Top tips for influencing decision makers

Libraries Week is a great opportunity to build relationships with your local MP and senior decision makers by inviting them in to your library to showcase your services and the impact you make. CILIP Trustee Alison Wheeler MBE, the former Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, shares her top tips on how to influence decision makers.

Why influence decision makers?

Very few of us live in a world where we are completely in control and make all the decisions. So, if you want to influence the people that do, you will need to establish a positive relationship with them that builds mutual respect and awareness, an understanding of what you do, and what you can do for them, and a profile as someone with credibility, insight and reliability. Are you a go-to person that they can rely on?

Who are they?

Do you know who the main influencers and decision makers are in your organisation, institution or company? Your first job is to do some crucial homework to find out who they are. Why not map out who makes the key decisions and who they are advised and influenced by?

It is almost certain that they will be busy people with multiple agendas, as well as a high profile with many people making demands on their time and energy. It’s also highly likely they will be mindful about public/private relationships and their media profile. The more senior or high profile someone is, the more conscious they are of how they are presented and how they want to be presented.

What motivates them?

Before you can influence anyone, you’ll need to understand them and what inspires them to do what they do.People are complex, so it’s unlikely to be one area only, it’s more likely to be a combination of motives. These may include:

  • personal ambition and credibility (sometimes political but not always)
  • representing the interests and needs of their constituents and communities
  • delivering on their personal priorities/agenda
  • exerting influence
  • developing and maintaining a positive profile through press and social media
  • personal conviction or belief − they want to make a positive difference and be associated with new, popular initiatives that make a real difference.

Try and “stand in their shoes” to understand what their motivation is. This will help you to better prepare a pitch which appeals to them and helps them see what you can do for them as well as what they may do for you.

Develop your pitch

Your starting point for this should always be “what do I want them to hear, rather than what do I want to say”. They are not always the same.

Often people make the mistake of preparing a condensed sales pitch that is focused on what you want to say rather than connecting with who you are trying to influence and their agenda.

Create a short summary of the impact you make and the services you provide – ideally no more than 3 bullet points. Make sure you clearly link these to what motivates your decision makers: keep it short, punchy and to the point; be clear who you are and what you are doing. Set out any plans you have for the future and what you are seeking from your decision makers. Your “ask” should be at the end and not at the beginning.

Think about the language in your pitch. Are you using acronyms or phrases that make lots of sense to you but not to them? Are you making assumptions about their values and priorities that distort the message you are trying to make? A politician committed to saving money is more receptive to hearing how your service can save them money, rather than something innovative in its own right.

Try to add in a fact to emphasise your point.

Practise, practise and practise. So many people prepare and finesse their messages beautifully but forget to rehearse what they are going to say and trip up when they come to do it on the day.

Attract attention and engage with your decision makers.

Ideally this will be an event/launch where they will see what you do in a positive light, bask in some of the reflected glory, and will feel benevolent when you move in with your pitch.

Be clear when and where the event/launch is, what will happen, what they will be asked to do, who to contact in advance and on the day, and if there will be press engagement or a photo opportunity. Politicians especially enjoy having their photograph taken and are always looking for ways to show themselves in a good light to their voters.

If it’s gone well, follow it up.

If the event or job you have done for them goes well, capitalise on this and build on what you have done.

Be clear why you want to do this, what you want from them, what you want them to know about you, what action you want them to take (both at the event and in the future – i.e. becoming a friend/supporter of the library, support for a budget-decision) and how this might impact on your service.

It’s good to stay in touch about future events/initiatives, send them a thank you note and any photos soon after the event (with a reminder of your key messages).

Finally, good luck.

Alison Wheeler MBEAlison Wheeler MBE

CILIP Trustee and former Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries