Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like more and more product/buying decisions are being delegated to large cross functional groups or formal committee’s. Now, this is likely due to procurement changes that have been implemented post recession. But selling to groups presents a unique challenge to sales teams and SEs that require special considerations. I personally dislike this scenario, but here we are.
I dislike the scenario because I believe that relying on a committee is an overly conservative approach that, in aggregate, greatly slows innovation in all departments–but decidedly so in R&D and IT organizations. From an SE perspective, it makes the job of determining the highest priority business problems and technical drivers difficult, as opinions within the group will vary greatly.
When you have a key decision maker or technical evaluator, you can focus–laserlike–on only the important use cases. Conversely, every member of a committee will have their pet criteria, and ignoring any of them may loose you votes, even if they don’t align to the broader organizational goals.
To net this out: You always had groups involved in the buying decision, but now each of those members has a direct vote.
This makes it critical that we’re on our game in terms of our fundamental ability to navigate these political waters. In a recent discussion with some reps, here is what we came up with for some good tactics to implement. These can be used on every opp, but are especially valuable when you’re selling into a Fortune 500, Govt, or committee-based buying center:- In every meeting, especially those with many participants, take the time to get everone’s name, organizational affilitation, and role
- If you know a meeting will be large ahead of time, schedule in 10 minutes to make sure both sides understand proper introductions are part of the agenda. If you don’t, you risk alienating participants
- Follow up after the fact with each committee member to “make sure you had a chance to answer all of their questions and understand his/her particular criteria–given the short amount of time on the initial call”. Your goal is to treat this person with the same attention as the committee chair or reporting director. Too often, certain group members are ignored by Sales because they didn’t speak up much in the meeting to command their attention. It would be our mistake to assume these members didn’t have something unique they brought to the equation.
- Learn who each committee member will leverage or consult in formulating their opinion. Often, it will be 1-2 folks who aren’t on the committee themselves
- Determine the pecking order of the committee. You can’t spend equal time with everybody, so make sure you are directing your communication efforts to those in the best position to act on them. I’m not a fan of playing politics because of its propensity to backfire, but not understanding political realities is also equally detrimental
- Arm your supporters with inside information. Use private information such as non-published technical collateral, competitive writeups, and most importantly insider industry data affecting your market. Coach your supporters on how to get the most out of this. Example, if a top notch think tank publishes insights on your market that puts you in a favorable light, that committee member should be distributing that to the whole group as though they found it. Essentially you’re helping them build credibility for their opinions they can tap later
You and your rep should each be aware of these factors and tactics and discuss the game plan to execute. As the SE, you should be focused on understanding the specific committee members who the others will likely turn to for technical validation or leadership. You should also be making the followup calls to those members as well as the confidants the members will turn to for validation. You should also be sending (or suggesting) that specific collateral and resources get sent to specific individuals as you uncover more information about the committee dynamics.
SE Managers: Consult with marketing so that the whole sales team is receiving (and can contribute to) a running list of indistry validation articles that they can send out to prospects as needed. Unless you’re at a bigger firm with depth in technical product marketing, SEs will need to pitch in and help curate this content.
Other suggestions? Comment here.