The challenge of stakeholder management within the sales process
Wouldn’t the sales process be easier if the only stakeholder a seller needed was the main point of contact? Unfortunately, that is not often the case.
Stakeholder management is complicated because it involves an ever-expanding number of roles that influence purchase decisions at an organization. According to our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study, the average salesperson must now navigate six or more buying influences to close a single deal (which can take almost five months for a new vendor).
For most sellers, engaging all the buying influences is an ongoing challenge. Some companies intentionally hide them behind assistant gatekeepers. Other stakeholders are simply not accustomed to engaging directly with sales teams.
That means an important aspect of any sales process is methodically seeking out and building relationships with all the hidden buying influences in a customer’s organization. These hidden stakeholders are essential to closing deals.
Let’s explore four strategies for finding them.
1. Identify all buying influences
During the sales process, regardless of how long a seller has engaged with a potential buyer or where they are in the buying journey, other stakeholders sometimes emerge and exert their influence on an opportunity. So, sellers should be proactive in finding the key players as early in the sales process as possible.
During conversations with the main point of contact, sellers should ask questions to understand how the company will make the final buying decision. These questions will reduce the potential of surprise influencers who emerge later in the sales process.
Ask questions such as these:
- Who is driving this initiative?
- Who else do you need to speak to before the final sign-off on this deal?
- Who will this solution affect?
- Who are you going to take this information to next?
- Are there any potential roadblocks in front of us before we sign this deal?
2. Understand the sales process decision dynamic
As a sales leader, it’s critical to make sure that your sellers identify the hidden stakeholders in every deal. If your sales reps focus only on a single point of contact, they’ll miss opportunities to identify the various influencers who can lead to a sale.
Once a seller identifies all the buying influences, work together to gain a better grasp of the key players’ decision-making process. Understanding this dynamic is a key component of strategic opportunity management. Your sellers should learn about the organization’s buying process, be able to address its internal politics, and identify the people who are involved in making the final decision.
3. Invest in the coach that will advocate for your sales solution
The coach is the person who wants a seller to win the opportunity because the solution that they offer solves the coach’s need. The coach buys in that the seller’s solution is the best option to produce the customer’s desired outcome.
Besides being an advocate for the sales solution , the coach can be a source of information about the other buying influences on the account. This can include sharing valuable insights into each of the prospect’s desired outcomes.
A coach will not magically appear during sales planning. The seller needs to develop the coach. Developing 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 coaching relationship. Sellers should continue investing in the coach, so they understand the seller’s level of commitment to the coach’s success. Continued nurturing will help the seller win the coach’s support during the entire buying process.
4. Engage with the anti-sponsor of your sales process
Uncovering the anti-sponsor within your sales process can be a challenge. The anti-sponsor 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. This is another reason to remain diligent in uncovering all the hidden stakeholders in an account.
This is the point where the coach becomes involved in your sales strategy. Ask them whether there are any detractors and who they are. Seek to understand their concerns.
Otherwise, the anti-sponsor will actively work against a seller, putting them on the defensive. Be proactive about managing these individuals, which will let your rep sell your prospect on the value of your deal.
Help your sellers learn about critical stakeholders
At the end of the day, customers aren’t buying a product or service. They’re buying the outcomes that 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. This way, sellers can tailor their sales process and message to meet each influence’s specific needs.
To help your sellers learn more about how to win more deals by uncovering hidden stakeholders, enroll them in our Strategic Selling® with Perspective sales training. It will help your sellers manage complex opportunities, reach their sales goals, and develop a comprehensive sales strategy. Contact us today to learn more.