• Clare Burlingham

In conversation with... Emma Dutton MBE, Elite Influencer

We are always fascinated to hear extraordinary stories of outstanding individuals - and this month’s “In conversation with…” delivers just that. It was an absolute pleasure to meet with Emma Dutton MBE, co-founder of Applied Influence Group (AIG), a specialist consultancy that uses “elite influence” methods to help their clients achieve sales excellence.


Emma was honoured with an MBE in recognition of her impressive career in military intelligence, including several tours of Afghanistan. Her entrepreneurial lightbulb moment came when she realised that the same influence methodologies were similarly effective whether dealing with politicians, military commanders, or the Taliban.


Upon leaving the armed forces, she co-founded her own business on a mission to apply these well-honed influence techniques to the world of enterprise sales.


New Beginnings: Can you tell us more about what you mean by “elite influence”?

Emma: In simple terms, to influence is to affect change in another person. Whether you are changing an emotional state, a perspective, a feeling, or a behaviour or set of actions.


When we talk about elite influence, we mean the application of a rigorous methodology that targets precision at every stage of the campaign. Delivery of the right messages, to the right stakeholders, in the best sequence, at the right time, by the best-placed person. It is a repeatable process that turns what are often seen as “soft” skills into hard, tangible results.


And our focus is always about mutually beneficial relationships. Achieving that win-win outcome is what influence means to us.


What is a typical business scenario where your influence techniques work particularly well?


Organisations tend to come to us with an external issue. The challenge could be how to manage or change the perception of a customer; how to accelerate a deal; how to navigate a complex group of stakeholders and really understand a buying decision. Interestingly, our methods often identify internal influence challenges that also need to be addressed. Perhaps obtaining commitment to budget provision is an issue, or possibly targets need adjusting to become more strategic and less short-term. Having a holistic approach can help unlock seemingly insurmountable challenges.


We always target measurable outputs – accelerating and increasing the size of a deal; realising pipeline opportunities; maximising a strategic partnership.


Why do you think it has worked so well to transfer an idea between two such contrasting settings - the battlefield and the boardroom?


It’s true that we sometimes face raised eyebrows when we propose bringing skills we’ve learnt from dealing with insurgents to commercial leadership teams! But at the end of the day, people are just people, and we all tend to be driven by similar factors.


Myself and my co-founders reflected on the journey we undertook during our time in Afghanistan. In the early days we mainly operated on instinct and experience – and that simply wasn’t good enough. Over time, we developed a more sophisticated approach that was then repeatedly tried and tested when the stakes couldn’t be higher.


It is this approach that we have codified to make relevant for commercial sales. We were confident that we could transpose it from the extreme scenarios we had experienced and achieve success in a corporate context.


I also think our focus on ethical influence is important. There is a big difference between influence and manipulation. Manipulation looks like influence but is generally self-serving. Whereas influence is mutually beneficial, and is all about your intent. This is of course as relevant to my work in the military, as it is in a commercial negotiation. The key is to behave collaboratively, and achieve win win outcomes.


The move from years in the armed forces to civilian life as an entrepreneur must have also been a big step for you personally? How have you found the transition?


It certainly was a big change for me, though after five tours of Afghanistan, it was one I was ready for. In a way I think starting my own business has helped me adapt to life out of uniform. I have relished the challenge of building something from scratch. We have created a unique offering – a category of consulting that didn’t previously exist.

We have all been keen to create an inclusive environment that can adapt to the needs of our employees and associates. As a neurodivergent individual myself (I have ADHD), I know only too well how difficult it can be to fit in with the “norms” of working life. It’s incredibly important to us that we operate highly flexibly which allows us to employ people in a range of different ways.


What’s the next big step for AIG?


Well, the immediate focus just now is growth. We are actively recruiting and are keen to diversify our employee and associate base further. Unsurprisingly, many of us are ex-military so over the last three years we have been consciously recruiting people with a range of backgrounds and experience. What connects us all is that each of us is an elite influencer in our own right.


If you are reading this and think you could be up for the challenge of joining our team – then we’d love to hear from you!


We are extremely grateful to Emma for taking the time to talk with us about her unique story and her inspiring business. To find out more about AIG and their current opportunities, head to www.appliedinfluencegroup.com.