Editor’s note: The topic of B2B buying consensus is crucial in Sales today. Several analyst firms, including CEB, SiriusDecisions, and MHI Global, have published studies on the effect that multi-stakeholder buying groups have on B2B buying decisions. Consensus hopes to give leading voices within our industry the opportunity to share their thoughts on this important topic. Each post explores the question: “What do you think of the research on multi-stakeholder B2B buying consensus?”
This post is from Norman Behar, CEO of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). SRG is an industry leading sales training company that helps companies develop highly effective sales organizations.
The challenge of driving consensus among B2B buying groups isn’t new. However, it has become more pronounced over the past several years as solutions have become more technical and complex. Buying a technical solution, like a new CRM system, for example, requires customers to change their business processes and make high levels of investment in money, time and resources. This is particularly the case for global organizations that have operations in multiple countries. It follows that, with this increased level of risk, companies are involving more people in the buying process.
Given these group buying dynamics, sales leaders recognize that their teams must take a strategic approach toward the sales process from the beginning. In the early stages of the sales cycle, they have to be proficient in call planning, organizational mapping, lead qualification, business needs identification and delivering messages that address the unique needs of each stakeholder. Instead of focusing on one individual or group who has shown interest, consensus-minded sales execs understand that they’ve got to teach their sales teams to consider the broader implications of whom each stakeholder is and how to gain insights into their particular needs. Tailoring your sales message so that it communicates your value in a way that addresses individual buyers’ business needs is crucial.
For example, when a company buys a new CRM system, someone from finance will look at the ROI of the system; someone from sales will evaluate the system’s usability, and someone from marketing will check to make sure they can input their insights into the system. And, of course, someone from IT will evaluate how well the system integrates with the company’s existing solutions. So it’s easy to see how buying complex solutions involve several stakeholders.
When buying groups don’t reach agreement, they default to the status quo. This type of group buying dysfunction occurs when buyers believe that the solution they already have is good enough or that the risks of a failed implementation outweigh its potential benefits. Buying dysfunction is especially problematic when a new solution allegedly promises to improve the performance of an existing solution that is already doing a reasonably good job. When buyers consider all of the costs associated with changing a business process -- including training -- they realize that the investment goes beyond just the cost of the solution.
That’s why it’s so critical to map the organizational structure early on and proactively discover and address the concerns of key players as opposed to waiting to react to individual players’ objections later in the sales process. These internal partners go by different names: sponsor, mobilizer, champion to name a few. Regardless of the name, the goal remains the same: you’re looking to partner with people who have a demonstrated track record of success in building buy-in for new initiatives. The person who initially engages with you may or may not be a sponsor. That’s why it’s so important to ask your initial contact probing questions like these:
- Historically, have you had success with other initiatives like this?
- Can you describe the process you went through?
- Who were the key people who were instrumental in driving that initiative?
- If your organization were to move forward with this initiative, who would be involved and what roles would they play in the decision-making process?
Getting answers to these questions will help you better qualify the opportunity and identify potential sponsors. You can make personal connections with them and evaluate their sponsorship abilities to see who has the organizational clout to move the initiative forward.
Of course, the time required to build relationships with multiple stakeholders stretches out sales cycles. To shorten the sales process, find out early what each stakeholder’s needs, considerations, and concerns are. Once you know who’s involved and what they want, you can prepare to respond to each stakeholder’s particular interests or concerns.
The skills training that our clients request the most include identifying priorities, presenting value, managing objections and closing skills -- and these are very important skills. But, as it relates to buying dysfunction, how you apply these skills must be specific to each stakeholder. Pushing through the sales process as though each buyer’s needs are the same is a shortsighted approach. High-performing salespeople proactively consider the interests, needs and concerns of stakeholders, both individually and collectively, at the beginning of the sales process rather than waiting to react to stakeholders’ concerns later on in the sales cycle. By then, it could be too late.
In support of this effort, a sales team should partner with their marketing colleagues to provide insights and concise messaging that address the unique needs of each stakeholder. Doing market research and return on investment studies are marketing functions. The best marketers start with an overarching vision of what success looks like without getting into the weeds. Then they tie their insight-driven messaging to that vision. When salespeople combine their understanding of group buying dynamics with buyer-specific messages, they are in a much stronger position to facilitate agreement and build momentum toward reaching a favorable, profitable consensus before decision makers tire of the process.