According to CSO Insights research, only 29 percent of organizations report being effective at using a formal process for account engagement and development of relationships with key stakeholders. When managing large accounts, many sales teams struggle to access diverse stakeholders. Beyond securing buy-in, another benefit of effectively communicating with all the key stakeholders is understanding the multiple perspectives inside a large account.
Identifying these stakeholders, understanding their unique pain points and tailoring your message to meet their needs provides value to each individual. In addition, this helps you better understand the company’s buying process, as well as the internal politics of the organization. Let’s explore five essential strategies for implementing stakeholder management practices with your large accounts to ensure you get the buy-in you need.
- Develop a Situation Appraisal
Before you approach stakeholders in large accounts, you need a clear sense of your customers’ needs and how your value proposition solves them. This process starts with a Situation Appraisal. This systematic evaluation of the opportunities, strengths and vulnerabilities associated with an account provides a complete analysis of a prospect. Part of a Situation Appraisal is identifying your Field of Play, or the segment of a large account that is the focus of your strategy. A Field of Play may be a specific region, division or department that makes decisions independently—and possibly with different key players—than the larger account.
The fundamental question of a Situation Appraisal is, “What are we here to do for this customer?” Analyzing your answer ensures you’ll have the right conversations and offer the right solutions to the right stakeholders at the right times.
- Create a Charter Statement
Some sales teams rely on instinct when interacting with stakeholders in large accounts. They examine each stakeholder and tailor their messaging in real time. While this is an important skill, ultimately you need a unifying vision for an account. A Charter Statement is a high-level document that also ties directly to concrete, relation-based accomplishments your team wants to achieve in a large account.
Your Charter Statement goes beyond goals. Rather than a wish list of transactions or a forecast of anticipated revenue, this is a big-picture view that answers four questions:
- What is the Field of Play in an account?
- What value do we, as the selling organization, bring them?
- How will the customer gain this value?
- What will we gain in return?
- Find a Coach (and Identify the Anti-Sponsor)
Most stakeholders in large accounts will not be especially helpful or harmful to you. However, there are a rare few who will become an invaluable champion for you, who we refer to as your Coach. Other stakeholders will deliberately work against you, which we call your Anti-Sponsor. It’s your job to identify the stakeholders at each extreme and build relationships with both. Your Coach is the individual you can rely on to help you navigate your Field of Play, identify decision-making styles of executives and reveal the concerns of your Anti-Sponsor.
Your Anti-Sponsor doesn’t want you to win the deal; maybe they believe in another solution or maybe they don’t believe your solution will solve their pain points. In some cases, your Anti-Sponsor openly shares these concerns with you during meetings. Sometimes they remain silent in discussions and actively work against you behind closed doors. This is when you need to rely on your Coach to reveal your Anti-Sponsor’s specific concerns about your solution. Armed with this information, you can reach out directly with tailored messages that address the Anti-Sponsor’s pain points.
- Build Relationships Through Focus or Stop Investments
Sometimes, to win a long-term relationship with a large client, you’ll need to make some sacrifices. We call this a Focus Investment. Some examples include a special pricing offer, a customer-defined customization or a revision to contract terms. These incentives help you achieve a larger goal in the future.
Even as you strategically make a Focus Investment, you must be cognizant that this incentive is unsustainable. Eventually you will need to trigger a Stop Investment, when you essentially end your Focus Investment. Deciding when to pull the trigger on a Stop Investment can be difficult. Your customer becomes accustomed to the current situation even though you may be operating with thin margins. The challenge here is to pull the conversation away from price. Instead, focus discussions on the value your solution provides. More than likely, you’ll need to address each stakeholder’s specific needs, especially those of your Anti-Sponsor, before they are able to negatively influence other decision-makers. Part of this process is identifying what you’d like to stop doing, such as offering discounted pricing, and propose a new solution that will solve their needs and meet your goals.
- Take Full Advantage of Your Team’s Skills
Whether you like it or not, your stakeholders conduct research on their own—without you guiding and steering them toward your solutions. In fact, more than 70 percent of buyers report that they don’t engage with salespeople until after they clarify their needs, according to CSO Insights research. To give your stakeholders something they can’t get on their own, you have to provide more value during every discussion. That starts by taking full advantage of every member of your team. For instance, bring subject matter experts, such as your product engineer or product manager, into the conversation. At the same time, ask your sales manager to guide you on the optimal pacing for these meetings. Effectively utilizing your team also means analyzing data in your CRM to see which techniques other sales reps have used at specific points in the sales process to move an opportunity forward.
If you’re struggling to manage stakeholders in large accounts, you’re not alone. The most important strategy is to implement formal processes and quality-control measures for stakeholder engagement. You should start by:
- Conducting a Situation Appraisal
- Developing a Charter Statement
- Identifying your Coach and Anti-Sponsor
- Applying Focus Investments and Stop Investments effectively
- Take full advantage of your team, including subject matter experts
Ready to supercharge your sales team’s ability to access and secure buy-in with diverse stakeholders across your large accounts? Miller Heiman Group specializes in helping sellers win more deals using the Large Account Management Process.
Contact us to learn more about how Miller Heiman Group can help your organization.