You are a new salesperson for a company who sells buses. The owner of the company has been successful for a long period of time. He has a particular sales approach that uses old school methodology that has consistently generated revenue. As you get immersed into the field, you realize there are some sales strategies that need to change, which could amplify the volume of sales. Your supervisor, who is also new to the company, is a sales manager from the medical industry who is always insisting on modernized sales changes, but you watch him get continually shut down by the owner. The owner thinks these new sales methods, while working with your sales manager’s previous white collar audience, won’t work with the more blue collar transportation managers who authorize bus purchases.
You want to influence the boss, but in light of your sales manager’s failed attempts, you doubt your ability to bring change. What do you do?
To influence change, you first must gain the trust of those who you wish to influence. A key way to earn trust is through visible results. You can’t show results using an approach or system that isn’t allowed. You must use the existing tools at your disposal. Donald Rumsfeld once famously stated, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
The reason “new ideas, even great ones, are often dismissed is because their issuer has no “street cred.” To gain credibility, you first need to dominate the existing structure.
In our story, you (the new bus salesperson) accomplish this by selling more buses than any other salesperson has sold at the company using the existing methods the owner favored. Unlike the new sales manager, you now have skin in the game.
INFLUENCE THE FUTURE
You are now able to go to the owner and say:
“I’ve made you a lot of money this month, but I’d like to help you earn more. We have a solid sales system, but there are some improvements I believe we could make to increase profits. The good news is that we have a system I can make work if any of these suggestions don’t increase sales the way I believe they will. Let’s start by having me implement these new ideas, and if they are successful, we can roll them out to other salespeople.”
The owner says, “If you think you can increase sales from last month (which he knows were solid), let’s definitely give it a go.”
You have just influenced for positive change!
BREAKING IT DOWN
There are several reasons dominating the current system before suggesting changes for the future works well. Let’s break down the conversation to see why it couples so well with having delivered results.
Celebrate the Past
“…we have a solid sales system…”
Every suggested change may be seen as an insult to the past. It’s important you celebrate the strengths a company or individual already possesses, and not in a false-flattery way. Find things to celebrate and acknowledge - even about the things you wish to change.
First Get Results, Then Amplify Them
“I’ve made you a lot of money this month, but I’d like to help you earn more.”
The reason our sales manager couldn’t influence change with the owner is because he can’t claim the first statement. It appears he can’t sell within the given context. The owner wonders if the sales manager wants the change because he can’t cut it and is merely blaming the system. By achieving results within the given system first, you are able to say, “I focus on getting results, and I want to amplify what is already delivering for the company.”
“The good news is that we have a system I can make work if any of these suggestions don’t increase sales the way I believe they will.”
No one likes to “bet the farm.” Instead, you are more able to influence the owner by stating that you are setting up boundaries and keeping the existing sales safe. This allows for A/B testing, you against yourself in the previous system, and your new way against the old way maintained by others. This makes it easier for others to buy into the change.
“Let’s start by having me implement these new ideas…”
You are not suggesting a system that, if it were to fail, you can pass blame to others for not instituting it properly. You are stepping up and taking responsibility by stating, “I am owning my idea, and I will execute it. If it fails, it is because it wasn’t a good strategy as the same person using the new system succeeded in the previous system.”
“…if the new ideas are successful, we can roll them out to other salespeople.”
It not only takes energy and effort to get the owner to buy into change, it also takes energy to get the other salespeople to buy into it. By experiencing success yourself, you are able to find some of the forward thinking salespeople and allow them to be early adopters. They can become your advocates and walking testimonials for further implementation.
If you don’t produce results from the existing system before influencing change, it can quickly appear that you are merely a whiner or naysayer. Succeed in the current method and then begin having the influential conversations with decision makers acknowledging what is already working, mitigating the risk, taking ownership and using a contained rollout. This also positions you to be the LEADER of the new system, further increasing your value and leadership within the organization. Who knows? Soon YOU may be the sales manager or hold an upper management position.
If you want to learn more about your current ability to influence others, consider taking the Keller Influence Indicator®. You will get your TRUSTWORTHINESS score, plus 6 other traits that directly affect your ability to influence others. This tool was thoroughly researched and pioneered at Clemson University’s Graduate School of Business and serves as a powerful benchmark of your leadership and influence effectiveness.