Asia's Premier Speaking Coach for Corporate Senior Leaders and CXOs

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9 steps to sell to someone more influential than you

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As a public speaking trainer and Millennials Coach, one of the questions I often get is how to reach out to influential people. After all, in business, it’s not always what you know, but who you know.

This is especially true for millennial business owners, who can benefit tremendously from the tactical advantages of having friends in the right places.

These people aren’t necessarily wealthy, but they do have influence, which is an important currency in its own right. You can’t exactly put a dollar value on the help, advice, or repeat business they offer to your organisation.

But influential people are also used to constantly fielding requests and pitches. Here’s how to get through to them.

  1. Do your homework

This may sound like an obvious statement, but if you want to woo influential people, you need to go the extra mile when doing your due diligence.

For starters, people are influential for different reasons. Your job is to discover why someone is influential, the scope of their influence, their professional network, and which angles you can use to reach out to them among others.

If you already know who you’ll be talking to, go ahead and look at their LinkedIn profile. If the customer is an investor, scour news sites for information about their last investments.Knowing these little details makes it easier to understand an influential person’s background and perspective. Coming prepared will also help dispel any preconceived biases they may have against millennials, who are perceived as the least entrepreneurial generation.

  1. Be genuine and make it worth their time to talk to you

Customers who wield influence are used to meeting young founders who want to take advantage of their connections. If you want to sell your ideas to these people, you need to offer something of value in return, whether it’s your services, time, insights, or even your own influence among your millennial network.

It’s also important to be authentic. In one study of angel investors, interest in a startup was driven not so much by founder competence, but by how trustworthy they seemed. In fact, entrepreneurs who were seen as trustworthy had a 10 percent higher likelihood of raising investment. This factor even mattered more than perceived competence—after all, it’s easier to teach people new skills than to reform their character.

  1. Find common ground to establish rapport

Despite differences in titles, humans share the need to establish personal connections. Like any other ordinary person, it may be easier for influential people to connect with those who share their interests, preferences, and habits.

This is where doing your homework comes in once more. Research on what the customer does in their downtime, the causes they support, hobbies, and specialities, among others. If you can find anything about the qualities they admire in people, use that to your advantage.

For example, venture capitalist Marc Andreesen says: “We are biased towards people who never give up, who never quit; and that’s something you can’t find on a resume.”

In short, intangible qualities communicated through conversation matter.  So, when you discover that you share the same alma mater or both love cycling, you’ll know to direct your small talk to these topics.

  1. Ask questions to identify their pain points

Even the most influential customers have business problems they can’t solve on their own. By asking the right questions, you can discover these pain points and provide true value to these customers.

The types of questions you ask will ultimately depend on the individual, their needs, and industry. What you can do is ask relevant, open-ended questions that serve as conversation starters and allow for mutually beneficial discussions. Examples include:

  • What’s the biggest issue that you’re currently facing?
  • What’s keeping you from solving this problem?
  • Have you considered using X to solve this problem?

Of course, asking questions is just the first step, which brings us to the next point.

  1. Listen actively

In business conversations, it’s common for people to interrupt one another with related anecdotes and random thoughts. It’s how we establish connections.

But if you’re trying to offer value to an influential customer, it pays to step back and listen actively. Your conversation isn’t an argument, so don’t keep formulating your rebuttal while the other person is making a point. Likewise, focus on understanding the person instead of figuring out the next part of your pitch in your head.

You should also ask follow-up questions, which may lead to opportunities to show that you have experience and insights that will prove valuable to the customer. You may discover that the actual cause of your client’s pain points perfectly aligns with what you can offer.

  1. Highlight the benefits they will receive

The key is to make the pitch or conversation about the customer, not yourself. Your idea can solve their problem. You’re here to help them. You want to learn about what they need. By emphasising the benefits of giving you their time and learning about your product or idea, you are offering value to the customer.

Just remember that if you’re going to make suggestions, be humble with your approach and acknowledge that they may have already thought of your ideas. Your pitch must also be well thought out—this is not just some random conversation you’re having, but a rare chance to put yourself out there.

  1. Be ready with facts, not unsubstantiated claims

As tempting as it is to razzle and dazzle influential customers, this will most likely only hurt your credibility. If you’re going to make any claims, use authentic stories and facts to back them up. While statistics can indeed make a message more believable, if you can’t provide evidence to prove your numbers, you’ll only look like a rookie.

It’s also a good idea to avoid vague metaphors like, “My idea is the next Airbnb or Uber,” which will only invite scepticism. Metaphors and buzzwords also sound gimmicky, so stick to being relevant, concise, and clear.

  1. Express your appreciation

Sale or no sale, remember to show your appreciation in a thoughtful manner. In a time of constant emails, sending a handwritten note thanking a customer for their time is often unexpected and may even be remembered for years to come.

Better yet, send a personalised gift basket with items referencing conversations you had with your customer or things you know they’re interested in.

  1. Don’t be afraid of rejection

Last but not least, don’t be afraid of rejection. Remember, you have nothing to lose in this interaction. If you can’t connect with this influential individual, there’s always the next one. Rinse, repeat. As Magdalena Yesil, founder of Broadway Angels, notes, don’t think of the people you’re trying to sell to as powerful folks with a checkbook—that will only make you nervous.

Don’t overly concerned about not offending the person you’re selling to. Ironically, this fixation on making the sale and currying favour can be the very thing that offends influential customers.

Bottom line? If you follow all of the steps mentioned above and don’t get a sale, move on to the next.

Key takeaways

Influential people are used to being buttered up by eager millennial entrepreneurs. But by being genuine, providing value, and showing confidence in your product or idea, you can make them listen and buy into your ideas. Even if the interaction doesn’t lead to a sale, that person will have at least learned about you. When it comes to people with influence, any conversation could lead to a recommendation, mentorship opportunity, or maybe even an invitation to a second pitch.

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