How many times have sales managers seen sales reps return from the road, announcing they have found the decision-maker of a dream prospect? Nowadays, is this really the most important part to move an opportunity forward? Whether you are selling to a business with 30 employees or 30,000, today you rarely find a unilateral decision-maker. Already back in 2015 CEB Research found that, on average, 5.4 people have to formally sign off major purchasing deals. Now, according to Gartner, this number is growing steadily to 8 or 9 and in some cases to 11 stakeholders. Each of them has different roles, diverse interests and opinions, all wanting to be heard before the final sign-off. Complicating matters, the variety of jobs, functions, and geographies that these stakeholders represent, is much wider than it used to be. To move an opportunity forward our salespeople need to equip themselves with a new selling skill that did not exist as much a decade ago. Gaining consensus is the new closing.
One of the challenges salespeople face with so many stakeholders involved in the buying process, is a buyer’s tendency to revert back to the status quo. Despite the stakeholders’ group acknowledgment that certain problems, challenges, or issues need to be addressed, they just cannot come to a collaborated conclusion of what the best options are to improve their situation. In fact, sometimes they cannot even agree on what the real problems or challenges are. The bigger the stakeholder group the higher the chance that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of available information, unclear on what they should prioritize on and uncertain on making a decision now, or later, or not at all. And that is the main reason why so many proposals stall.
To make it even worse for us sellers, often the buyer’s group still wants to make the best out of their misalignment situation, so they default to the lowest common denominator, which is often, price, as their primary evaluation criteria.
Now here is the most interesting part of Gartner’s findings: the most common-sense approach that salespeople take to resolve stakeholders’ misalignments is not working that well, actually it is counter-effective. What sellers tend to do is meeting with each individual stakeholder, listen to their version of the company’s challenges, and sell their solution with a focus on a specific value for the individual stakeholder. This approach worsens stakeholder alignment. It increases the disconnect between the stakeholders. Why? Because one stakeholder’s motivation for your solution is in direct conflict with another stakeholder’s objective of solving a problem. The simplest example is, wherein a meeting with stakeholders in Finance you focus on how your solution would save the company overall cost. But the Sales & Marketing Director of the organization believes a marketing campaign investment is needed to drive top-line growth.
A better way forward would be to, in your stakeholder’s meetings, to understand what the common company goals are so far and contribute with your views and insights to a deeper understanding of their common challenges. Then facilitate meetings between several stakeholders to do this all over again and again until there is a shared group understanding that a change is needed.
While the pandemic is causing major shifts in consumer demand patterns there is nearly no company that escapes a rethink of their priorities. They need help with this, not by pleasing individual stakeholders but by bringing them together, with a focus on common goals. Gaining consensus is the new closing.
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