It’s a common cliché in the sales process that you need to sell to the decision maker, and you would be foolish to ignore this advice. But it’s rarely as simple as that. High-value, complex B2B buying decisions are rarely the preserve of a single decision-maker.
Even the person in ultimate authority - when such a single individual exists - will often prefer to seek a consensus with the team members that will, at the end of the day, have to make the initiative work in practice.
The need for consensus
This should come as no surprise. History is littered with examples of top-down decisions that looked fine in practice but have failed woefully in the implementation, or software that ended up as shelfware.
So it’s no wonder that B2B buying decisions increasingly depend on a consensus between the interested stakeholders, and that many executives have recognised that unilaterally imposing their will does not automatically generate the hoped-for results.
Decision-making is involving more people. It’s increasingly risk averse. Organisations often prefer to decide to do nothing rather than run the risk of making the wrong choice. It’s one reason why “no decision” is becoming the most feared competitor in many sales situations.
As a salesperson, your role is corral this decision-making community to recognise that they need to change, and that you are offering the least-risk of all the options available to them, including the decision to stick with the status quo and do nothing.
A coalition of the willing
Simply selling to the top is unlikely to get you there. You need to build a coalition of the willing. And that inevitably involves selling not just to the decision-makers, but to the decision-shapers.
Who are these decision-shapers? They are the people that your ultimate decision-maker or makers are going to have to rely on to make the initiative work, and to ensure that it delivers the intended results.
The keys to a successful sale
They are the people the decision-makers trust to make things happen. They are the people they turn to for advice as to whether the problem needs solving at all, and if so, how it can best be addressed.
They might be technical experts, or operational experts. Or they might simply be regarded as a safe pair of hands whose opinions and experience are respected. They are the keys to a good decision and a successful implementation. And you had better work out who they are.
Talkers or mobilisers?
Talkers are deceptive. They can appear to be very happy to engage you in conversation. They may even share a stream of tit-bits that make you believe that you have found a real champion. But at the end of the day, they are just not very good at making things happen.
Mobilisers, on the other hand, are the people who do have that all-important track record of making things happen. Then can be sceptical, even abrasive in conversation. But they have their companies’ best interests at heart, and they are the people that the ultimate decision makers prefer to put their faith in.
Selling to decision-shapers
If you’ve managed to get through to a decision-maker, and emerged having been referred downwards with a mandate, they can help you identify and reach these decision-shapers. But more often that not, you’ll have to identify and develop relationships with them for yourself.
How can you recognise these decision-shapers? In part by the respect afforded to them by their colleagues. They are the people they naturally turn to for advice. But most important, they have a track record of having been involved in a series of successful projects.
Equally significant, they are in roles where they have a clear vested interest in the success of the project. They can make things happen, and they will make things happen, and they are exactly the people you need on your side.
Expect some robust conversations. Expect your claims to be tested. Be prepared for some tough questions. Above all, don’t ever get caught bullshi**ing them. But if you can get these decision-shapers on your side, you’ll not only emerge with the order, you’ll end up with a blue-chip satisfied customer.