Every business deal is a negotiation, and every negotiation has its players and its influencers. Figuring out who the players are is relatively simple – they’re the ones sitting across the table from you. But figuring out who their influential advisors are is a totally different issue, and it’s an important one to understand.
If you don’t know who, or where, your target is looking to for advice, you may not know the best way to focus your pitch, position your product or direct your negotiation strategy. You may also miss an opportunity to influence their influencers, potentially passing up a great chance to drive a deal through indirect, not direct, interaction (imagine if their influencer understood and was actually an advocate of your business, product or services).
In the world of business and negotiations, every edge is an advantage
Influencers, however, come in all different shapes and sizes, and are not necessarily consistent from deal to deal. Sure, there are a few that are always important, such as the person who controls the funding, or the COO who will ultimately be responsible for making sure that their business continues to operate in a smooth fashion. But the sheer number of influencers that you might encounter on a deal is much broader than you might think, and the weight of each can vary considerably. So just who might be influencing your next deal?
Here’s a quick list of suspects you might consider:
- Analysts: the trusted industry guru who shares their advice with all who will listen,
- Advisors: a bit closer to your prospect (mostly invisible, in fact), and somebody that is usually asked quietly to vet a new idea or project,
- Consultants: the person/group brought in specifically for this particular project who knows that their reputation is linked directly to how well this particular deal works out,
- Peer Groups: that group of industry peers (every industry has one) that talks about just what products or services they’ve used, what worked and what didn’t (and by the way, they often tend to flock together when it comes to technology best practices),
- Customers: not the person you are dealing with, but their customer, who may have a preference or a particular bit of sway based upon their size and purchasing habits with your potential customer (and don’t forget that a customer can be both a “best advocate” and a tremendous influencer),
- Press: who are always evaluating and publishing stories, articles, case studies about your products, your industry, etc. (sure, the “press” isn’t as popular as they once were, but their ability to influence is still as strong as ever as their writers have shifted into dual “reporter/blogger” roles, ),
- Bloggers: both individuals who have sway in their own particular sector as well as those in the emerging “tra-digital” hybrid model where the traditional press (with online publications) and individual bloggers have merged to form a slightly new breed of news/commentary that is becoming an increasingly valued source of information (Huffington Post early on was a great example), and
- Special Interest Groups: depending upon your industry, special interest groups (which are a bit different from industry peer groups in that they often have an agenda and can even be formal lobbying groups) can be a formidable force that can influence not just a particular business entity but an entire industry (and the politics that go with it).
- Marketing: I’m breaking out Marketing (either in-house or via agencies) from Competition (see below) due to the fact that Marketing usually involves a bit of “spin” that may not accurately represent your competitor in their true light. With that said, it is important to see how your competitor’s products are being marketed – who are they targeting? what buzz-words are they using? how are they gaining their traction? are they comparing their company/product (either directly or indirectly) to you, and if so, how?
- Your Competition: if you think you don’t have any competition, you are probably selling into a market that doesn’t exist. Looking at your competition is a great way to understand both market and customer dynamics. And let’s face it, very few (if any) of your potential partners or customers will ever sign a deal without doing a bit of window shopping, and what they see in the window will definitely have an influence on how they perceive the relative value between you and your competition. And don’t just stop at their products/services, but look at the entire firm. Are they product/service-focused or are they customer-centric? How are their various departments (sales, marketing, customer support, development, etc.) woven together. The more you know, they better you can compete, and answer those tough questions that your potential partner or client is likely to ask (like “Why you, and not them?”).
So if you can figure out just who your prospective client or business partner is listening to (which requires that you do your fair share of listening), you may just find an edge, and in the world of business and negotiation, every edge is an advantage.
So who are your target’s influential advisors, and how will you turn that knowledge into an advantage?
[UPDATE: This post was originally written as an introduction to the June 28th edition of #InfluenceChat, a weekly Twitter chat on business influence that takes place every Tuesday at 12pm ET (check out the GnosisArts wiki for a list of all Twitter Chats. This post has been edited for clarification and to update content, including the addition of the “Special Interest Groups” at the suggestion of Rika Ng @rikang and the suggestion of Marketing Agencies and Competitors from Margie Clayman @MargieClayman]