Information is more available today than ever before. However, if this is the case, why are sales professionals experiencing increasing difficulty when it comes to uncovering the buyer’s decision-making process.
Here’s the answer:
Increasingly complex business needs are outpacing the sales professional’s capacity for determining decision processes. These multifaceted problems involve a growing number of stakeholders. Moreover, these challenges change fast as competitive pressures rise. This “enterprise entropy” is characterized by a central challenge that becomes diffused across an organization as more people weigh in on how to move forward.
The result: the decision-making process has changed from a picture to a panorama.
In our 2018 Selling Challenges Study we found that the most commonly anticipated challenge for sales professionals this year is “uncovering complete information regarding the decision-making process.”
The finding suggests that numerous stakeholders must commit to a solution before the sale can reach a close. When a buying decision occurs at the group level, it is difficult for sales professionals to acquire all the pieces much less arrange them into a complete picture. Here, we look at three ways to navigate this challenge.
Ask the Right Questions
When the decision-making process is dispersed so is the information needed to understand how it works. Simply put, more stakeholders create complexity for the sales professional. This problem escalates with larger contracts that demand more people to sign off.
Therefore, sales professionals need to ask a series of questions designed to reveal the decision-making tree. These are sensitive questions. Therefore, sales professionals can use careful phrasing like “what are the key milestones in the decision-making process?” Or, “when the stakeholders think about the decision before them, what factors are most important to the group?” Questions like these help uncover information about constraints, reporting relationships, and selection criteria.
It’s important to remember how relationships play into these questions. The more established the relationship is between the sales professional and the buyer, the more freely information will flow. The buyer is likely to recoil from direct questions about the decision-making process if they come before the sales professional has prepared some groundwork. Take steps early and often to foster trust, so these questions generate answers.
Create a Relationship Map
The decision-making process is dynamic, and most sales professionals assume that they know or have been told about all the stakeholders involved. What they do not realize is that this information changes throughout the sales process.
How can you prevent this from happening? Instead of taking one snapshot, constantly monitor stakeholders who are either newly added to or no longer involved in the decision-making process. One of the best ways to do this is through a relationship map.
A relationship map is a visual representation of both the reporting relationships between the stakeholders and the political landscape surrounding an opportunity. The relationship map consists of two parts, the relationship map shows:
- The reporting relationship between the stakeholders
- The power structure among these people
The reporting relationships are the organization chart of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. It is all about who reports to whom. The power structure is about which stakeholders are favorably inclined to you, which are favorable to one or more of your competitors, and which of the stakeholders are neutral at this point.
Start by listing all the known stakeholders and the corresponding reporting relationships. Next, overlay the power structure onto this list. The completed map should look like a pyramid rising to the top-level executive.
Don’t Short-Cut the Process
Determining the decision-making process is difficult. If it were easy, every sales person would do it. However, quotas loom large. As a result, many sales professionals may try to rush or short-cut the process. In doing so, they may attempt to jump to the top of the relationship map.
Be warned, engaging in a dialogue at the executive level is a high-stakes proposition. A setback here will not slow the process; it will stop it entirely. This approach risks missing critical details behind the customer’s needs. This information is crucial when positioning a solution. Additionally, while the final decision may rest with a C-level executive, this person often depends on the judgment of others in the organization. Bypassing this group will hinder the buying organization’s protocol.
Remember, a conversation at the executive level is a “one-shot” deal. Effective selling cannot unfold in that kind of environment because regular dialogue drives results.
Even if you have a highly effective solution, the power structure is going to have a major influence on whether you win or lose. By learning the decision-making process, the sales professional gets the opportunity to understand the thinking of each stakeholder. This insight is valuable. With each stakeholder comes a unique set of motivators. The strongest sales professionals engage this nuance and close.