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Channel Matters Blog > August 2011 > Influence Begins with Understanding

Influence Begins with Understanding

by William Vanderbilt
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Business professionals are increasingly required to accomplish tasks through influence.  It is quite common for people in any role to have some of their responsibilty reliant on the quality and quantity of work produced by others.  This is especially true in a channel or alliance environment.  Channel managers must be experts at influence as they are tasked with producing results (sales, customer satisfaction, market penetration, etc.) by leveraging the resources of people and organizations that do not directly report to them and are, therefore, not in their direct control.  For them, and anyone else that needs to accomplish work by influencing the behaviors and activities of others, one thing is certain...understanding is the first step!

Any parent will tell you that children have a tendency to do just the opposite of what a parent directs the child to do.  Children (and adults) just don't like to be told what to do.  But there is hope.  People of all ages can and do take direction from others in many aspects of life.  Occassionally, the advice people take is based on another person giving specific steps of what to do.  But most of the time, when a person takes the advice of another it is because he or she believes that the person giving the advice knows about the situation, has experience in the matter and is offering advice that will be helpful based on understanding the current circumstances.  Children are this way too, when they know a parent has really their circumstance and motivation, they are much more apt to take parental advice.  But when a parents says, "Do such and such because 'I said so!'" that just does not resonate.

Channel partners have as much as said the same thing and behave the same way.  A channel manager that walks in the door with adivce on what to do may be offering wise counsel that is based on years of experience and extensive research.  But directing a partner to take a specific course of action without first taking the time to understand the situation (even if the channel manager is confident he or she understands the situation) is akin to a parent telling a child "because I said so".

Understanding is, in fact, a two way street:

  1. The channel manager needs to ask good questions about the partner's business.  They then have a responsibilty to genuinely listen to the answers.  It is imperative that the listening encompass the whole being.  The channel manager must not just hear the words, but the tones, emotions and expressions, concerns, restraints and hesitations.  Channel managers that seek to understand channel partners must becomes experts at and continuously practice asking good questions and actively listening.
  2. Equally important is the reverse communication.  In other words, it is possible that the channel manager after asking good questions and actively listening to responses does indeed understand the majority of the situation.  But if there is no feedback loop, the channel partner won't know that the channel manager does, indeed, understand.  Therefore, channel managers that seek to understand must also constantly refine their skills of summary, reflection and feedback.

Far too often, people don't seek to understand. They seek to validate.  In other words, they walk into a situation with a pre-conceived idea about the situation.  In their head, they believe they already know what is happening and most of the pertinent surrounding circumstances.  Their apparent effort to understand is really just checking some facts to make sure what he or she thought to be the case is, in fact, the case.  That's not seeking to understand!

As channel managers get better at really understanding partner needs and circumstances, they must also constantly work on their reflection.  Only then will the understanding loop be complete.

This is hard work and takes time.  Learning to truly understand another person and to communicate effectively is something that many people take for granted.  In reality, it is a skill that is rarely found naturally in most people.  We often hurry to get to the next thing on our minds before truly hearing what someone else is trying to communicate.  But seeking to understand sometimes can't be raced or forced.  And here's the most important point...if channel managers don't take the time and exert the energy to understand the partner and then demonstrate that understanding, the channel partner is likely to hear any advice as, "Because I said so!"  How far do you expect the channel manager's influence to go in that case?

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