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Finding Time For The Decisionmakers

by David Brock on October 23rd, 2014

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.

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  1. Dave,

    With more people being involved in the buying decision and no hours being added to the day, salespeople need to focus more than ever on recruiting champions to become force multipliers for them. That requires selling to the real problem owners within the accounts, which of course requires the research and business acumen to understand the needs.

    • Brilliant and absolutely on target Jack. We need to find the coaches/sponsors/mobilizers that have a vested interest in helping drive the buying process (perhaps not the decision). We don’t have the time, and won’t necessarily be welcome into all the meetings, to do it ourselves. So finding these people helping them to drive the process is critical.

      But this brings up another challenge. Just as facilitation, problem solving, project management, and collaboration skills are critical for sales, they are critical for our customers in helping them to buy. And just like sales, many of our customers may be very uncomfortable and unskilled in doing this. How can sales coach/train/provide tools, enable their customers to want to and be comfortable in doing this?

  2. Hi Dave;

    2 responses in one. Efficient. I like it.

    To yesterday’s post. Whatever the reason, and their are plenty of them, consensus buying is the reality. I’m don’t think that’s so much of a change, realistically, what is new about that? “Decision Makers” have always had bosses, budgets (read, office of the CFO), trusted recommenders, political enemies, procurement/sourcing, etc., etc., etc.

    With Target Account Selling, The Complex Sale, Miller Heiman, Sandler and all the others, mapping these, understanding your position, building up your advocates, winning over (or neutralizing) your adversaries, defining your value prop (to justify to the CFO and defend from the procurement folks), etc. are part of the job. I took my first training in such disciplines a million years (okay, 30 years) ago.

    Selling has evolved, has gotten more complex, buyers have innumerable resources available and so forth, but the fundamentals are not new. IMHO.

    What’s new is, we have to do better at the “herding cats”. Otherwise, the stats from good folks like CSO Insights will continue to go in the wrong direction on close rates, average sale price, cost of sales and more.

    So enabling sales folks to have precision content for the various constituents….be they deciders, evaluators, recommenders, or whatever…is the big issue in my opinion. Saying the same few basic things to everyone we talk to was never optimal, and it’s getting worse. I’ll leave the “how do we figure out who they all are” to others, that’s been our job as long as we’ve been selling. What we communicate to each individual…that is where we can do a better job…what we are about.

    Great topic, thanks.


    • Awesome observations Jim. I tend to agree with you, consensus buying is not so new, but I think it has become more difficult for bother buyers and sellers. I think increases in risk aversion, pace of change, information overload, time compression and so many other things are driving this.

      All of which makes your points so much more critical. Tools like DecisionLink are awesome in helping sales people and customers have that precision content. Thanks for the contribution Jim!

  3. Brian MacIver (@Palayo) permalink

    “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.”
    Dave, that’s just the truth.

    Working with the DMU, influencing the Decision, is more complex than ever. However, we have to avoid making it Complicated! Complex is the number of people involved, each additional participant [ours or theirs] multiplies the complexity.

    Making it less complicated, simplifying influencing the Decision, means KNOWING WHO you have to interact with, WHAT you need to interact about and DOING only what you need to do.

    In the Closing workshop that I run, we map WHO, WHAT and WHY, then spend our precious time making HOW as straightforward as possible. Holding the essential interactions in the best sequence goes a long way to getting this part right.

    Of course it depends on Good Qualification in the early stages: a clear Basis of Decision, and a complete map of the DMU.

    One question I ask, which often surprises the Modern Salesperson is WHO will TAKE the decision,
    if the DMU Makes the decision?

  4. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Hi Dave

    And you’re welcome (it was good to finally meet you in person at the CEB summit!)…

    So – an idea for another (related) post…

    The CEB’s recent research on the consensus sale uncovered an interesting and alarming phenomenon: selling to each key decision maker individually actually DECREASES the chance of winning the opportunity on the basis of true, broad value, and INCREASES the chance that whoever wins, will ultimately win on commodity aspects – price & delivery.

    To be successful in the consensus sale means selling to all the decision makers (as the CEB refers to it, your “5.4”…) and reducing or removing conflicting needs/requirements through a process of ‘collective learning’, facilitated by the sales rep or an advocate in the client organization – ideally one of your “5.4”…

    This requires facilitation skills of the type simply not found in about 99.999% of sales people, and up until now, almost never hired for in a sales rep.

    And it’s going to take more time & effort to set up.

    BUT… the CEB’s research clearly suggests that when you do win such a consensus sale in this way, the average sale price is as much as 60% (IIRC) higher than it otherwise would have been…

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