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Building Consensus

In larger, more complex sales, it isn’t likely that there is a single decision-maker. It’s more likely that major decisions require consensus, and that the decision-making is more democratic (even if some votes may count more than others). There isn’t a power sponsor, either; there are power sponsors.

More than ever, moving from target to close will require that you build consensus among a group of stakeholders. Here are some thought about how to do so.

Meeting More Stakeholder’s Needs

One way to build consensus is to meet more of the different stakeholder’s needs. It’s difficult to build consensus around a change initiative if meets only one stakeholder’s needs. The more stakeholders that benefit from your ideas, the easier it will be for you to build consensus.

It’s important to remember that different individual stakeholders have different needs, and that these needs are different based on which stakeholder group they belong to. The lower the level of stakeholder, the more the need is tactical. For higher level stakeholders, the more strategic their needs (more on this later).

Your client’s stakeholders will also have conflicting needs. What one group of people within a company may need may cause problems for another group in that same company. Your ability to understand and mitigate these conflicting needs helps you to build consensus.

There are also politics at work. Your ability to navigate the politics becomes more important the more significant the project and the more conflicting needs you encounter.

One of the primary reasons that some great ideas never get off the ground is that there is no consensus built. The reason no consensus is built is too often because the stakeholders that would be required for a consensus are ignored. You found a problem or an idea that can help your client, you found your sponsor, and you left it that. Without meeting with the people who may be affected by a decision and learning about your needs, your idea looks like something that is going to disrupt the status quo, but not in a good way.

You can start to build consensus by identifying and rolling up the needs of all of the stakeholders.

Meeting More Significant Needs

It’s difficult to build a consensus around an initiative that isn’t going to make a difference. There isn’t a great enough impact to make it worth the pain that accompanies change.

The more compelling the need underlying your solution, the easier it is to gain consensus. If your idea is the difference between life and death for your client, it will be easier to get people to pay attention and work through consensus building. It’s about your client’s very survival. If your idea would allow your client to leapfrog their competition, that is compelling enough to gather steam within your client company.

If the idea you have will help your client to produce a greater future result, and if that result is significant, the easier it will be for you to get parties aligned around that idea. This is generally true the more strategic and the more significant the outcomes of your initiative are. This is not to suggest that it is ever easy to build consensus, just that it is more likely that you can do so if the issue commands your client’s attention because it is important to them.

Here a few ideas to get you started.

Five Ideas on Building Consensus

First, meet with individual stakeholders and collect their needs. Many won’t be expecting you, and you will be surprised how much you learn and how much it means to them.

Second, schedule meetings with groups within your client to discuss any issues that you may have to mitigate and work through. Call it a pre-proposal meeting and let your client sharpen your ultimate solution, building consensus the whole way.

Third, present options. Do everything you can to meet the individual and collective needs, and help them see what is possible and what the trade-offs might be.

Fourth, have private meetings to understand any obstacles and to work with their peers to find ways to move them to your side.

Fifth, if what you are doing is in any way interesting, you can tie it to a larger compelling issue. It will, in some way, relate to increased profits, increased revenues, or reduced costs.

Questions

Do you sell to a single decision-maker, or are there more stakeholders involved in a decision?

Do you identify a power sponsor or power sponsors? What’s the risk of selling to only one person?

How do you identify all of the stakeholders and their individual needs? What assumptions can you make about their needs?

How do you tie your initiative to something compelling enough to deserve consensus?

What are the best ways you have found to build consensus?


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  1. […] and eventually attain approval to close a deal, explains sales coach S. Anthony Iannarino in a recent article. With most companies, you can expect multiple decision-makers. All of the decisions may not be […]