I have worked with talented sales professionals around the world and I have found that failing to access the key people, or to influence them effectively (by demonstrating value), is one of the most frequent reasons cited for failure in a sales campaign. This holds true whether the sellers are in pursuit of a new customer, or seeking to expand in an existing account. How many times have you, or one of your sales team, spent weeks with an existing customer, or new prospect, only to learn that one of the key influencers that you did not connect with had sent the sale in another direction? Well, you’re not alone.
According to the research report Inside the Buyer’s Mind, while most salespeople think that they get to decision makers ‘Almost Always,’ only 38 percent of buyers believe that sellers get to the decision makers most of the time.
Even where a seller has an existing relationship with the account, the buyers believe that the sellers only ‘Almost Always’ get to the decision makers less than half of the time (42 percent). The sellers themselves think this is the case 68 percent of the time.
The data is fairly clear: sellers are not as good accessing the key players as they think they are. The challenge for sellers often is to know how to access the right people, how to bring value that earns them the right to get those meetings. At the same time some sellers will be satisfied spending time with those on the buy side who are willing to spend time with them. While this activity may seem productive, it is often not the case.
Since Inside the Buyer’s Mind was first published in 2016 there has been a lot of commentary about the increasing number of stakeholders involved in every buying decision. A study from Gartner correlates the likelihood of a sale closing with the number of people involved in the buying committee, highlighting that, as the number of buying roles increases, the probability of any deal getting done diminishes. In these situations, ‘No Decision,’ the nemesis of salespeople, becomes the primary competitor. Gartner’s study suggests that there is a material impact even when the buying group moves from one to two buyers and that, when it grows to five or six buyers, the probability of a deal happening reduces to 30 percent. The reality, of course, is that the causal factor driving the number of people in the buying committee is the complexity of the solution being purchased. The number of people involved in the purchase decision is a consequence of the solution complexity.
According to Inside the Buyer’s Mind, the average number of stakeholders involved in a buying decision varies dramatically by the complexity of the solution being purchased. What we know for sure is that the old paradigm of top-down, single decision maker, directed purchases are increasingly rare – so it is important to be able to access all the key influencers in any deal. Based on the 2016 Inside the Buyer’s Mind research project, we know that there are more than five buying decision makers involved much of the time.
Clearly the buying team is not going to allocate the time to each supplier to meet with each of the people. The overhead this places on the buying organization is extreme; and the perceived value of multiple generic meetings is low. So the natural sequence of events is that the facilitator of the buying team – either a business leader or a professional buyer (not mutually exclusive) – quickly whittles down the potential number of suppliers to a shortlist and then to the preferred vendor. Clearly getting access to all of the decision makers early in the buying cycle is important.
The results from the 2017 Business Performance Benchmark Study suggest that 61 percent of sellers believe they are effective at gaining access to key buying influencers. In either case, there are a material number of sellers who can’t get to the people who make the decision. That study goes on to show that those who are effective have a 28 percent greater Win Rate (materially similar to the results from Inside the Buyer’s Mind) and a Sales Cycle that is reduced by 21 percent. The performance delta is not surprising.
Those who are successful at accessing the key influencers and building relationships are more successful and quicker at achieving quota. They are granted return access, of course, because each time they visit they bring gifts of valuable insight born of continuous research and consideration of the customer’s perspective.
It is not just about accessing people; it is equally important to understand clearly what each influencer wants to achieve. Personal motivation is as important as company motivation. When you can tap into the personal dreams or aspirations of the individual and connect on a more intimate level you get to understand what is really important to him. Then your actions can be more effectively directed.
To explore this topic more deeply and dig into this in detail you will find all the necessary strategies and tactics outlined in my latest book: Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.