Granted, other factors are considered before one decides (consciously or not) whether to allow someone to influence them. Do they know what they are talking about? Can I trust them? Do they have a decent track record? Do they impress me enough – in whatever ways I deem important –so that I will accept their influence?
Today with more and more people working remotely and in virtual teams, learning how to positively influence others that one has never met face-to-face is even more challenging. Yet every day we receive direct mail, email, and other advertisements that attempt – often successfully - to influence us to take advantage of whatever offers they are hawking.
We can learn some lessons from the advertising world when attempting to influence long distance:
1. Repetition. Every marketer knows that repetition is necessary in order to make a sale. In 1885, a London marketer named Thomas Smith wrote some advice that started out “1. The first time a man looks at an advertisement he does not see it.” It goes all the way to “20. The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys what it is offering.” Frequent communication of the same message is essential. For example, say you need help from another department in another city in order to get information for a client. Let them know something like “excellent customer service means on-time delivery of vital statistics” every time you speak or email with them. Even add it to your email signature. And to take this a step further, frequent communication in general is essential, in order to build a relationship. Which leads us to:
2. Build a relationship. The best marketers build a relationship with their customers. They find something in common – their love of their product ideally, but sometimes it’s a concern for a philanthropic cause, or the community they are in, or an event. We build a relationship with someone the same way – by finding something we have in common, by truly being interested in the other person, and by getting to know them beyond our surface transactions. Take the time to get to know someone over the phone, Skype, and through email. Do you both have teenagers? Both love football? Build on commonalities by sharing stories, tips, and resources. This helps with the next lesson:
3. Understand your customer. Understand what they want and need, and speak to that. Marketers know that fear and wanting to be part of a desired group are both big sellers. With fear, you are selling the idea that “you don’t want to have bad breath/excess weight/(insert undesirable quality here)”. With selling the desire to be a part of a certain group you sell the idea that “if you buy this you will be beautiful/part of the in crowd/smart/sexy/(insert desired state here)”. Know what is important to your ‘customer.’ Do they want to be part of a winning and successful team? Do they want to be promoted, recognized? Do they want to avoid looking dumb/failing? How can you present your idea to appeal to what they want, or as an antidote to what they want to avoid? “Getting me those statistics on the 5th of each month will be so impressive to my customer – I’m going to let your boss know you do that and how helpful it is.”
4. Make what you're selling accessible. It can't be too hard to do or get. It’s not too expensive. It’s not too complicated or too boring. It’s even fun to use or do. It’s easy to ‘buy’ and easy to use. “Here’s a template that you could use if it makes your work easier.”
5. Finally, engage them. Use the Law of Reciprocity to encourage them to buy into your idea by giving them something first. (E.g., the template, the compliment to their boss.) Intrigue them with your ideas by involving them in fine-tuning them. (“What other information could we give this client to really ‘wow’ them?”) Involve them in a group event where everyone is experiencing the idea. (“I’m inviting you to meet the customer at the Client User Forum next month.”) Tell them stories to help them visualize and emotionalize your idea. Get them excited and enthusiastic about your idea and watch it take off. Studies have shown that all decisions are emotional decisions, yet are justified with logic. Give your ‘customer’ both – positive emotions tied to your idea, and logic to back it up.
Influence is at the core of leading. And you don’t need a title to lead, or to influence successfully. You don’t even need to be in the same room to influence. But the best leaders wield their influence with integrity.