Don’t sell to those who can’t buy – Decision makers and stakeholders
Don’t sell to those who can’t buy
A golden rule and common wisdom says:
“don't sell to those who can't buy”.
As one of our highly appreciated colleagues at IBM used to put it,
In complex B2B sales situations, when:
- you are selling at premium price,
- implementation of your product implies major change or a transformation
- implementation involves many users and stakeholders
.. in the customer, then it is adamant that the benefits must outweigh the pain, i.e., the cost of the implementation.
Regardless of your price, the real perceived cost to say yes is high—much higher than your price. Therefore, we need to spend our time talking to the people who can appreciate the business benefits—those who can say yes.
The real cost of saying yes
Even if we gave the whole solution away for free, in Value Based situations, the customer may still refuse or stall the decision. It is not a price issue!
As we approach the purchase signature, concerns about the whole project rise. This is absolutely normal. Price is almost irrelevant at this point. Doubt and the perceived risk weigh over on the “reasons not to buy” side of the balance together with the internal cost of the change project, making your price a minor issue in comparison.
Never try to compensate customer concerns by lowering your price!
In the article about why pipeline deals slip and are delayed, we discuss what to do about this, but for the moment, we just need to understand who the key influencers and decision makers are, and that they are crucial to us to approve the project.
Otherwise, they can stop, scrap, or stall our deal at any time between now and the order. We have to make sure they don’t.
A major business decision is very rarely taken by one single person. If we want the customer (the company) to go ahead with the deal, we need to acknowledge this fact and make sure we know who is who in the company, and work to secure the deal in multiple fronts.
Decision makers and Influencers
Who should we look for?
Most companies within the same industry have similar internal structures (titles tend to vary much more between industries). This makes it a good idea to map out the typical decision chain and decision-making structures for the industry you are about to campaign or approach. Describe the decision-making personas for the industry vertical, write them down, and then go search for them. This is helpful later when you create account plans for specific companies and put real names to the personas.
The influence circles
Some personas we often encounter and that you may want to start off with are listed below:
Decision maker – power sponsor
- Has the ultimate YES/NO decision to make
- Often merely a formal approval
- Can go against recommendations of the team
- Well protected and sometimes almost invisible
Things to consider
- Qualify that the person is the true decision maker
- If you can’t get direct access, what other players have the ear of this guy?
Influencer – expert
- Sees things from a functional point of view
- A filter in the process
- Can say NO, but not really the YES we need
Things to consider
- Engage influencer early in the process.
- Is the offer presented in a way that the influencer understands and backs?
- Do we know what their attitude towards us is?
- In general, very many of them in the company, professional roles.
- They propel who will use our solution, and the support agreements that came with it.
- Influence decision making if asked, not always considered though.
- Reach out to at least a limited set of users and consult them.
- Ask yourself what users will likely say about us if they are asked.
- Consider the effort and return of engaging with them.
- A sponsor wants us to succeed, as this makes them look good within the organisation, or get the task done better.
- Not necessarily in the leadership teams, can be outside the traditional contact surfaces, but should be influential enough.
- A sponsor will support us informally with information, advice, etc.
- Do you have a sponsor for the opportunity at hand?
- Is the sponsor powerful enough internally to drive the business forward?
- Do we understand the sponsors pains and the benefit from our solution?
The Stakeholder map
Pains flow throughout the organisation
For both decision makers and important influencers, you need to understand the professional and/or personal motivators so that you can build an individual value-based argument for them. What keeps the these people awake at night? What would they be really enthusiastic about?
It is a good idea to think a little extra and try to map out the “who is who” in the company. To get you started, here are some examples – typical professional motivators associated with different roles.
- A CFO will have financial and cash flow considerations; he will listen to arguments focused on productivity gains, lower costs, less stocks, less CAPEX, payment terms, and subscription models.
- The operations director will look at productivity, less risk for downtime, efficiency, less personnel rotation, job satisfaction, delivery precision, and quality.
- A project manager will be interested in holding the deadlines, meeting requirements, strict budget control, etc.
- Asking the right things to the right people is always important, and to do so we must understand them, who they are, and what they do and think. It is as easy as that.
If this is a big contract, spending time anchoring the decision with as many as we can from these people is absolutely key.
If the deal is smaller, perhaps we have to rely on our sponsors to do the internal selling. We have to use our common sense to judge the reasonable effort.