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Selling to the Collective

Selling to the Collective

Learning how to sell to decision makers who are not in the room is a key skill of modern business development

Nick Fawbert

If you’ve ever found yourself in a hard-won pitch opportunity when the decision is deferred to an individual who simply isn’t in the room, it’s time to sell to the collective.

We’ve all been there.

We’ve nailed the issues and perfected a solution, we’ve crafted the perfect pitch and delivered it with charm, empathy and inspirational zeal, and then we hear the words we most learned to dread…

Ok, I’ll pass it on to the boss

Your heart sinks, your confidence crumbles, and you know you’re now going to have to do the whole thing again with a customer you’ve never even met.

You thought you’d got the passing grade, and what’s the guarantee you’re going to make the mark next time around?

The fact is that if we’re going to make that sale, we must design our approach to work with collective decision-making from the ground up. That often means taking a different approach right from the start.

A Path to Success

Making the grade with collective decision-making means creating a sales process which is tailored to deliver the right results no matter what the authority of your initial contact.

We need to create a model which turns a one-off sales pitch into transferable knowledge and an incentive to build mutual support throughout a customer’s internal ecosystem.

It means we need to take a few steps:

  • Understand the structure
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Tailor the message
  • Empower the messenger
  • Commit to the hard yards

If we can make this process work, we have laid down the best possible path to success.

Understand the Structure

Although it may sometimes feel like it, decision making structures are not designed to frustrate sales pitches, they’re designed to make the most efficient use of internal resources.

Typically, corporate mission and vision are established by executive teams, strategic direction by senior management, operational decisions by middle management and implementation by the people working at the coal face - the people who provide sales and business development executives with the first point of contact.

Embrace the Challenge

Theoretically this presents a simple situation to address.

Buying decisions tend to be delegated down the chain depend upon the impact on the company and the scale of the investment required.

Look at your proposal, match it to the buying power, and theoretically you’ve made the right first step.

But the situation isn’t perfect, there’s always a people factor involved:

  • Different skill sets
  • Different capability
  • Different motivations
  • Different ambitions
  • Internal politics

They present a minefield to unsuspecting sales executives, but the right response is to fall back on sales fundamentals: understand your customer objectives and make sure you meet their needs.

Tailor the Message

Whilst the benefits delivered to the company by your products and services are constant, the needs of individual practitioners are diverse, and you need to tailor your message accordingly.

For that first contact, your primary goal is flexibility. Prepare the conversation bearing in mind some business fundamentals:

  • Establish their role and responsibilities, the part they play in the decision-making tree. If they can’t help you, take an interest in their personal goals and identify those aspects of your product or service that help them meet them.
  • If your contact can’t make the decision, seek referrals to those who can help you progress.
  • You will always need the co-operation of that contact to close the deal. Keep that in mind from the first moment you think about selling to them. Too many sales pitches fail when arrogant sales people fail to engage junior executives.
  • Junior executives seek out empowerment. All contacts at a customer are vital cogs in the engine, and you need to make that show. Demonstrate the value you put in them, and your trust in their support.
  • Avoid putting undue pressure on people who are not able to make decisions. You might get them to say what you want them to say, but they will feel put off by your attitude, block your progress and offer bad internal references.

There’s no better outcome for a sales executive than a business contact who recommends that their colleagues should talk to you!

Ideally in a structure that embraces collective decision making, you want every member of a team to be a champion to the one aspect of your product or services that helps them meet their personal goals.

Empower the Messenger

Your sales strategy expands when selling to collectives:

Firstly, you’re selling the referral, not necessarily the product or service:

  • Find out what motivates them to make a referral
  • Deliver the assurances and proof points they seek
  • Make a call to action

Be aware that what motivates your contact may not always be simply business needs – a friendly approach and a supporting attitude can go a long way to securing their endorsement.

Secondly, you’re asking them to sell to an individual you’ve never met

  • Ask for the motivating factors for the colleague to agree to talk to you
  • Supply your contact with the relevant information and proof points
  • Provide a timely incentive for engagement

Remember, if you don’t know what will help them, just ask and then deliver – the majority of contacts are looking for your help and support in their business and career. Don’t expect them to do the work for you.

Commit to the Hard Yards

It often takes as much work to navigate through internal structures as it does to pitch your final products and services. If you’re not prepared to commit to it, then you’ve simply wasted your time.

Remember, it often takes ten or more calls to finalise that contract!

Do the Preparation

As we established there’s a key set of activities for selling to a collective:

  • Understand the structure
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Tailor the message
  • Empower the messenger
  • Commit to the hard yards

Spending ten minutes running through that process in your head, anticipating scenarios and jotting down notes and reminders in how to perfect those steps with make your life a lot easier.

Keep dedicated notes about each of your contacts, their roles and responsibilities, and what motivates and inspires them.

Prepare arguments, supporting information and short decks or documents that will help your case. This can all be done beforehand, when time is less critical.

Get Started

There’s no time like the present!

Take your biggest target customer and try and draw a map of internal contacts, their objectives, reporting structures and authority.

Where you have gaps, get on the phone and fill them!

Only when you know the lie of the land is it finally time to pitch!

 

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Nick Fawbert

Nick FawbertNick Fawbert

With 25 years in the media and marketing industry, and almost 20 of those in digital marketing, Nick is one of the most experienced practitioners in the Asia marketing industry. He is Founder and CEO of Mutiny Consulting.

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