The Importance of Power and Influence
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Business relationships differ from personal relationships in at least one significant way; they typically come about deliberately. Your interest is based on what the person is e.g. CEO, CFO, HR Director, rather than who he/she is e.g. Mary Smythe, Jason Taylor.  In business, we seek out people (or rather positions) that have the power to influence in our favour.
Personal relationships on the other hand are usually accidental as they are based on personal attraction. You want to know the person for who they are. That is not to say that relationships cannot morph from one to the other; of course they frequently do.

Position Power

A person’s position or role might indicate the power they have, but not how it is exercised. That is a function of the person, the human being in the role. Would a given position always behave in the same way regardless of who the occupant is? Not likely. This is why we should look at positions and people separately and a good way to do this is to think of positions as synonymous with power and influence as synonymous with people. Let’s explore this idea further.

Power is statutory and/or contextual.  For example, CEO is a powerful role in any company, CIO less so, unless of course you happen to be an IT vendor in which case it is a very powerful. If on the other hand, you were in transportation, then the Logistics Manager would be powerful and the CIO less so.   

Personal Influence

Influence is about people and is in fact more important than power, as influence is what causes power to act.  It seems ironic then that salespeople are invariably exhorted to get to the C-Level executives i.e. the positions of power. Sure, those bases must be covered, but it can lead to a sales myopia, where you don’t see the influence for the power.

People in power invariably rely upon other less powerful people for advice- that’s why they’re there. Influencers come in no obvious guise…it may be the personal assistant, a consultant, a friend.  That’s the point, it’s not to do with their position, it’s do with them. They are people that are trusted and/or respected by the people in power.

The bottom line is that if we focus on relationships with (just) positions and roles, rather than the people occupying or influencing them, we will not understand how decisions that affect us get made.

One final point…of course many people have both influence and power; but that doesn’t change anything. As long as you have both power and influence covered you won’t miss anyone.  That’s why in sales we use the term “Buyer” as a catchall to describe anyone of influence and/or power, whether in the Prospect organization or not. It reinforces that the goal is to have every one of them ‘buy’ our advice.

Of course people in powerful positions are also (by definition) influential, but that is not a consequence of any personal attributes of the person e.g. that they are trusted. They are influential by virtue of the authority vested in the position. Thus it is a product of power and not influence within the context of this discussion.  

What are the characteristics of influential people? Well, we think they...
are credible
are bright/clever
are unselfconscious
have self-confidence
are decisive
have integrity
are self-motivated
are themselves least influenced
 

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