We’re almost a quarter of the way into the new millennium, and this whole stakeholder thing only seems to get more tricky. Did you know there are now an average of SIX decision-makers who have a stake in the buying decision at big companies? That means there are more opinions at the table than ever before. It also means the sales cycle is extended from weeks to months.
So what does that mean for you? You can either roll over and say sales isn’t the career for you. OR you can use it to your advantage to close more deals. And if I know my audience, I know you want to leverage this stakeholder dilemma to your advantage. Which begs the question… How do you do it? Well, first it’s important to quickly touch on “the least common denominator rule” in sales. Then we’ll dive into how to effectively sell to multiple stakeholders.
Hubspot explains that when you have 5-10 decision-makers trying to come to consensus, they are often a) painfully slow to act, b) don’t act at all, or c) purchase a much cheaper solution than yours as a bandaid-fix. They know they have a problem to fix, but since there are so many agendas at play, they’re unable to make a decision and therefore do the thing that avoids the most risk and saves them the most money. This is the least-common denominator. It’s the two things they ALL agree on: avoiding risk and saving money.
In other words, buyer’s get tangled up in their own web and can’t do what’s best for themselves! And you end up getting the “We’ve chosen a different vendor” objection, or the “It’s outside of our budget right now” objection. Both of which can spell disaster for you.
How to Overcome the Stakeholder Dilemma in B2B Sales
So here’s what you do…
The easy thing would be to sell to smaller companies. Many SMBs (small and midsize businesses) have only a few executives and just a couple decision makers up top. Usually the CEO and maybe a couple of VPs, these small and nimble teams love to make decisions fast and on-the-fly to accommodate their growing needs. Call even smaller businesses and you’re dealing with a founder/CEO who possesses ALL of the buying power. While it’s much easier to make a sale, this might not be your ideal buyer. And let’s be honest, why fish for minnows when we can fish for whales?
If you’re selling more complex B2B solutions, and/or you’re targeting the enterprise account, you need to know how to navigate the tricky world of stakeholders.
First, you must get all decision makers on the sales call. I wouldn’t even hold the call (or in-person meeting) without every stakeholder on the phone or in the room. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is there anyone in the company we need to bring into this discussion to make a decision?” Be painfully obvious with your word choice — don’t beat around the bush and leave this to chance. It’s much too important. Otherwise you’ll get bounced around their org chart for weeks or months. Not fun!
And remember, sales cycles can go upwards of 100+ days for enterprise clients, so chances are you aren’t closing a deal on the first meeting. That’s fine. Because now it’s time to put on your leadership hat and “herd the cats” so to speak. While it’s probably not best to think of your prospects as cats, the analogy holds. They’re smart. They can be stubborn. They each have their own internal motivation. It’s hard to keep their attention, and they do what they want. And it’s your job to get them to buy your product. Tall task? Maybe.
But remember, when stakeholders are looking for the least common denominator, it’s YOUR job to find the most common denominator — or the most salient things about your offer that appeals to each stakeholder. How can you solve for XYZ across various departments and stakeholder agendas? Prepare! Once you know who’s coming to the table, you can do a bit of research/homework to frame your offer as a solution to each of their problems. OR at least to the team’s problem as a whole (by not excluding any one stakeholder’s pain points).
From Theory to Practice
OK let’s start to land this plane that’s been in the “clouds of theory” and talk about some practical scenarios. Let’s say you sell high-ticket, custom sales intelligence software. You’ve landed a meeting with P&G (or similar Fortune 500), and suddenly you’re in front of six different stakeholders. You’ve got the CTO on the call, the SVP of sales, the Sr. Director and Director of Sales, the VP of Marketing, and a Communications Manager (not a decision-maker).
So how do you frame your offer and effectively pitch six different people? After all, each person above has different metrics they are beholden to. That is to say, they each have different measuring sticks for success. Not to mention they all have a history of dealing with (and perhaps getting burned by) software companies like yours. So where do you even begin?!
You take a holistic look at the company and the problem you can solve. You ask questions and listen, listen, listen. You empathize and build rapport with each of these stakeholders. And when you speak, you account for each person’s motivations and emotional triggers/pain points. For instance, you might mention how your software frees up sales-department leaders from monitoring outbound calls or from drowning in data. This will be music to the ears of the SVP and Sales Directors. Talking about “bottom-line” potential and the revenue generated (or saved!) by other Fortune 500 companies that utilize your software will appeal to the CTO. And you can drive it home that your software helps sales and marketing teams get on the same page, which the CMO will love to hear.
Wait… what about the Communications Manager? Remember, she isn’t a decision maker, so you don’t need to address her and speak to her pain points, right? Wrong. Just because she doesn’t have the authority to make a buying decision doesn’t mean she won’t be on the internal calls behind the scenes. She will be. So make her your ally by personally addressing her and speaking to her deepest desires (in a business sense, of course), or you risk alienating her by glossing over her motivations entirely. Oh, and guess what, being a Communications Manager, she has no problem voicing her opinion to the CTO about what she thinks of you and your offer, for good or for ill. In fact, maybe she’s the most vocal in the discussion! See what I’m getting at?
Sure, this strategy is just the start, but it’s a winning start. There’s more relationship-navigating beyond the first few meetings that you must account for. You’ll have to nurture, nurture, nurture. You’ll have to remain organized and run meetings in the most advantageous way to you.
And whatever you do, do not leave the ball in your buyer’s court for too long (or at all if you can help it). Do not let them drive the meetings, either. You must remain in control at all times, or at least as often as you can. Remember, they are cats and you’re the cat-herder. Your job is to guide them and lead them to make a favorable decision for all parties involved.
You’ve got this.
Until next time…