Imagine applying military techniques to strategic account development. It makes sense – so much of a military campaign is the winning of hearts and minds and using information as a tool of warfare. That’s what I discussed with Dan Connors of the Applied Influence Group.
By Stuart Maister, Joint MD, Mutual Value
Imagine applying military techniques to strategic account development. It makes sense – so much of a military campaign is the winning of hearts and minds and using information as a tool of warfare.
That’s what Applied Influence do, with its two principals taking techniques they learned in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing it to the world of B2B selling. I was interested in discussing this because developing a clear narrative and then focusing on building high levels of trust – the work we do – felt entirely consistent with this approach.
I interviewed Dan Connors, Cofounder and Chief Influence Officer, and you can watch the 18 minute video below (or listen to it on your next walk). But here are some of the key takeaways from our discussion.
What is influence?
Dan says this is “the ability to change how people think, act and feel,” and therefore achieve specific outcomes. I focus on how you should be deliberate and intentional about building trust; Dan works with his clients to do the same with influence.
The similarities are clear. This is both a task for individuals and the team – Dan told me his key takeaway is that “influence is a team sport”. Same with building trust of course as the two are completely intertwined – I’ll listen to you if I trust you.
The assumption is so often that ‘some people are naturally good at this’, with the assumption that others are not. Yet both gaining trust and exerting influence are skills that can be developed at every level through training and coaching. Naturals will always be great, but others can apply proven techniques if they decide to focus on building influential relationships, and Dan makes the point that those who plan and learn are often more successful than those who have more natural communication skills.
Plan to win or fail to plan
Which comes to a key point where the rubber hits the road: planning. Teams want to be strategic but often not invest the time to do so. Dan says they’re so busy “doing stuff” that they don’t lift their head above the fray to plan. We see this too of course – particularly right now when the pressure is on. That leads to reactive behaviour and a lack of conscious relationship-building.
Dan quoted one client where they began a programme and the senior sales leader admitted that what they were doing was “a lot of shooting but not a lot of aiming” and this needed to change. We call this “net fishing” and advocate “spear fishing” instead. Applied Influence are seeing this being worse during and after Covid because of the pattern of people just jumping from call to call.
Of course, the result of the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach is that time is wasted, or you hit a lot of rubbish targets as well as the ones you should be aiming for. Really strategic account leadership is about taking time to decide where you are going to invest your efforts and doing so effectively. What a former mentor of mine called “slowing down to speed up”.
Information is data
Dan says their process relies on gathering together data to inform the plan. What is data in this situation? Well, it’s the combination of everything we know plus everything we can know. One of his key insights is the frequent discovery that when you pool the knowledge of the team you discover you know a lot more than you thought you did. Dots are joined, patterns emerge – and this underpins the idea of this being a team sport.
In addition, of course there is a lot of publicly available information which can be fed into the process. Clients appear in webinars, write blogs, give speeches, publish strategies, take actions – all of this provides context – the terrain on which engagement will take place.
I loved this but would add something that we believe strongly: the power of developing this knowledge with the client. If you are a strategic client of mine I want you to know that, and know exactly what it means. One of the ways this should manifest itself is that there are a lot of open questions, active discussion about your ambitions and needs and a proactive exchange of perspectives.
Influence. Trust. Narrative. We had a great meeting of minds about the importance of really being strategic with strategic accounts. And winning the hearts and minds of our most important clients.
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