Wouldn’t life be easier if the only stakeholder a seller needed was the main point of contact? If only. Stakeholder management is complicated—because it involves an ever-expanding number of roles who influence purchase decisions at an organization. According to CSO Insights’ 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, the average salesperson must now navigate six or more buying influences to close a single deal (which can take five months or more).
For most sellers, engaging all the buying influences is an ongoing challenge. Some companies intentionally hide them behind executive-assistant gatekeepers. Other stakeholders are simply not accustomed to engaging directly with sales teams. Thus, one important aspect of any sales process is methodically seeking out and building relationships with all the hidden buying influences in a customer’s organization because these hidden stakeholders are essential to closing deals. Let’s explore four strategies to find them.
Identify All the Buying Influences
During a sales process, regardless of how long a seller has engaged with a potential buyer or where they are in the process, people sometimes emerge to exert their influence on an opportunity. So be proactive in finding the key players as early in the process as possible. During conversations with the main point of contact, ask questions to understand how the company will make the final buying decision. This helps reduce the potential of surprise influencers emerging later in the process. Ask questions such as:
- Who is driving this initiative?
- Who else do you need to speak to for final sign off on this deal?
- Who will be most impacted by this solution?
- Who are you going to take this information to next?
- Are there any potential roadblocks in front us to get this project signed off?
Understand the Decision Dynamic
As a sales leader, it’s critical to make sure that individual sellers identify the hidden stakeholders. If sales reps are singled-threaded with only one main point of contact, they are not getting deep enough in identifying the various influencers who can impact an opportunity. Once a seller identifies all the buying influences, work together to gain a better grasp of the decision dynamic between the key players—understanding this is a key component of strategic opportunity management. It includes knowing the organization’s buying process, their internal politics and identifying the people involved in making the final decision.
Invest in The Coach
The Coach is the person who wants a seller to win the opportunity because the solution that he or she offers solves the Coach’s need. This person does not magically appear during the sales process—a seller needs to develop the Coach. The Coach buys in that the seller’s solution is the best option to produce the customer’s desired outcome. This key player requires an investment in time, as they will be an advocate throughout the entire sales process including during procurement. However, some sellers make the mistake of not nurturing the Coach relationship. Sellers should continue investing in the Coach, so they understand the seller’s level of commitment to the Coach’s success. This will help to win their support during the entire buying process.
Besides being an advocate for a solution, the Coach can be a source of information about the other buying influences in the account. This can include sharing valuable insights into each of the prospect’s desired outcomes.
Engage The Anti-Sponsor
Uncovering the Anti-Sponsor can be a challenge. This is the person who wants a seller to lose this opportunity or even the account. Sometimes, the Anti-Sponsor may not voice their opposition to a sales rep directly or they may not be explicitly negative about a solution in discussions with others in their organization. Other times, a gatekeeper or another buying influence blocks direct access to the Anti-Sponsor— another reason to remain diligent in uncovering all the hidden stakeholders in an account. This is where the Coach comes in: Ask them if there are any detractors and who are they. Seek to understand their concerns. Otherwise, the Anti-Sponsor will be actively working against a seller, putting them on the defensive. Be proactive about managing these individuals, which lets a rep sell on value.
At the end of the day, customers aren’t buying a product or service. They are buying the outcomes a solution promises. Therefore it’s crucial to know all the hidden stakeholders, including the Coach, Anti-Sponsor and other buying influences who need to sign off on a project, so a seller can tailor their message to meet each influence’s specific needs.
The strategic opportunity management insights in this article are a glimpse of the expert training that Miller Heiman Group offers to help sales teams win more deals. Learn more about Miller Heiman Group’s Strategic Selling with Perspective for managing complex opportunities.