Imagine you are sitting in front of five stakeholders who all work for your dream client.
They might all very much want their company to succeed. But there is also the possibility that two or three of them are disengaged. They might be actively looking for a new job, or they may be passively waiting for an opportunity to find them. Some may have long ago given up on changing their company, cynical because the big talk of some in leadership has never been backed up with the requisite action.
There is a possibility that this group of five all acknowledge that there is a problem, namely the problem that you can help them solve. There is a greater possibility, however, that one or two of them doesn’t acknowledge that there is a problem at all. One or more of them may know there is a problem and be unwilling to do anything that would cause them to have to change. One or two of them may be compelled to do something to move the business forward.
This same group may have wildly different ideas about what they should be doing—or not doing—about a problem that is clear to a few of them, denied by a few of them, and unnoticed by one who is not being effected by said problem. The right solution for a few of these stakeholders may be difficult for a different few. It’s possible that one will resist doing anything at all.
Your challenge is to elicit the information you need from these individuals. Individually, all of the information resides inside the minds of these five people. Their individual wants and needs can be known by asking them independently what they want.
Collectively, these individuals exist within a culture. What you can elicit from them collectively will be influenced by the culture. Some will say less than they should, protecting themselves from any harm that may come from going against the cultural norms—or a powerful individual. Some will be outspoken, sharing information freely, and directing the conversation towards the outcome they want. Some will quietly appear to agree with others, only to work against what others want in secret.
When a group is together, the dynamics change. The group is not exactly the sum of its parts. It is a separate entity. If you want to build consensus, you must understand the individuals, and you have to understand the group, knowing that they are not necessarily the same thing.
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