Selling to large companies can often feel like you're “wading through treacle”. Progress is slow at best, and it often feels like you've taken one step forwards only to take two steps back.
Often the challenge is not the company itself, or even their slow decision-making processes – it's the salesperson's lack of knowledge of how decisions are really made in the company.
When you're selling products or services of any significant size to a large company you'll almost always have to deal with a complex decision-making process. And unless you're lucky enough to be selling directly to the CEO, there'll be multiple levels of decision-maker, multiple budgets to be allocated, and an approval process of seemingly Gordian complexity.
Veteran salespeople who have worked on key accounts over a long period of time gain one of their critical advantages over “outsiders” by knowing how the decision making process works. But smart newcomers can begin to cut through the complexity – provided they are prepared to address the issue of the decision-making process openly with their potential customer.
Sometimes this can feel embarrassing or risky. It can feel like you're trying to “play the politics” of the situation. But the reality is that effective selling relies just as much on the politics and emotion of client decision-making as it does on the rationality of product features and benefits. If you believe in your product and it's in the client's best interests to buy it – then it's your duty to make sure it happens. And frequently, your clients themselves are less than expert in steering through their own decision-making processes – the coaching you can provide to guide them through this will be much appreciated.
The key to working your way through the decision-making maze is – like many things in sales – down to good questioning.
Firstly, it's vital to identify the key players in the decision making process and to understand their motivation. Typical questions you might ask are:
- Who else in the organization is touched by this issue?
- What do they see as the root of the problem
- What benefit would they see from getting these issues resolved?
- How important is this issue for them and is now the right time to be addressing this issue?
Drawing out a decision or stakeholder map with the client at this point can be hugely beneficial – as long as they don't begin to feel you're being too manipulative or self-serving.
In addition to the key influencers of the decision, it's vital to understand the decision-process itself. For example:
- What level of approval is needed for different levels and types of expenditure
- What is the timing of key events – tor example it's quite normal for project or financial approval boards to meet only quarterly and require all documentation weeks in advance – you need to know this timetable and the requirements – and know how to get on the approval schedule
Armed with this information you'll be in vastly better position to know who to meet up with, what to discuss – and ultimately, how to get your product or service sold.
PS – Many thanks to my good friend Rick McCann for providing the inspiration for this post. It was a discussion over a coffee with Rick a few years ago which provided the raw material and questions which I've used in this area ever since.