What's my network's status ?

My network

I know my own professional network well and I have a good idea of :

  • Who I know
  • How well I know them and how well we get on
  • Where they work and what they do
  • And any other relevant information that’s going to help me win and drive business

If I am lucky, I work in a company that encourages me to share my network information with my coworkers, so we can use the combined power of our relationships to work more efficiently and quickly with outside contacts.

 

Client’s network

I may also have some idea about the network of my own professional contacts, especially those who make up my client list. I have an understanding of :

  • Who my client knows
  • How well my client knows them and how well they get on
  • Where my client’s contacts work and what they do
  • And any other relevant information that’s going to help me win and drive business

 

Network coverage

It’s also good to know, and some of you may have the tool to help you visualize and share this information, how my network overlaps with my client’s network. In other words, how many of the people in my client’s ecosystem are in contact with the people from my company. When working in an o2o sales environment (see our post There is B2B, I2I and O2O. Here’s how to understand the terms and the concepts. (2018-01-16)) having this kind of insight is essential.

In the table here, the people in green are part of my company and the people in blue make up the client’s company. I admit, it’s neither a big or complex ecosystem, but I think you’ll get the point. The crosses show who knows who. It’s as simple as that. The ability to assess your network coverage as it evolves is important for two reasons.

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Who knows who

I can see that Karen knows a lot of people in that account. This makes sense as she’s the KAM.  Esther is new to the team, so she doesn’t yet have contacts here.

This kind of insight can help me to plan and organize my team to prepare for situations like maternity leave, retirements, people moving on to another job, etc. If Karen informs me tomorrow that she is pregnant, I can I react quickly to work out how best to fill the holes in my network coverage in time for a smooth handover. Using my chart it looks like Deborah is currently best placed, although she would need to build up relationships with Jamie and Phil. Alternatively, I could chose to bring new blood and fresh eyes to the account, and decide to get Esther involved. This all depends on the real business case and my motivations behind decisions.

And, when Karen comes back to work, I can look at my network coverage again to work out what to do for the best. As the concept of a job for life is evaporating, being able to do this kind of analysis quickly and simply is becoming more and more important.

 

Who isn’t known

Looking at my simplified network coverage, I can see that Annabel isn’t in contact with anyone from my team.  Depending on who Annabel is, this may or may not be important. Given that she is part of my client’s ecosystem, I should at the very least identify her and her role. And then, depending on my business objectives and the role that Annabel plays, assign the job of getting in touch with her to someone in my team.

 

Adequate tool support?

While the sample table above could easily be presented in an excel sheet, the problem is to keep the information up to date with other aspects of my relationship intelligence. And herein lies the challenges. You should not be surprised if your CRM systems cannot provide you with this functionality. Even plug ins that can augment CRM functionalities are rare to find. I actually know of only one. Do not hesitate to contact us if you want to know more.

Always differentiate between the position and the person holding it !

The company, the job, the person : making sense of identity

Three key elements

Any CRM worth its salt will let you stock and consult three key pieces of information : your contact’s name, the job title he/she holds and which company he/she currently works for. Having access to these three sets of information help you target, shape your strategy and tailor messages.

 

Inseparable ?

The vast majority of CRMs have organized their data fields so that the person and their position are inseparable within the date record containing contact information, and the company or organization is a separate data record. This is why I can have people that come and go from a company in my CRM, but I can’t have a person that changes position or a position that changes occupant (without deleting one of these key elements and starting to rebuild any relationship information from scratch).

 

The organization

The company is then usually treated by CRMs as a separate entity.  This makes sense as there are certain aspects of companies that shape the relationships of its stakeholders.  For example:

  • Business objectives
  • Size
  • Corporate identity and reputation
  • Company ethics
  • Its own relationship network: suppliers, partners, clients, customers, competitors, shareholders, etc

 

The position

The job in itself can alter relationships too:

  • There are hierarchical links and reporting lines which force me into contact with some people.
  • Geographical zones of intervention and action exist which limit or extend who I work with.
  • I am held to follow certain procedures, which may detail who I work with.

 

The person

People change and alter the relationships they have much more than any other factor.  In the list below I have detailed only the aspects that come into play for professional relationships.

  • I have a memory unlike a position, which existed before me and will continue to exist if and when I move on.  If I get on with a person I will carry this with me for a long time, maybe forever. I can also bear a grudge for a very long time.
  • I have a life outside of my work, so I can interact with and meet people who are not in my existing professional network. This extends who I know beyond the limitations of my job’s network.
  • I like other people, or I dislike them. As an example, in my role as, let’s say, Sales Director Southern Europe I should work closely with my Sales President EMEA. However, for one reason or another we just don’t click, and although we are both professional enough to do the job well, there’s no warmth or mutual support.
  • I have a set of ethics and opinions that may or may not be close to the company’s position. For example, I may put greater emphasize on ecological issues, or health and safety, or equal opportunities, or X, Y, Z. This could well lead to changes in the way I consider other people and the work they do.

 

Divide and conquer

At some point in the future I will leave my position (either to retire, following a promotion, or moving to another company).  Likewise, I existed as a person long before I came into the position that I currently hold.

These professional movements are key moments in the life of a company because new people bring new networks. Traditional suppliers can often see themselves ousted shortly after the arrival of a senior person, as he/she decides to use their own trusted suppliers or decides to go for a new approach. There are companies out there that track nominations of C level people (www.nomination.fr does this in France) to help you identify these key moments.

 

What this means for information storage

Key things to look for in a CRM (get their techie team to answer the questions)

  • Company, position and person are three separate elements.
  • I can move a person from company to company without losing any information about that person.
  • I can move a person from position to position without losing any information.
  • Personal relationships with any given person can be transferred easily as the person’s career develops.

There is B2B, I2I and O2O. Here’s how to understand the terms and the concepts.

While the terms B2C and B2B are familiar to you, you might wonder what i2i and o2o stand for.

These terms add an interesting twist to the concept of B2B selling. The first term, i2i picks up on the fact that in a B2B environment people buy from people and not from organizations. The term i2i (individual to individual) expresses just this. An individual at the customer organization buys from an individual of the seller’s organization. This situation actually implies a relatively simple deal structure.

We consider a deal to be complex when several people in the customer organization are involved in a purchase either through a formal buying roles or an informal influencer role. When there are several individuals on both sides of the deal (seller and customer), we describe this as an o2o configuration. The term o2o (organization to organization) stands for an orchestrated group of individuals in the customer organization buying from an orchestrated group of individuals of the sellers’ organization.

 

o2o in action

A key part of the process is orchestration. This means that the people in the customer organization follow a buying process and their counterparts in the seller’s organization follow a given sales process. The two processes and teams come together by matching the sales process used by the seller organization with the buying process used by the buyer organization.

 

Individuals in the organization

Within the o2o sale there are clearly individual people working and making decisions. Yet the buying and selling processes outlined above do not indicate which individual at the seller’s organization is to talk to which individual at the customer organization. In addition, the people involved may well change as the sale progresses. For example, at first there is a need to determine whether there is a mutual interest in pursuing a potential opportunity. As the deal moves ahead different individuals in both organization are called upon to continue coordinated dialogues in an attempt to move a deal forward towards a buying decision.

We are thus faced with two critical questions:

  • Which person / people from our side should we be sending out to talk to the customer’s organization?
  • Which person / people in the customer’s organization should we be trying to reach?

 

o2o = utopia ?

The key of the answer to these questions is in Relationship Management and understanding the power structure within the customer’s organization. The insights we need concern things like formal and informal reporting lines, and influential players and their motivations. We also need a system that codifies existing personal relationships. Yet such a system can only be effective if there is a willingness within the seller’s organization to share contact data. For many seller organizations, this is still utopia. Everybody considers the relationship as a personal ownership. A change management process is therefore needed which is usually federated by a relationship management charter defining rules of how shared information is to be exploited.

So, o2o selling can only be effective if we have a codified system to capture relationship intelligence and influence management, governed by a relationship management charter.  We then need to invest in tools which support o2o selling in an effective manner.

 

Effective Relationship Management : What are the vital data elements?

When you ask Key Account Managers (KAMs) to show you the relationships they established in their account, they will most likely show you some form of organization chart. Sophisticated KAMs have annotated those graphs with additional information about the people involved. Usually, this information is accompanied with the remark: “It is a bit out of date, but I just did not have the time to update it yet. Things are changing so fast in this organization”. A sustainable up-to-date view of your relations in a complex account starts with having a more granular view of the data elements you need to describe your relations allowing for more flexible faster updates.

 

The skeleton is the structure

Most organization charts I have seen from KAMs essentially describe hierarchical relationships between people. Yet, at the origin, organization charts describe hierarchical relations between job roles (and not people). As people tend to change roles faster than the structural organization change itself, if you have not made a distinction between the person and the job role, updating your organizational chart is going to be a complicated process.

Furthermore, the hierarchical organization chart is just one element which helps you understand how your customer’s organization works. It’s comparable to a human skeleton, it shows the structure. However, a skeleton doesn’t usually move on its own (except in horror movies).

 

The muscles are the power

In real life, the body needs muscles to move.

The analogue in an organization is the power the person has in a certain role. We all know that this power is not necessarily equivalent to the hierarchical position of the role. To understand how an organization works, you have to add the power component to your chart, describing your relations’ power position in your customer organization. In a more sophisticated scenario, you would also find information about the motivations and the source of the power of the person filling a certain role.

 

The nervous system carries information

Muscles and skeleton are both necessary but not sufficient for a body to move. Muscles need to be triggered by nerves.

In organizations, the analogue to nerves is conduits of information. In theory, this information flow should follow the hierarchical connections. In reality, information flow is actually governed by informal connections between the people working together. However, knowing that a certain relationship exists is not enough. For effective influence management, the quality of this relation must be assessed. Firstly, it is important to determine if it is an amicable or adversarial relationship.  Secondly, you need to determine the degree of strength of the feelings.

 

The senses show you the outside world

As a KAM, you want to influence the customer organization in order to select the right offering to solve a particular problem. Again, using the analogy of the human body, you need to stimulate the senses so the nerves in turn direct the muscles which then move the body into a certain direction.  Your ability to stimulate the senses of an organization depends on four things:

  • The quality of the relation you have with influential people in the customer organization
  • The attitude these influential people have towards your solution
  • Knowing how to deliver a message so it is heard
  • The roles people have in a buying process (additional to their hierarchical position)

With exception of the last element, these distinctions are often omitted and can lead to serious misinterpretations of a situation and thus derail a deal.

 

Conclusion

Effective systems for capturing relationship intelligence should thus distinguish as a minimum the following data elements:

  • Hierarchical relations between roles
  • People filling these roles
  • Informal power of the people in their roles
  • Informal connections between people (strength and quality)
  • Quality of your connection to influential people
  • Formal roles in a buying center differentiated by opportunity  
  • Attitude of the influential people towards your solution per opportunity

 

The ease with which you can present these elements in an up to date form also depends on the choice of graphical representation.

For complex organizations, there is a need for a tool that allows easy updates and automatic drawing of the graphic representation.

These topics require future blog posts. For now, you have a check list which will help you understand whether you track the right data for your relationship intelligence to be useful, and for defining influence management strategies.

 

 

How do you become a trusted advisor?

Don’t shoot the messenger

People make decisions all the time: purchasing choices, reorganization decisions, recruitments, etc. A large part of the choices are based on information received and/ or understood. Although relationships play a key role in influencing the decision makers, facts, figures and statistics (although not always reliable) are also crucial. What is the connection between the information carried and the messenger ?

 

Informed decisions

Holding the purse strings gives you the power to act, decide, veto, choose, etc. You can step in at the last minute and decide to call the whole thing off.

Obviously, information is shared and discussed during  complex decision-making processes.  Sales teams prepare sales messages, kits, demonstrations, etc. The potential client holds internal meetings, they look at the literature and compare solutions, they meet the sales force.  There may be a pilot study, the results of which are shared and analyzed. There are additional internal meetings, during which the outcome of the pilot study is discussed : return on investment, adoption rate, customer satisfaction, etc.

And yet, sometimes someone suddenly comes out and stops the whole process, meaning the whole thing is dropped. This someone may or may not have had access to the information during the evaluation period.

 

Money makes the world go round

But why would you call something off ? Your team has been shifting through and sorting information, facts, statistics, and comparisons. 

More often than not, decisions are cancelled or ignored, not because of the quality of the information itself, but because there is a lack of faith in either the information or in the decision makers themselves.

 

Information and people: the powerful combination

Undeniable facts and trustworthy people are a powerful combination. Putting the two together creates a very strong source of influence, one that will be very difficult to ignore.

The trustworthy people in my network are those that I have trusted in the past and who have held up to the expectations. I may not notice all the people who work well and achieve good results, but I will notice the unexpected. For example:

  • I am impressed and I remember when good results come from someone I hadn’t trusted.
  • I suddenly take note of a person who has been in my entourage and consistent for a long time.

I also remember the unexpectedly disappointing.

  • I notice if I trust someone who then goes on to fail to deliver or to make good on promises.

Trusting relationships, businesses, professionals and personnel alike, are built up over the years and stand the test of time. We have built up a working history together. A crucial factor for a trusting relationship is the belief in the absence of vested interests.

 

An envelope is as important as a letter

The information at the centre of the decision making process will be brought to me by people with whom I have varying levels of trust. In addition, the way the arguments and logic are framed will make a difference. I am more likely to understand (and as a result trust) a person who matches my way of thinking and uses the same level of technical language as me.

 

The road to becoming a trusted advisor

You may not hold the pen that signs all the forms, but there are ways you can build up your reputation as a trusted advisor in order to gain influence.

  1. Match your communication style to your listener and his/ her level of knowledge.
  2. Walk the walk and talk the talk. Demonstrate again and again that you can be trusted.
  3. Be open about your relationships with others and any conflicts of interest.  Knowing in advance is far better than finding out by accident later.
  4. Communicate about the reliability of your information. Tell people if you think this is a trusted document or if you think that the information is biased.  Be prepared to say why.  You’ll gain the reputation of being able to analyze information before you present it.