The Influence Game Doesn’t End When You Win

What should you do when you succeed in influencing the decision maker? First, make sure you’ve really succeeded. Trust but verify was not only a credo of former president Ronald Reagan but also a rule to live by for any successful lobbyist.  Words don’t indicate success. Actions do. This is especially true in Washington, D.C., where words get thrown around—a lot. Those representing special interests always follow-up to ensure that the agreed-to action has really been taken.

At the same time, they tend to relax the pressure a little. In most cases, the decision maker does not take the action they’ve agreed to for innocuous reasons, not because they are lying. They may simply need an occasional polite nudge, not the barrage that got them to agree with you in the first place.

In D.C., for example, a legislator may agree to cosponsor a bill based on a lobbyist’s request. But that agreement is simply the first step. In Washington, D.C., if Congressman John Doe wants to cosponsor Jane Smith’s bill, his first step is to tell his staff. Doe’s staff person must find Smith’s staff person and tell him or her to add Doe’s name to the bill. Smith’s staff person must provide a notice (signed by Rep. Smith) to the parliamentarian’s office indicating that Rep. Doe would like to cosponsor the bill. Only then has the lobbyist truly succeeded.

As a small-business owner, I tend to think about this in the context of the simple act of sending an invoice to a client. The client has agreed to pay for our service (and in some cases the service has already been completed). We send an invoice. Unfortunately, some of our clients (I’m not naming names) do not complete the action of, well, paying, so we need to remind them. I never celebrate completing the sale until we’ve got the cash in hand.

If you take away any lessons from this tactic they should be:

  • Even after you get a yes, be sure the action is taken.
  • Relax the pressure, without giving up completely.
  • Never assign nefarious reasons for their lack of action. Sometimes it’s just that they’re busy.
  • Be polite in your reminders. Don’t harass them until they get to the point where they decide they don’t want to deal with you and your cause any more.
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