I wrote, Finding The Decisionmaker, discussing the consensus buying process and the increasing number of decisionmakers involved in complex B2B sales ( Average of 5.4 according to CEB.) My good friend, Martin Schmalenbach, always calls BS on me in such interesting ways.
Martin posed the issue, “Think of the poor sales person reading this. They are already overwhelmed with deals/opportunities and managing what they have going on. Now you are asking them to call on 2-3 times more people. How are they going to do it? How are they going to research, prepare and manage their time with the increase number of calls they have to make on each deal?”
It’s a fair concern. I can imagine all the sales people rolling their eyes, wondering, “Oh sh@t! How do I possibly do this? How do I find them? How do I talk to them? How do I find the time?”
After reflecting on Martin’s challenge a bit here are some thoughts.
First, burying our heads in the sand/avoidance is not a solution. Yeah, I know you’re saying, “Thanks for the sensitivity and understanding Dave!” But the reality is consensus based buying is how customers are making decisions. More people are involved, it is tougher for them to buy, customers are increasingly risk averse. That’s fact, avoiding it doesn’t help us win or help the customer buy.
In fact, ignoring this reality causes our win rates plummet! The natural behavior this drives, is to find and qualify more deals, chase more opportunities, try to fill the gap so we can make our numbers. Ultimately, this leads us into a death spiral.
So what if we changed our perspective. The reality is, we have to engage and work with all the buyers (all 5.4–and more). By working with all of them, by recognizing the reality of the difficulty customers have in buying, by facilitating their buying process, by engaging more deeply, we actually increase our ability to win and reduce no decision made.
Increasing our win rates, mean we have to chase fewer deals. We have the time to engage all the buyers in those fewer deals. We have the opportunity to work with them, building greater value and differentiation.
So this part of the argument is simply engaging all the decisionmakers in the deal drives win rates ups, meaning we have to find and qualify fewer deals to make our numbers. At least the math is going in our favor.
But there’s a lot more than saying “Just do it.”
We have to provide the sales people the tools and skills to do this. We’re asking them to call on many more stakeholders–people they may not understand or have discomfort in working with.
Reasonable questions like: “Who are they? How do I access them? What do I talk to them about? How do I work with the buying team, facilitating their buying process? What if I can’t access them?”
We need to provide sales people tools, training, coaching, and support to help them do this. A lot of the work being done on “Personas” helps. It helps us understand the buyers/stakeholders and how we engage them. Much of the “Persona” work focuses on marketing content we provide these stakeholders directly. We need to extend this work to the sales person, helping them identify, access and engage these buyers. We need to embed this in the training, tools, and coaching we provide sales people.
We now have this buying group, we have to engage and manage. Herding cats is easier! Facilitation, collaboration, project management, and problem solving skills become critical for sales people. We need to be training. tools, and coaching sales people in how to do these. Without this, we send them in naked–they can work with individuals, but they can’t work with the group.
Managers need to be deeply involved, not only coaching, but in helping open doors. In setting the example for their sales people (Which makes me wonder, how many sales managers can do this, how do we train, coach, develop them to set the example and lead their people their people?)
I’ll stop here. Buying has changed (I feel like a broken record), so how we sell, who we sell to, how we engage, and the skills we need have to change. Our mentality has to change. Chasing more deals–the natural reaction may not be right. Chasing fewer deals, engaging more deeply is perhaps the better strategy.
Finally, in wrapping up, this creates another challenge for managers. What happens to all the deals we aren’t chasing? How do we pursue those?
If by chasing fewer deals, engaging more deeply, driving higher value, increasing win rates is working. Then it’s an easy problem for managers to solve in looking at those deals we don’t have the resources to chase. We now have a great business case to grow and expand our teams.