That lucrative new account is yours – if you can beat out the other finalists. So how do you make an impression that counts? According to business development consultant and former adman Kevin Allen, you have to look beyond your prospect’s stated needs – and instead focus on their secret wants. In The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following, he argues that the business world is far from a strictly rational, fact-based arena. “Behind every decision,” he says, “there’s an unspoken, visceral motivation.”
So how can you use this to your business advantage? Put yourself in the client’s shoes, says Allen. It’s certainly valuable to understand the particulars of their business situation – they’re losing ground to an upstart competitor, they’re moving into a new market, they’re coping with a major change to their industry. But it can be even more important to recognize the buyer’s personal needs. “For some people, the whole thing is about their ambition,” he says. “They’re motivated by wanting to make a mark, to be recognized for what they accomplished, or creating something that didn’t exist before.” Alternately, some potential clients are “backward leaning” – driven by fears and concerns about what’s lacking.
The winning business formula is always the same, he says: “When I’d say, Tell me, why did you give us the business?, they’d say: You get it.” In other words, the key to securing new business is making an emotional connection to their hidden needs (see my previous article on Why You Should Be an Emotionally Open Leader). Your prospect is probably evaluating several firms, and may have endured a grueling speed-round of five or six pitches in a day. They may not even remember which company gave which presentation anymore. “That’s why basing your premise around a compelling emotional need is inevitably transcendent,” says Allen, “because that’s what’s memorable.”
But tapping into a prospect’s ‘hidden agenda’ doesn’t mean probing their psyche in an unscrupulous way, he cautions: “The winner is not the one who can be sneakiest or cleverest. The winner is the most authentic and the most genuine.” That’s because there are two parts to the hidden agenda – the secret desires of your prospect, and the unscripted, authentic part of you. “The genuine, pure, unadulterated you is your greatest means to connect to the desire of the prospect,” he says. “They’ll see it and know it. Connecting your core belief system to the hidden agenda? That’s the alchemy.”
Have you tapped into your prospects’ hidden agendas? How did you do it, and how did it work out?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on May 31, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.