In my early days as a sales executive, I remember my manager always asking and challenging me if I had a relationship with the decision maker at a potential customer. This was indeed the standard question raised by most sales managers in any organization in the past. As if only you had this relationship “in the bag” your opportunity to close the deal had a chance of success.
But today, most companies are making decisions based on a consensus of the stakeholders affected by a change of supplier. This means that the power to decide is often spread across several departments and multiple levels. Thus, the real influence is often further down the organizational chart than it used to. These influencers may not be at the top of the food chain, they are now a valid stakeholder in the eyes of the final decision maker.
Does this make selling more complex? Yes, but the reward is worth the effort. It may take you longer to get a consensus of the stakeholders involved, however, once your potential customer has made the switch it will also be more difficult for the competition to make them switch again.
How to approach this effectively? There is no one method for all situations. But there are common hurdles to be aware of and standard ways of addressing these. It all starts with putting yourself in your potential customer’s shoes. It may be multiple pair of shoes, or even a whole shoe cabinet, depending on the complexity of the situation and the number of stakeholders involved.
The main reason that there is always so much resistance to the changes you propose to your potential customer is that change is a potential disruption to their business. In general, people prefer to find a workaround the identified issues than to make a drastic change. When did you change from an iPhone to an Android or vice versa? You see?
Your job is to create and sell a compelling case for change and then manage and lead that change.
First is to find a change champion at your potential customer
- This person is bought into your idea that change is an opportunity to enhance the business. He or she has a firm belief that not changing will confront the business with (more) unforeseen cost or missed growth opportunities. This person is also key, to identify with you all those who may ultimately be involved in agreeing to change.
Categorize the influencers into Supporters, Resisters, and Doubters
- The last two will drag their feet. They are more comfortable with the status quo.
- You must help them confront the truth of their – and the whole business situation and visualize a better future
- Figure out what they need.
- Work through conflicts and constraints
- Build awareness of risks associated with maintaining the status quo.
- Acknowledge that change will come with pain, but once overcome the benefits outweigh that pain.
Build more sponsors that can sell the idea of exchanging the status quo for something better.
- You can only do so much and you are not always at the potential customer’s premises.
- Arm your change champion and supporters with powerful arguments of why change, change to what and change to who.
- Your insights, your ideas, and your solution must stay alive when you are not there
Help your sponsors to mobilize others
- Empower them through questions like; Who do we need on our team if we want to get the green light for this project? ; Who will be affected when we implement the solution?
- Think about implementation challenges and possible head of departments to be involved like IT and Operations. Get these on board early.
You need to work on your skills to build consensus. See yourself more as a facilitator. Keep the success of the potential customer in mind. Can you help them? Through your hard work will the outcome make the difference they are looking for as a business? Then, building consensus from warehouse to the penthouse is all worthwhile.