“Are you talking to the decision-maker?” How often have you heard that question? Although it is still a very valid question, is it always about the decision-maker? Nowadays more decisions are made based on consensus. The CEO or Business Owner has no interest in what you sell unless and until the managers who report to them have a strong interest in doing something different.
B2B buying has become more complex. There are more stakeholders involved in the buying process, they all have an opinion and everyone wants to be heard. Which is often the reason why opportunities stall. Someone, somewhere had enough influence to convince others that a change is not needed. If you only had more people behind your proposed change. Someone on the inside leading change internally, on your behalf…
Time for reflection and understanding more about stakeholders, so you can increase your chances of finding your Change-Champion:
- Stakeholders are in all functions. You find them in the warehouse to the penthouse and every function in between. Think back at the last three prospect meetings you had last week. Who did you meet with? In which function do they work? How many stakeholders have you met per prospect so far? When was the last time you met someone in Finance, in Sales & Marketing, or in Research & Development? To gain better situation knowledge you need to meet with other stakeholders on the vertical, the people occupying different positions in your current contact’s function. You also need to go horizontal, meeting with people in other departments who are in one way or another impacted by a change of supplier.
- Stakeholders are often at a different stage of buying. Meaning, some are satisfied with their situation, others cannot wait for a supplier-change and most are in between. The fact that you hear “No, we are not interested – why don’t you call back in 6 months…”, doesn’t mean that no one in the prospect’s organization is interested in listening to what you have to say. Keep searching, keep calling, keep meeting. The more you do, the more you can find out about who is potentially on your side and who is influencing who. In general, stakeholders disagree on the problem, the solution, and the process. And that is exactly your opportunity. Every business wants to grow and everyone in the company benefits when profit targets are met. Be confident that your views, your opinion, your insights, and how you think you can help are appreciated by many in the prospect’s organization.
- Stakeholders’ interest varies from tactical to strategic. So you need to create value at different levels for different stakeholders. End-Users and Operational people are great sources for building your situational knowledge. They know what’s going on and what can be improved. If their manager would ask “what should we do differently?”, you can bet they have their list ready. Most likely that list contains tactical improvements. By nature of their responsibilities, they are less interested in having strategic business conversations. On the other hand, middle management and senior leaders care less about what you sell. They are more interested in what strategic advantages a change of supplier would mean for their business.
- Allies and Opposers. There is almost always someone who is in love with your competitor. They will oppose a change and will work against you. Identify these influencers quickly. If you cannot, then you need help from an ally. Avoiding talking to the opposers doesn’t help you. Remember, a change will only happen if there is a consensus amongst the involved stakeholders. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to agree. Only the majority, or the most important.
The best people who can help you navigate the mazes of the stakeholders’ net and can push change forward, are what Anthony Iannarino refers to (in his book “Eat Their Lunch”) as “The CEO of the Problem”. This is the person with some authority who cares deeply about what you sell and the results that you produce. Most likely because their current situation does not produce the results they are looking for and are keen to hear more about the alternatives. They really like change, they think it is time to change and you triggered their motivation to take action. Hold on to these Change Champions because you need them, they are important. Do not go over or around them. Instead, make them part of the solution, get them involved by asking: “Who else has a stake in what we have discussed so far?” – Who is likely to support this initiative or idea? – When does it make sense to bring in other managers? Change Champions will continue to sell the idea of change when you have left the building or hung up the phone. Also when the decision-maker asks their opinion. You need sellers on the inside, so make sure you find them.
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