How to Increase Your Influence (and 21 lessons from a career in sales)

May 06, 2015

In the movie Glengarry Glenross, there’s a famous scene where Alec Baldwin comes into the room. Jack Lemon, Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey are real estate salesmen. Baldwin is the big boss from corporate. The sales numbers are down and he’s coming to fire the boys up. Lemmon is pouring a coffee and Baldwin tells him to put the coffee down (okay, not that nice – here’s the link but be warned there’s some vulgar language). He tells him “Coffee’s for Closers”. It’s become a rallying cry for sales people. We even use it in our business sometimes. While I agree that closing is important in sales, I think people get the wrong impression.

Sales isn’t just about closing the deal. It’s got be the right deal. It’s more than that, actually. It’s got to be the right deal for both sides. If it’s not, one party is going to walk away with a bitter taste. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will happen.

Some people hear the world sales and they immediately cringe. What about you?

I’ve learned that sales is really about influence. The more real influence you can build, the better you’ll get at “selling”, whatever that is for you. There’s a saying that says “It’s not personal, it’s business.” While there’s some truth to that, I don’t like it all. My personal feeling is that all business should be personal as well. Think of yourself not as selling something; Think of yourself as adding value to someone or something. That’s personal if you ask me. That’s real influence.

I think there’s a lot we can learn from learning how to sell better. After all, I’m a firm believer that we’re all in sales. We sell to our significant others, our kids, our parents, etc. We negotiate all the time (see the kids reference again). We can call benefit from understanding some of the keys that make you better at sales.
I’ve been in the corporate sales world for the last 15 years. I have the great pleasure of working with some dynamic clients and I get to build personal and business relationships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’ve also been through A LOT of sales and negotiation training. Some good, some not so good. And, I get to see some great influencers in action in my colleagues.

Mea culpa here – I’m a work in progress when it comes to being the best I can be. I’ve struggled at times and I’ve succeeded at times. I know that without the struggle, there is no appreciation for success. My aim is that some of the roadblocks and faulty assumptions I’ve had in my career may help you overcome any challenges you have around this topic.

Now for some lessons I’ve learned along the way on influence and sales:

  1. Think win/win – Many people think of sales or negotiation as one person wins and one person loses. That’s the wrong way to look at it. If you think in terms of win/win or even win/win plus where you expand the pie a bit and add even more value than originally thought, you will be much further ahead.
  2. Think from the other person’s perspective – This is hard to do, but really challenge yourself. Think about whatever it is you’re selling from their perspective. What makes them tick? Why and how would what you’re trying to sell help them? John Costigan and Chris Daltorio are the best in the business (they run a sales training company called New Velocity) when it comes to sales training and they have a concept called Why x 3 – if you can get someone to open up and really get through the layers of why, you’re well on your way to the sale (and establishing some real trust). A mentor of mine, Kary Oberbrunner, likes to say – “when you know the why and you’ll know the way.” I love that.
  3. Listen – You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Ask the right questions and listen.
  4. Be authentic – Be yourself. There’s no one right selling style. Bring your own personal flavor. People buy into authenticity.
  5. Begin with the end in mind – I’m stealing this from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits but it’s great in everything you do. You can even start out the conversation with something like “Hey, I know we both want to have a successful outcome (and state what that is), my goal is to get to that outcome and I’m committed to that.” Your conversation will go much smoother if you state this up front.
  6. Be humble – You’re only as good as your last sale. I’ve been on the hero list in sales and I’ve been on the zero list. Don’t settle for either. If you’re at the top of your game, know that someone is coming after you. If you’re at the bottom, know that tomorrow is a new day.
  7. Have a sense of urgency – It’s a sign of respect. If someone asks you something and need to get back to them. Get it done quickly. This builds trust quickly.
  8. It’s not about the close – ABC, always be closing, is a misnomer. I believe you close a deal long before it officially closes. It’s the tiny investments you make along the way. The handwritten notes, the consistent value touches….the little things. Those make the biggest difference.
  9. Sometimes the deal starts with no – If you get to no, that’s much better than getting to maybe. If you truly understand the WHY behind the no, you may be able to see the light to yes and explain yourself (or your product) better.
  10. Embrace the grind – Sales isn’t easy. I think it’s an art form in a lot of ways. There are days when it’s a drag. You get told no a lot and you have to solve a lot of problems. Just like any worthwhile cause, if you embrace the process, and take it day by day, good things will come. I didn’t understand this a few years ago and my results suffered greatly. Fortunately, I’ve matured a little bit. Now, I expect the struggle. It’s part of the beauty of achievement. Read this by habits guru James Clear on embracing the process. It’s profound.
  11. Lead by action – Leadership isn’t about a title. If you influence people to do more and be more, you’re a leader. Leaders inspire action and they lead by example.
  12. Influence = Sales – In the book, “Influence”, Robert Cialdini talks about people and companies that were able to sell more simply buy stating the “because” or the “why” behind what they were offering. Saying I want you to do this or buy this isn’t enough….saying “I want you to do this because X, Y or Z” is much more compelling to that person. If they know your why, they’re definitely more apt to buy in.
  13. AAV- Always Add Value – This goes for the entire sales process…and beyond. Once the sale is closed, you still have to add value. That’s the key. If you can over-deliver, you will never be outsold. Bob Burg, along with John David Mann, wrote a great book called “The Go Giver”. The concept is, if you focus on giving to others you will get a lot more in return than you ever expected.
  14. Mindset is the killer app – I’ve heard writer Jonathan Fields say this. I wholeheartedly agree. With sales, with winning, with success, with anything, your mindset is typically a key determining factor for your outcome. Just like an athlete, when you’re in between the lines, it’s go time. Stay focused on the outcome you want to achieve…add value…and you’re going places.
  15. Give credit to others – Sales, especially in the corporate world, is usually the combined effort of a lot of people. Give credit to the team. It’s not all about you. As Zig Ziglar said, “The more you get people what they want, the more you’ll get what you want.”
  16. Prepare for Success – Think about what you’re going to say in advance. Before a meeting, visualize it going well. Before a presentation, actually close your eyes and see yourself giving the presentation of your life. Feel the energy. Before a phone call, write down the key points you want to get across. There’s no substitute for preparation. I love the saying, “Luck is simply when preparation meets opportunity”. I’d rather be lucky than good…how about you?
  17. Invest in success – Practice your craft. Read books. Get training. Find a mentor. Get better everyday.
  18. We are all a work in progress – The goal is to fulfill our potential. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work to get to the top.
  19. Be a difference maker – Find ways to make a difference. Whether it’s in work or in life. Think outside the box. Think about the solution and not just the problem. Be different.
  20. Be a connector – Make connections. Introduce people to each other. You’re making deposits in the relationship bank accounts that you may leverage in the future. As my friend Scott Dinsmore says in his writing (and he even teaches a whole course on it!), you can “Connect with Anyone”. If you master that craft, you will gain some major influence.
  21. Surround yourself with other difference makers, influencers and connectors – Jim Rohn says, “You’re the avg of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” I love this. Surround yourself with rain makers and game changers and you will become one.

There you have it. Remember, success is something you have to earn daily. Greatness is something we all want but very few attain.

Influence leads to impact. If you want more of an impact, whether that’s financial or, more importantly, on others, getting better at being more influential is crucial.

So, how about you? What do you do to increase your influence and impact? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments!


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