Sales Answer Man Question of the Month (April 2021)

Q: “We sell our services to many companies with multiple influencers in the decision process: co-owners, partners, etc. Sometimes they have differing needs. Should we approach these prospects differently than single decision makers?”

A: Congratulations on selling to larger, more complicated clients – you are working the mature market segment! At Sandler we talk about the “stairway to success.” 

Step 1 of the stairway might be an owner who has one employee and can make the decision without anyone else being impacted. Step 4 might be an owner with 10-20 employees and at least one manager in place. Step 8 might be an international company with multiple locations, an executive team, a board and committees. 

What you described above sounds to me like a Step 6 or higher.

A Sandler Rule to consider is: Everyone in an organization can tell you “no.” Typically only one person in an organization can tell you “yes”! The key is: Find out who has the authority to say “yes.” 

While we want to focus on the decision maker, we also want to cater to the other influencers in the decision process. They are also sometimes called “stakeholders”. 

Keep in mind, the person who can say “yes” can also delegate the decision to someone else if they choose. I once was calling on a mortgage company and met with the president of the company. Midway through our sales process, he hired a new general manager. While I had a good relationship with the president, he wanted to empower his new general manager and allow him to make the decision. Which he did – with someone else …

Another thought to consider is how influential the influencer is internally to the decision maker. Occasionally, the decision maker will not risk having a disgruntled employee (influencer) over certain decisions. In other words, “It’s just not worth it.” We don’t want to underestimate the power of certain influencers within an organization.

The reason sales professionals garner more profit on larger deals is because it’s:

  • More difficult (because the decision impacts more people);
  • A more complex decision process;
  • A longer sales cycle; and
  • More competitive.

To play in this area, we need to find out what is personally at stake for each of the stakeholders. This is where we stop talking about what the company gets — and start talking about what each individual (stakeholder) gets by adding or replacing someone with your product/service. 

Another way to look at it is: How are they personally impacted by doing nothing? Or how are they personally impacted by going with the wrong company or going cheap?

The person who can say “yes” can and will trump the others if he or she so chooses. However, don’t underestimate how an unhappy employee(s) can offset the potential benefits the decision maker sees. Often, the squeaky wheel DOES get the oil.

As a sales professional in the complex sales environment, you want to coach and rehearse with decision makers on how they will handle objections from their teams or department heads. Being a trusted advisor to your prospects or clients, and preparing them for what lies ahead, is why you get paid the big bucks.

Dan Stalp is president of Sandler Training, a sales and professional development firm. He works with CEOs, presidents, business owners who sell, and peak performers who are tired of walking by their salespeople’s offices to see them on their computers instead of on their phones — and sick of having a superior product and losing out on price. dstalp@sandler.com • (913) 451-1760 • DanStalp.com