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Dealing with Multiple Stakeholders in B2B Enterprise Sales Decision-Making

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Selling to other businesses is difficult, and the best practices and trade secrets differ from those used for business-to-consumer (B2C) sales. This is because B2B or enterprise sales are typically multi-step processes involving multiple reps and teams. Each of these steps, whether via email, phone call, or video conference, provides information that can help reps improve and close more deals.

Insights from B2B sales conversations can help improve your bottom line, whether your sales or business development representatives are doing cold outreach or playing a role in the decision-making phases of the sales funnel. Are your sales practices, however, as effective as they could be? What distinguishes your top-performing agents? And how is that knowledge disseminated throughout the sales call center?

B2B Enterprise Nowadays

If it seems like B2B enterprise sales are becoming more complex, that’s because they are. Just two years ago, there was an average of five stakeholders in the room for most enterprise sales decisions. Today, the number has ballooned to seven stakeholder personae. Think about that: Seven different agendas, communication styles, priorities, and pain points—and unless they all align on your solution, the deal’s DOA. Of course, research shows that as B2B buying committees grow in size, so too does their propensity to say “no.” Little wonder, then, that CSO Insights found that for the seventh straight year, fewer sellers than ever are hitting their quotas. 

B2B buying process decisions can be more mission-critical and risky than B2C purchases. Organizations approach purchasing products and services differently than consumers do in order to reduce the risk of making the wrong decision. As a result, B2B purchases frequently involve multiple stakeholders and stages.

Seven Personas Presented

Finding and contacting all of the people and planners involved in a purchase decision is frequently more difficult than it appears. Job titles differ greatly between organizations. You may also discover that your contacts don’t anticipate all of the people who need to be involved in a large-scale purchase, or that they aren’t used to speaking directly with sales teams. To make matters even more complicated, some departments do not understand the role of other departments and thus misjudge when to bring their colleagues into the conversation.

Rather than relying on faulty information and a single point of contact within an organization, you can drive the process forward by taking the initiative and bringing all event planning stakeholders together. You will be able to chart and understand complex stakeholder landscapes within any organization with the right mix of tact, appropriate qualifying questions, and careful listening. With the stakes so high, you need to understand what makes these “magnificent seven” tick. We’ll break down the seven personas you’re likely to encounter in your next pitch, and we’ll show you how to take a more strategic approach to communicate with each. 

1. The Advocate

Everything begins with your Advocate, your first point of contact in the sales cycle. She’s the person you’re closest to at your prospect’s company, the one whose trust you’ve earned through relationship building. She’s the reason you’ve gotten this meeting in the first place, and you need to capitalize on the bond you’ve carefully cultivated. As a result, your strategy—and preparation—begins with your Advocate. First, conduct some reconnaissance with her around the meeting invitation itself, but keep in mind that who attends the meeting is far less important than why they are there. Rather than simply collecting their titles and crawling their LinkedIn profiles, ask your Advocate to provide insight into each person’s role in the deal, their priorities, and any potential objections they may have. This should provide you with granular insights that org charts cannot provide.

Your Strategy: Make Her Shine

Only your Advocate is invested in your success out of the seven stakeholder personas in the room, so take advantage of that. Help her help you by anticipating common objections and procurement headaches and arming her with the information she can use to champion your product internally. One-pagers, case studies, and even infographics can assist your Advocate in selling your solution to the remaining six people involved. But keep in mind that your Advocate is responsible for everyone else’s time—and wasting it is the worst thing you can do. You must be polished, thoughtful, and well-prepared. If you make her look less than brilliant for bringing you in, you’ll lose your only lifeline to this prospect.

2. The Skeptic

Every pitch meeting has a member who is both engaged and combative. These are the characteristics of the Skeptic. He’s got an ax to grind, and he’s not interested in what you’re saying or what your solution can offer. The Skeptic is a frequent flier in IT deals, most likely because the vast majority of IT professionals prefer “a salesperson who understands my specific problem and matches a solution.” This means you should listen more than you talk, and no matter how much research you do ahead of time, he won’t buy what you’re selling unless you first let him tell you about the organization’s problems and priorities.

Your Strategy: Let Him, Vent

Your Advocate should be able to spot the Skeptic ahead of time, but if she can’t, you won’t have to look far to find him. He’ll be the one who objects frequently and loudly. When this occurs, engage him directly. Allow him time to share his difficulties, but keep control of the conversation by asking pointed questions. Avoid open-ended questions that lead to lengthy responses. And don’t ever, ever challenge him.  So patiently listen to him out and offer to provide case studies after the meeting. It’s your only safe bet for preventing the Skeptic from poisoning the meeting.

3. The Gatekeeper

The gatekeeper stakeholder persona is typically found in technology, security, or procurement. She’ll come to the meeting prepared to listen carefully, but she’ll also have some very specific questions for you to answer. Can’t or won’t? The meeting will most likely fail quickly. Of course, you should have already identified the majority of these questions during your planning conversation with your Advocate. At the same time, given the wide range of potential objections that the Gatekeeper may have—everything from data security to compliance, ease of implementation, storage performance, integration, and so much more—critical it to zero in on the most important concerns. Finally, while these may not be the most exciting questions you get to answer, you must do so clearly and persuasively. Your next closed-won deal is on the line.

Your Strategy: Tech Talks to Tech

Because the majority of buyers rate their most recent purchase as “very complex or difficult,” you should simplify the story you tell as much as possible. Of course, technical details are important, but they are only one part of the picture. You only get to have an hour to present your situation. That’s why bringing your sales engineer or technical account manager to this crucial meeting is a good idea.

4. The Influencer

Despite being a relatively junior stakeholder, the Influencer wields considerable power within the purchasing committee. This is most likely an internal subject matter expert. She is a millennial, and the senior-most decision-maker looks to her for advice on purchasing decisions. As a result, her input frequently wins the day. However, this is another area where you can collaborate closely with your Advocate to gain an advantage. To begin, you should attempt to piece together a hierarchy of influence. Who has the most influence over outcomes? The answer may not be who you think it is, and this can have a significant impact on your chances of success.

Your Strategy: Give Her the Spotlight

Remember that the role of the Influencer is often at least as important as that of the senior-most leader, such as the CIO, CMO, or another chief executive. According to one study, only 13% of millennials are decision-makers on purchasing committees, with the rest serving as researchers, project managers, or influencers. And, given that 59 percent of millennials prefer to start researching a product before engaging with a seller, your best chance is to engage her by asking how she perceives your solution in comparison to your competitors. This gives her a chance to shine and show off all of her hard work. If you can give an influencer a win in front of her boss while also demonstrating your appreciation for her contribution, she’ll be much more likely to warm to your pitch—and less likely to derail the deal later on.

5. The Decision-Maker

Top-level C-suite stakeholders, such as CIOs, CTOs, and CMOS, are likely decision-makers. She will be more concerned with ROI than any other stakeholder. So keep case studies on hand and be prepared to discuss them in depth, including obstacles you’ve helped customers overcome and factors that ultimately led to success. When you connect that to ROI, you’re speaking the right language. That is why it is best to be upfront about pricing from the start. Almost half of the buyers prefer to discuss pricing up front, you must come prepared with transparent pricing—and be prepared to answer questions. Because there will be inquiries.

Your Strategy: All About Sale ROI and Relationships

Case studies are your best friend in this situation. It is critical to demonstrate that your solution provides measurable value to similar companies, not just big names. If pricing becomes an issue, consider providing a discount or a proof of concept. This type of gesture should be viewed as low-hanging fruit, especially given the potential benefits of a long-term partnership.

6. The Wildcard

Even if your Advocate has given you a fairly thorough read on everyone in the room, there’s always the Wild Card. He was added to the invite at the last minute, so you don’t have time to learn about him and how he fits into the larger purchasing picture.

Your Strategy: Listen and Learn

If his opinion is important enough to your Advocate that she disrupted his day to bring him in, it should be important to you as well. Fortunately, you should be able to glean at least his title and department from the first round of introductions, which will provide you with some context for why he’s in the room. Compliance? He’ll be concerned about risk and regulation. Procurement? The top priorities are cost and integration. These are probably safe assumptions but engage him directly to gain certainty. Inquire about his main concerns about your product, and give him time to express them. Build comfort and trust by mimicking his demeanor and communication style.

7. The Checked-Out

There’s always one person in the room who is multitasking, staring out the window, or swiping on Tinder. This is the stakeholder who has checked out. He’s not interested in what you’re selling, but he was invited for a reason, which you must discover. The Checked-Out may wield some power, but he’s more likely a representative of a dependent department or function who is simply ensuring that your solution checks off a required box.

Your Strategy: Don’t Engage

You only have an hour, and if swiping right is more important to him than making a major purchase, don’t waste it. Focus on more important stakeholders for the time being, because you can always share more information with him later—and if your Advocate has given you a clear picture of why he’s there, you should know what that information is. However, he is a low-influence and low-engagement stakeholder, so don’t waste too much time on him.

Stakeholder Persona Executive Summary

Today’s enterprise buying committees usually involve seven stakeholder personas—and they’ll all need to align on your solution. We’ve broken down the seven stakeholder persona you’re likely to encounter in any enterprise sales meeting and give you a plan to communicate with them strategically.  Get more insights into the buyer perspective with our playbook:

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4 Tips for Selling the Whole Room

According to 2016 data, there are an average of 6.8 stakeholders involved in most B2B purchase decisions. That means that at any given time, we have to convince five or six people besides our primary sales contact of the value of our proposition, or else the deal could fall flat. And even if we manage to secure one or two brand champions within a buyer organization, there are always other “off-radar” stakeholders who could easily undermine those relationships because of competing interests.

In other words, if we want to be successful in this brave new world of relationship sales, we have to broaden our vision of just who it is we’re selling to in the first place. If we aren’t prepared to sell to multiple parties from the outset — even in seemingly straightforward sales scenarios — then we face longer decision-making processes that cost us more to pursue. We end up with implementation delays that make it harder for us to get down to actual results, which may impact customer satisfaction and reduce referrals. Worse, we inadvertently contribute to an unfavorably convoluted customer purchasing process that, in the end, is more likely to yield a “no” or “maybe later” decision.

Decision fatigue is real. That’s why our sales must approach convince people at many different levels of decision-making power of the value of our product — quickly and efficiently. Here are some proactive strategies that can help us do just that:

Tip 1: Build multiple relationships — even with people who don’t seem particularly important.

You never know which sales relationship will unlock an opportunity, nor is it always apparent which brand champion is likely to be the one that tips the scales in our favor against competitors. While it certainly isn’t prudent for us to actively court an entire buyer organization with every sale, it behooves us to become acquainted with the jobs and interests of as many parties to the deal as possible, and it is recommended to build relationships as possible.

This, after all, is the best way to learn and apply the real pain points each stakeholder’s faces. Perhaps the customer service manager prefers our solution because it enables more detailed reporting, but individual account managers worry that our solution will make their jobs more difficult by requiring them to spend more time on data entry. Getting to know people at both levels of impact enables us to anticipate and address potential objections before they’re raised and highlight features that might otherwise go under-appreciated.

Tip 2: Map stakeholder influence on sales, customers, and the company.

This proceeds naturally from the previous model strategy. By courting multiple relationships, we gain a much better idea of how our solution will impact the day-to-day work routines of the persons across the organization — and we gain insight into whose influence matters most to those responsible for making the final decision. Often, executive managers lean on lower-level operations personnel for insight into what will make their jobs easier. We want to know if the sales manager championing our product is being undercut by an IT manager skeptical of compatibility with existing hardware or a warehouse manager reluctant to retrain her order pullers on a new system.

There might even be individuals somewhere in the organization who have had negative experiences with our company in the past; we’ll never know unless we have our ears to the ground. It helps to map stakeholder influence by asking the right questions during the relationship-building process:

  • How do you normally decide how to prioritize your needs in a situation like this?
  • Who would typically have the final say in which system you go with?
  • Which employees would be most impacted by a change in software?
  • What does your decision-making process look like from here?
  • Do you anticipate any objections to implementation from your partners?
  • Who would you recommend I talk to better understand how our product would affect your daily operations?

These and other open-ended questions are designed to elicit clues about who besides the person we’re already talking to we might need to make it a point to get to know. Perhaps we’ll learn that the purchasing agent has to approve the deal and will likely be influenced from above by her superior in accounting. Wouldn’t it help for us to arm our contacts with key information about things that might “grease the wheels” on the financial logistics? Perhaps we could mention cost-saving facets of our proposal, such as free technical support and implementation oversight. Or perhaps we can highlight how our software seamlessly integrates with the accounting or ERP software the customer is already using.

Once we know who our key influencers are, we can better strategize our efforts to remove roadblocks and position brand champions to persuade others within the organization to opt for our solution over other competitive offerings. But that brings us to our next point.

Tip 3: Visualize your sales value — and make it shareable.

If we’re going to equip our businesses and champions to do this work for us, we have to find ways to help them do that efficiently — in a way that communicates a consistent message about what makes our product compelling. That probably means we should find creative and visually compelling ways to summarize the most salient selling points of our solution in easily digested, “take-with-you” formats. Your more technically competent leads might appreciate a good white paper detailing how your solution works, the principles underlying its approach, and best practices for organizations considering an implementation. But a C-suite executive isn’t going to have time to pore over 20 pages of dense content. We’d better have a winsome executive summary ready to go — one that makes copious use of bullets, subheadings, and graphical representations of how our product stacks up against the competition.

We do well, too, to make every sales contact an inroad to persuading other members of their organizations. Let’s say that our solution gets its leading edge from technical facets that aren’t easily explained in a ten-minute sales pitch, particularly to more lay-level audiences. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to conclude that pitch by offering a branded thumb drive with several short video clips demonstrating how these features work? What if we were able to also leave a few half-page, full-color fliers showing in a side-by-side comparison of technical features our solution includes relative to other competitive offerings in the same price range?

Remember, we are talking today and might not need the information. They may already be sold. But when it comes time for them to introduce our solution up the flagpole or across departmental boundaries, having easy access to these resources can overcome a lot of friction and answer a lot of questions our contacts never thought to ask.

Tip 4: Go above and beyond, not just through sales.

Obviously, in a situation where multiple decision makers are involved, businesses need to have a more flexible, adaptive sales approach than we might in situations where we’re working with the top decision-maker from day one. That’s why we want to differentiate ourselves by demonstrating a keen sign of awareness of our prospective buyers’ business organizations.

We need to be prepared to meet different and multiple times, proactively follow up on questions that may or may not come to us directly, and engage a broader team of voices within our organizations. We might need, for instance, to arrange a follow-up meeting between technical teams to “talk shop” about the finer details of systems compatibility and implementation hiccups. We might need to offer to make a second presentation (or a third or fourth presentation) of the same information — to the same people — just so that a vital decision-maker who wasn’t present before can hear the information this time.

Whatever it takes, so long as the potential sale warrants the investment, we need to be ready to accommodate. After all, if we want to sell the room, we have to be willing to work the room first. If we’ve done our homework, accurately mapped the prospect’s buying process and key influencers, and prepared some snazzy sales media engineered to appeal to stakeholders across the organization, then we’re well on our way.

Influence Decisions on Sales and Purchase Data Content with Experts

Your enterprise customers will notice you’re small; simply be honest and solicit a lot of feedback. Speak with them frequently and inquire about ways to improve, iterate internally, and identify champions. Champions are great because they generate net-negative churn, but they also help small businesses win more, win bigger, and win with a shorter deal cycle. I’d recommend communicating with your larger clients monthly for the first year, then quarterly after their initial renewal date.

All of this can be digested and turned into a process for future sales representatives selling to larger organizations, not just in the enterprise but also in the mid-market. These points should provide a few small quick wins with your current efforts and help you scale B2B sales quickly. Selling to enterprise customers is difficult, but practice makes perfect. Putting their logos on your website will not only make you feel good, but it will also help you get more of them.

By contacting Mach1Design for professional assistance, we can provide tips and suggestions for improving your organization’s decision-making process. Contact us at 469-536-8478 or [email protected] today.

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