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Who Said No? Why?

by David Brock on April 5th, 2022

My friend Brian MacIver added a brilliant comment to my post “On Consensus Buying.” I’m shamelessly taking his idea on identifying “Who said no,” and expanding on it.

Let me back up. We know some things to be true about modern complex B2B buying.

  • There’s seldom “A Decisionmaker.” For a complex decision, it’s a group of individuals, with differing priorities and interests. There may be people that exercise more influence in the process, but it is rarely a single person.
  • The size of the decision making group is growing. Part of it is that when we are considering a complex B2B buying decision, it impacts many people in the organization, so they need to be involved. Part of it is the risk may be high, individuals or small groups may be uncomfortable making the decision without additional input. The growing size of the buying group makes it more difficult to achieve consensus on the buying decision. We might think, it’s pretty easy to get 2-3 people aligned around a decision, it’s more difficult when 5-7 people are involved, but today we have more than 13 people involved. Getting consensus among the buying group makes herding cats seem like child’s play.
  • As a result, the majority of time, the buying group fails to make a decision. The majority of buying efforts end in No Decision Made.
  • And for those that do make a decision, an increasing percentage has high regret. That doesn’t mean they change their minds, they just live with the decision, perhaps reframing their expectations, maybe lowering them. But this experience impacts their future decisions, which may impact their perceptions of us, if we were “fortunate” enough to win what became a high regret decision (This should cause us to think a lot about the customer experience in implementation and operation.)

Now here’s the interesting part about consensus that Brian makes vividly clear. Consensus is not about everyone saying, “Yes,” it’s that no one said, “No.” If no one says, “No,” then we have consensus.

But now, we have to dive in to understand the consensus building process. We focus on getting the buying team to say “Yes,” choosing us. But that’s only a small part of the consensus building process. As a result, the person/people that say “No,” may not even be saying No regarding a vendor selection, they may be saying No to something else involved in the decision. It may be about the risk. It may be they have a different view of the priorities around the decision or even the scope of the problem the team is seeking to address.

There are dozens of areas, where “consensus” can break down in the problem solving/buying process. If there isn’t consensus in what the group is trying to achieve, what success means, the scope and goals of the project. If there isn’t consensus on the the broader issues the team members need to address (not just vendor selection). If team members shift their priorities, focusing on other things.

We tend to focus only on one aspect of what the buying team is doing, we focus on getting them to say, “Yes” to us. Yet the project can fail, it a team member says, “No,” not to us, but in another aspect of the project.

Before you throw your hands up in the air, saying, “How do we manage something so complex,” there is some relief. Crassly, what we have to help the buying team achieve is not people saying, “Yes,” rather avoiding “No’s.” For example, some members of the team could care less about the vendor choice. It may not impact them or mean nothing to their work. We don’t need them to say “Yes,” to us.

It’s not our responsibility to resolve all the “No’s,” particularly in areas that are not impacted by the vendor decision. But it’s important that our customers recognize this, manage these within their consensus building process. We might coach them in the process of building and maintaining consensus. But we may not be the people that must resolve this.

And then, we have to think about what has to be resolved. We tend to think consensus is everyone saying “Yes.” The reality, is it’s just the avoidance of “No.” There may be a huge number of issues, where people involved in the project just don’t care, nor to they need to care.

Thanks so much Brian!

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One Comment
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Happy to share with you as always Dave.
    You do great work and give MUCH to the Sales Community.

    In consensus building a powerful behaviour is to ask WHY?

    “You agree, but WHY?” often opens areas of VALUE we were not aware of.

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