Pull up more chairs. Sales meetings are seldom one-on-one these days. Multiple decision-makers are destined to show up.
Even worse, their roles won’t always be obvious.
You can expect about seven people to be involved in the decision to buy from you – or not, according to researchers. So you need to make more than one contact, friend and impression.
Selling to multiple decision-makers is the game now.
Early meetings with multiple decision-makers
Multiple decision-maker situations can hit salespeople by surprise. After working with one contact through prospecting and qualifying, several others might show up with eager or critical ears at early meetings.
But salespeople can be ready for anything – or anyone – that comes their way in initial and early meetings.
Connect the dots
Before you get into a meeting, salespeople want to do their homework on who does what, reports to whom and interacts the most.
You likely know your contact’s LinkedIn profile inside out (and maybe even his or her other social media activities). Now look at who within their organization they are connected to, plus all other contacts you can find at the company. Create a organizational chart, detailing how their hierarchy might work.
You want to imagine out who answers to whom, who has seniority, who’s worked together on big projects (and likely made many decisions together) and who’s hired whom. You won’t fully understand their relationships and work dynamics until – and if – you’re in a meeting with them, but this will help prepare you for what might come.
Offer help, ask for help
Salespeople only working with one contact within an organization can tactfully find out if there are other decision makers with “housekeeping” questions like these:
- I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with an information overload. Who else will be looking at what I send so I’m sure I only send what’s pertinent?
- I want to make sure I have enough packets with me when we chat. Who else will join us for the meeting?
- Is there anyone else you’d want to see this information, too?
- Can you let me know if you have any colleagues who need to be cc’d on the details I send.
- I have a new industry white paper. Who else within your unit will benefit from a sneak peek?
Tailor your preparations
Armed with a realistic – albeit imagined – organizational chart, salespeople want to determine who might be interested in initial or early meetings with them. Then they can create content tailored to each type of decision-maker.
For instance, prepare more financial information if you suspect a CFO will jump in on a meeting. Be ready to talk technology if you suspect the CIO will join in the meeting. Or bring several testimonials if you think a buyer critical to change will sit cross-armed in the meeting.
Also consider how decision-makers will want to receive your information. Do you potentially need white papers for some and video for others? Do you need demos ready for hands-on types? Or will some decision-makers do a drop-in and ask for printed material to read at their convenience?
Know the industry
Business and industry are the common thread for every decision-maker in the room. The CEO might have impact on her mind. The VP of Marketing might have capabilities on his mind. And the CFO might be focused on numbers. But you can win over many minds by proving you understand their industry, plus its ebbs and flows, as well as, if not better than, they do.
Study their market, competition, history and plans. Pepper conversations with facts and insight you’ve gained, but don’t bore them with the full picture they’ve already experienced.
Presenting to multiple decision-makers
Salespeople won’t likely ever present to an audience of one. But an all-on group presentation is proof at least a handful of people who want to hear and see you.
Make a big impact with these strategies.
Play both sides of the court early
Presenting to multiple decision-makers is an offensive and defensive exercise. Salespeople need to plan your plays well in advance of the event. Then they need to react to how the group plays.
Share the baseline benefits of your solution early – if not first – in the presentation. Focus on what appeals most to your customers. Then read the audience. Who’s reacting most obviously with questions, gestures and facial expressions in either negative or positive ways?
You’ll want to steer the presentation to quell the doubts (watch for eye rolling) and highlight the benefits (watch for leaning in and nodding) that get the most attention.
Focus on influencers
Even the most collaborative group of decision-makers have harder hitters – the people or person who carry more weight.
Some telltale signs of influencers. They:
- speak the most
- are interrupted the least
- ask you the most questions
- answer most of the questions from you
- are asked to explain internal issues
- encourage others in the group to speak up
- take notes, and
- are professionally critical.
Salespeople want those influencers on their “team,” championing the solution. Influencers are often harder to convince, but once you win their support, you’ll move closer to group consensus more quickly.
Best bet: Share case studies that include the success decision-makers realized after picking your solution.
Connect the disconnected
Salespeople may lose a deal by no fault of their own: In some situations, two people or two factions within the decision-making group simply don’t get along.
Fortunately, you can help them get past their contempt or conflict.
“The most successful sales organizations work to identify and overcome the points of disconnect among those stakeholders, connecting these stakeholders to one another and driving them toward consensus,” according to research from CEB.
Try to build common ground. Focus heavily on the benefits they agree on. The more you emphasize their agreement, the more they see eye-to-eye on the final decision. In cases where they don’t agree, focus heavily on the most important benefit for each and how your solution is a win for each.
Play it again, Sam
Salespeople don’t want to make the mistake of assuming all the decision-makers are in the presentation. Even when you think you’ve met and invited everyone involved in the decision, act as if you haven’t.
Offer to repeat the presentation, demonstration or conversation for anyone who wasn’t able to attend or other people who the decision-makers now think should hear what you have to say. Offer to do this more than once because the primary contact may be reluctant to ask you for a repeat performance – and your competitor may not offer it at all.
Arm your primary contact(s)
Salespeople want to leave behind (or access to) information that’s customized for the prospects, easy-to-digest and visually compelling.
In addition to that, prepare your primary contact(s) with more information and the ability to share it and be your advocate. Give them a succinct summary of key benefits and the ROI. Give them access to your sales enablement tools and direction on how and when to use those with their decision-making colleagues.
Negotiating with multiple decision-makers
Negotiations with multiple decision-makers can be complex. One person demands this. Another demands that.
Salespeople often have to align expectations among buyers before they can align buyer-seller expectations. Here’s help.
Pay attention to information gatherers
In the process of meeting and presenting to multiple decision-makers, salespeople almost always deal with “information gatherers” – gatekeepers of sort, who request information and claim no role in making the decision.
Don’t be fooled. They often relay the softer side of sales negotiating – how the salesperson treated them, talked about and to decision-makers, respected people’s time and space. Treat everyone well throughout the process, and give special attention to information gatherers near negotiations. They have a say, whether they recognize it or not.
Negotiate the process, not the sale
Harvard Business School researchers say salespeople can maintain the upper hand in sale negotiations by “negotiating the process.” You want to uncover, discuss and influence factors that affect the outcome of the deal. So when you come to sale negotiations with a group of buyers you’re equipped with the right number and kind of information, concessions and alternatives.
Here’s what the HBR researchers said are critical to learn and manage:
- How much time does the company need to close a deal?
- Who must be on board before it closes?
- What factors could slow down or speed up the process?
- Are there key milestones or dates?
- Who will be in every meeting and who will be in some?
- What do they expect on the meeting agendas?
Move beyond the sale
While negotiating, salespeople can move faster to a close by looking beyond the actual sale. When multiple decision-makers make demands in negotiations, demonstrate the beyond-the-sale values all of them can expect and benefit from:
- ease of integrating your product or service into their business operations
- proactive support
- workflow hiccup and downtime prevention tools
- success guarantees, and
- case studies and data on long-term ROI.