosity about how they came to that conclusion. Express a desire to talk directly to the influencer so you can understand how they got that point of view. Suggest that an executive from your company talk to the influencer because, as a company, you want to find out about any possible problems or misunderstandings. Pull out your positive points to counteract what the negative influencer said. Try to present other positive points of view that come from equally powerful influencers.

Summary

Others play a part in all your deals. Your job is to understand who will play a part, what their relative impact on the deal will be (how much the prospect trusts them) and how, where possible, to influence the influencers. If any influencer delivers a negative message, proactively address it without attacking the influencer. Your direct selling effort is just one influence in your deals. Understanding the other influencers and building both the positive and negative impacts into your sales plan can be critical to your success.

About the Author

Olin Thompson has over twenty-five years experience as a corporate executive in the application software industry. As a consultant, he provides business strategy, sales, and marketing guidance to application software providers. For more details, see www.olinthompson.com.

He can be reached at OT@olinthompson.com.

 
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