The nightmare for every company: after spending endless hours, days, weeks and in some cases even months or years, working this “big deal”, the sales manager reluctantly sends the message that the company did not get awarded the contract. There was no prior indication it was going to end this way, in the contrary, “we always had a strong rapport with the buyer and good buying signals”.
Sounds familiar? Especially when the company is offering a complex product or solution, you might encounter this problem. Obviously in most of cases, aspects such as price (or total cost of ownership), product specifications, cultural fit, sales terms & conditions, logistics, …, or probably a combination of those, will have influenced the decision. But often a poor identification of the people involved in the buying process is at the root of the issue.
Understanding early on who is involved at the customer’s side is a key responsibility of the sales manager leading the sales process. In the I2ACT philosophy, the sales manager is accountable for the client and the assigned sales target. Multiple books have been written about how to name the various parties involved (decision-maker, influencer, user, (final) buyer, executive sponsor, …) and every CRM seems to have its own version as well, so I am not going to cover that part. But I do want to discuss the actual process that leads to the proper identification and what should happen after the names have been entered into the CRM or deal sheet. Because typically that is where the shortfall happens, not in the identification stage itself.
Many salespeople tend to focus their attention on “the C-level”, because “that is where the decision is being made”. Albeit that might be correct to a certain extent, in a complex buying process the decision is almost never taken by one person, but typically is a joint decision of a multidisciplinary team. This team might include staff from all levels of the organization, who are all influencing the final decision. Therefore, it is of key importance to identify these people as early as possible and engage them directly. But the challenge in today’s environment is that due to the (incorrect) use of CRMs & KPIs, salespeople and their managers are focused more on “completing the fields” than on “completing the prospecting process”.
This is where you can separate the average from the great sales organizations. In an average sales team, the sales person starts to focus on 2 or 3 people on the client side (because of accessibility, comfort level, previous interaction, …), and through these contacts might receive some (or maybe even all) names of those involved in the buying process. But unless the C-level (typically referred to as the “decision-maker” in the CRM) is not included in the core 2-3 contacts (of which one will be the “buyer”), in the average sales organization there will likely be no follow-up with the other project team members, because the identification was done.
In well-operated sales teams, there is a lot of focus on the sales process and on making sure that most, if not all, buying parties are contacted and included in the interaction. I refer to this process as “hanging your picture in every room in the house”. In essence, the idea is very simple: you basically paint the picture of your product, service or solution to every group involved in the buying process, but focusing on their interests (functional, financial, quality, usability, …). By meeting all your buyer contacts and presenting your solution, you ensure that everyone involved in the decision process has a notion of your solution: you have hung a picture of your solution in every room at your buyer’s location”.
This obviously takes time and effort, but it typically pays off in complex buying environments for 2 reasons:
As mentioned earlier, larger buying decisions in these environments are typically taken by a multidisciplinary team. Now let us say that the team consists of 5 people. If there has only been contact with 2 people in the process, that means 3 people involved do not know about the solution, and therefore are less likely to support it. And if 1 of the 2 does not have as strong a voice at the table as expected, or worse, is not at the table at all, it becomes really an uphill battle. By identifying and including additional (and preferably all) parties, the chances of being awarded the contract increase significantly.
If done early enough, even before the buyer shows any buying intention or launches a RFP/RFQ (Request for Proposal / Request for Quote) from, then this approach can help shape the buyer’s future solution specifications and ultimately give the company a competitive advantage in the buying process, even prior to the start of the decision process. This is also why, when a company just lost a deal, its sales manager should continue to engage and build out the contact base. In multi-year contracts, this is exactly the time to make the difference and stand out: most competitors will move on and focus on the “next upcoming deal”, only realizing that the next time the contract is up for bid, they have been outmaneuvered by the tenacious sales manager and the customer has already pre-designed its next solution towards the sales manager’s suggestions.
Complex, lengthy sales cycles require discipline & process-focus from the sales manager, and patience & support from the management team. Depending on the product, service or solution offered, the complexity of the market the company operates in & the structure of its customer base, the competitive dynamics, and the typical sales cycles it encounters, the planning time frame might differ. But in the long term, when planned and executed properly, and with the necessary management support, a sales process based on the “hanging the picture” idea will ultimately lead to a higher close rate.