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So many buyers, too few sales: one way deal with b2b multiple decision-makers

Posted on: May 11, 2020

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Category: B2B marketing

So many buyers, too few sales: one way deal with B2B multiple decision-makers

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It’s a fact.

More than 85% of B2B sales involve multiple buyers.

It’s a scary fact.

The number of people involved in B2B purchases averaged 5.4 in 2014 to 6.8 in 2016, and these numbers are expected to hit 10+ by the end of 2020. Just to complicate things further the customer stakeholders come from an ever-increasing range of roles, functions and geographies.

It’s a drag.

84% of buying journeys take longer than expected.

What’s a salesperson to do?

The prognosis does not look good.

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Salespeople today have got it hard.

According to the CEB, the change in buying behaviour – in terms of the increase of decision makers – has moved the likelihood of a sale from 81% (when a single person makes a purchase decision) to 55% – 60% (when a second or third person is thrown into the buying mix) and down to as low as 31% when six or more buyers are involved.

Maybe we need to change the way we sell?

And pretty damn quick.

How do you solve a problem like multiple buyers?

Let’s take a look at two suggested approaches from authoritative sources.

The first comes from Wilson Learning Worldwide, a sales training company that frequently features in top 20 lists of providers.

The second comes from the hallowed pages of the Harvard Business Review, whose credentials need no checking. It was based on research and analysis by the CEB (now part of Gartner).

Wilson Learning Worldwide

Here the salesperson is envisaged trapped in an escape room or playing a game of Cluedo. They read the clues, sniff out power, uncover positivity and fit the pieces together to make the sale.

To pass through the ‘sale’ door, three essential keys are needed:

  • To unlock the door of ‘influence’
  • To navigate past the closed gates of ‘positions’
  • To start the car that will drive these ‘influences’ and ‘positions’ to your desired goal

Here it is visualised:

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The main insight here is to never confuse influence solely with seniority.

Influence also stems from disposition – or how positively each stakeholder feels about your proposition.

You need to handle the varying combinations of influence and disposition differently:

  • Converting those with a high degree of influence and a negative disposition
  • Insulating those with a low degree of influence and a negative disposition
  • Promoting those with a low degree of influence and a positive disposition
  • Capitalising on those with a high degree of influence and a positive disposition

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Having sussed out where Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs White, Reverend Green and the rest of the usual suspects sit, it’s now time to play super sleuth – uncovering hidden motivations behind stated positions.

Getting past positions

Perhaps the biggest challenge to unlocking the gates that each decision maker stands behind is to understand truly what lies behind these positions.

Decision making can quickly grind to a halt if one decision-maker says they want X and another wants anything but X.

Quick example:

Beads of sweat form on the digital marketing agency’s salesperson’s brow as the CMO goes hell for leather for an aggressive social media spend but the CFO staunchly refuses to authorise such a budget.

Picking herself up the salesperson began to explore the ‘interests behind each stated position. Leaving aside the sleuth work, she discovered:

  • The CFO felt ROI would not be hit: the projections for new customers did not justify the gung-ho spend
  • The CMO felt that customers increasingly used social media to research vendors early in the buying process. If they were not there, they risked being a player.

Back at the ranch the salesperson put together a new proposal based on a highly targeted, industry-specific social media campaign that would retain the projected new customers but slash costs to bring a positive ROI.

Case solved!

The moral of this quick story:

  • Getting to ‘interests’ requires good questioning skills.
  • Positions are how people express what they want.
  • Interests are often unstated but are the reasons they want it.

Orchestrating the decision-making process

From detective constable to conductor, the final stage requires manipulating and pulling strings based on your understanding of ‘influence’ and ‘interests’.

The key is to use your knowledge of ‘interests; to develop appropriate actions from each decision maker according to where they fall on the influence map.

To convert a person with high levels of influence but a negative disposition:

  • You need to emphasise how your solution meets their interest
  • It can help to link their interests to those of other high influencers who hold a positive disposition
  • Sometimes decision-makers with a negative disposition have a relationship with a competitor: this can be used to address the value you add head-on
  • You can also promote the interests (by showing their business value) of those with a positive disposition but lower levels of influence

In this model of handling multiple decision makers, the B2B salesperson is the undoubted hero. They solve problems created by clients and carefully play one stakeholder off another to gain their achieved result.

From multiple madness to organised order, stalled decision making to solution sold through sleuthery and orchestration.

Or so the story goes.

In our next post we’ll look at a second approach that swaps schematics for simplicity and looks at the process not through the eyes of the harried salesperson but the confused customer.

Maybe there’s another tale to tell?

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