The Critical Mass

Published: Mar 07 , 2013
Author: Stephen White

Shortly after taking office for his second term, President Obama announced that he would visit the Middle East to kick-start a peace process. That visit is scheduled for later this month, but there was speculation last week that it might be cancelled if the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also recently re-elected, has not been able to form a coalition government before the Obama visit.

The reason is obvious - if there is no coalition agreed then there are no policies agreed, so there isn't a government for President Obama to persuade, or negotiate with, to get the peace ball rolling.

Those of us selling to and negotiating with the big multinationals know the feeling all too well. The received wisdom is that there is little point in putting in a great deal of effort if the top banana is not available and engaged, and many books have been written giving advice about how to get to and influence the decision makers in an organisation.

The Obama dilemma is slightly different. He can get to the top man (Netanyahu) but that man does not carry a consensus. In our rather more mundane commercial world, this is very common. Recently I was told that a decision on a major project had been postponed because the sponsor, the COO, had moved to another position within the organisation. Her successor was apparently positive about the scheme we were promoting, but couldn't be sure that his colleagues on the Board would buy into it. So they had decided to ask suppliers to re-pitch against a modified brief 'which met the concerns of some Board members'. Hours of work done previously now down the toilet.

Getting to the boss is not therefore the end of the matter. To make a proposal work it has to be presented to a constituency of decision makers, in a form which enables our contact to sell it internally to them, because most of the time we can't get to them all ourselves. That might mean making the 'deal' attractive to a broader group than just the project sponsor, maybe by offering alternatives, or by including suggestions you know will go down well with certain departments or individuals. We recently included an ROI guarantee in a written proposal even though our contact didn't ask for it and wasn't interested in it, because we felt it would go down well with those other managers in the client organisation whom we had not been given access to, but who would be reading our documentation.

Yesterday a Washington official clarified the matter. President Obama will go to Israel whether or not a coalition has been formed, because his intended audience is neither the top man, nor the government. It is the Israeli people, whom he wants to win over to his cause;  in other words, the whole constituency. If he can get a grass roots groundswell of pressure going, it will influence whatever government is eventually formed in Israel.

Maybe there is some hope for his second term.

Stephen White



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Stephen White
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