In business-to-business sales, most decisions are made by consensus. There often isn’t a single decision-maker. Instead, there are teams of subject matter experts who make the decision together. These decision-influencers all spend more time with each other than they will ever spend with a salesperson (unless and until the salesperson wins the business).
Much of the time, the sale is taking place without you. There are conversations about you and your offering after you sales calls, there are conversations at the conference table after you have presented, there are conversations about you at the water cooler, and there are emails that express concerns or ideas about you and your company.
Make no mistake, these conversations are part of a sales dialogue and people are being influenced for and against you and your offering.
Here are five ways you can participate and direct the sales conversations that occur in your absence.
Develop Your Surrogate
Whether your call it a coach, a champion, a sponsor, a power sponsor, or some other name, you need someone acting on your behalf in these conversations. You need to identify and develop someone within the company who understands how you and your company will make a difference for them and who strongly believes in you.
Most of the RFP’s I have seen won or lost were won by those who had a strong relationship with a sponsor, and lost by those who did not.
The likelihood of winning is greatly improved by having a relationship. The development of a sponsor increases your access to the stakeholders you need on your team and access to the information you need to make the sale. When they are passionate about you and your offering, they are the best-placed surrogates to speak on your behalf in your absence.
And, perhaps most importantly, they understand their own company’s politics and how to play. If they have much at stake in the decision, they often wield more influence and their opinion will outweigh a lot of other factors.
Think about the deals that you are working on now. Who is your champion? Who can and will sell on your behalf?
Make Sure They Know You
When decisions are made by consensus, it is critical that everyone on the buying committee know you. They need to know that you have gone out of your way to understand their role in the decision and how the decision will impact them. They need to know that you care about how the outcome you plan to achieve will help—or at least not hurt—their team.
Sometimes the right deal means making something better for one segment of a company while making some other area’s job more challenging. If it is the right solution, it is critical that you demonstrate that you understand this and that you are doing all that is necessary to mitigate the challenges. This starts by caring enough to be there.
Think about the deals you are working on now. Who might be negatively impacted by a decision to move forward? Have you met with them? How can you mitigate any negative impacts?
If you haven’t made the trip to see them, it is likely you haven’t spent enough time figuring out how to mitigate the negative impacts. And you have almost certainly created an obstacle and a “no” vote.
Make Sure You Understand Their Needs
If someone is sitting on the committee, they have needs you need to address. Sometime the needs won’t be related to business. Sometimes they are personal needs and motivations.
Don’t underestimate these needs, and don’t believe for a minute that someone with a personal motivation can’t—and won’t—blow up your perfect deal when these needs aren’t met.
Who should you be concerned about? How are you going to meet those needs?
Make Sure You Have Provided Information and Proof That Resolve Concerns
When we sell, we provide validation that we can achieve the outcomes that we sell. Many of the conversations that occur when you are gone will be expressed opinions about concerns that need to be resolved. You may or may not be invited back to help resolve those concerns.
Knowing that it isn’t likely that you will be a participant in these conversations, you need to provide your surrogate (and as many others influencers as you can develop) with the ability to respond to concerns on your behalf. You need to provide them with the answers to common concerns, the answers to concerns that have been expressed by the team members you met with (you did meet with, didn’t you?), and with validation that you can achieve the outcomes you promise.
Make a list of common concerns you have resolved from other buying committees. Make a list of the known concerns of the buying committee from a deal you are working on now. Do the people you count on to sell when you are missing have access to this information? Do they know how you intend to resolve these concerns? Are they prepared to speak on your behalf? Have you enabled them to do so?
Make Sure You Have Provided Stories
There is nothing quite as convincing as a story. You and your company are made up of success stories. In many cases, the dream client you are working on has a common set of problems that you have resolved for someone else. Solving that problem created a story. Even if your dream client has a unique problem or challenge, you have a story about how you and your company solved unique problems in the past, stories that testify to your ability to create unique solutions to unique problems.
Stories bring life to the proof that you provided. It is one thing to say “We help our clients produce better results,” and quite another to say “We helped XYZ, Incorporated to improve their results by 17% in the last 90 days after implementing a similar program. There, we were faced with the serious challenge of ____________ and we overcame it together by __________________. This is a great story!”
What memorable stories can you share? How are these stories analogous to the client you are working on now? Can they recognize themselves in this story?
Much of the selling and decision-making in a deal goes on when you, the salesperson, aren’t there. To sell effectively, you need to anticipate these conversations. You need to influence these conversations in your absence. Use these ideas to make sure these conversations are good for you and for your deal.
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