The Most Powerful Person in the Room is Not Always Who You Think

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She is the most powerful person in the room and you may not have even seen her. She’s in the back – between the shredder, fire exit and main switchboard. During the most sophomoric periods of my life, this woman has eaten my figurative lunch – and had every reason to do so. She doesn’t even have a title – mainly because she is omnipotent – but also because a title would be too limiting. Like Jim Craig, the Great Wall of China and every black hole in the universe, nothing gets past her.  

Her name is Milly, and you should never forget her.

If you ever hope to partner with a company – and you are only selling to the CEO, the owner or the company president – and you haven’t gotten Milly on board, your proposal will be dead in the water right after you hit “send.” Here’s why.

Year in and year out, all industries enjoy innovation. In our little corner of the world, I often get pretty impressed with the new accounting and bookkeeping processes. As they have evolved to include QuickBooks® Online and its related applications, I invariably make the mistake of getting cocky about it. I start thinking things such as, “Can you believe people use paper checks? Ha!” or, “You use Excel to do your forecasting?” That’s when Milly catches me rolling my eyeballs at a system that she has taken years to build. At that moment, I lose her trust and any potential for a great relationship with the client.

Beware of the “Trap” – When we are in a moment of change, we tend to call it “innovation.” We are so rapt by the newness that we leap to the conclusion that new is always better. I remember swearing I would never drink anything but Zima. But, Milly knows better. And, the owners of the company know that Milly knows better. Any new procedure or product must get her stamp of approval. Here’s why:

  1. Milly is not impressed by “new.” She wants to be convinced that there is a quantifiable value delivered to the company. And, by quantifiable value, she wants to see actual savings, in dollars and in time, right now.

  2. Milly puts the company first – always. Owners love her for this. Milly doesn’t need swag, referral credit or cookies. She just wants the company to perform better.

  3. She can tell if you are unsure or untested. And, she can really tell if you are full of it. Don’t even try.

  4. At one time or another, Milly has been involved in every aspect of the company. She can recognize potential issues stemming from the interdepartmental use of the new idea or product. Milly says things such as, “Marketing may want to buy your new program, but customer service is going to hate it because .…”

What should you do differently?

  1. Redefine “Decision-Maker” – It may not be the person sitting in the corner office, or the person with the fanciest title. Find out who the gatekeepers are and which employees have the most at stake if your product or idea is implemented. Never forget that you are selling to them, too.

  2. When you find a Milly, get her on your team. If Milly likes you and your idea, she will do all of the selling for you. She can be a great consultant for your other projects. Her insight is gold – keep her in your Rolodex.

  3. Put on Milly’s glasses and review your own systems to identify and correct weaknesses. Ask her for feedback. She will offer you great information about how your company and product can make improvements. Then, remember how she thinks. Consider her point of view.

Milly is a valuable ally, and a formidable foe if you don’t play your cards right. So, play your cards right.