Earlier this year SBI conducted a survey of field sales reps for a large B2B client involved in complex sales. 72% of the respondents rated “gaining access to the true decision maker” as one of their Top 3 issues. Not far behind in the ratings was the challenge of “identifying who to call” within an account.
Taken together, these two problems make it clear that the sales reps’ well-rehearsed value propositions were falling on the wrong ears. Worse, they knew it! And they felt powerless to locate the right contacts to call on. If they had this sales aid, their results would have been dramatically better.
Finding and calling on the right contacts lies at the heart of the complex sale. The political dynamics of large organizations can bewilder the most tenured sales rep. How do your reps respond to this challenge? Here are some common starting points:
- CRM data: Contact names, most recent activity dates
- Org Charts: Who reports to whom
- Titles: What do they really do?
- Conversations: Fill in the gaps
So, how does the sales rep make sense of all this information? The answer lies in asking the right questions during those conversations in #4 above. There are many factors to consider in understanding how a decision is made by a group of individuals, but to keep things simplest, it can be boiled down to 3 dimensions to gauge for each contact:
We are all familiar with the common Roles in a complex sale. These cannot be overlooked, but alone they are not enough. Some individuals play multiple roles. If any role is missing, it is a signal to fill the gap and find the missing person. Roles include:
- Decision maker
- Political influencer
- Financial buyer
- Subject matter expert
- End user
In this dimension, the sales rep needs to understand how each contact perceives the solution, and the value that the selling organization can bring. Perception varies from one contact to another. Here are some examples of what the rep seeks to know:
- Does the contact recognize the value of our solution?
- Does the contact speak positively about us and our solution?
- Does the contact respect our opinions?
- Does the contact provide insights on how to be successful?
The third dimension is the Influence that the contact has on the specific decision. This is often the most ambiguous area of the sale. Contacts profess to have authority that they lack. Key participants in the decision are often not identified or involved until late in the sales cycle. Examples of some questions include:
- Does the contact set direction for the organization?
- Does the contact have a lead role in deploying or using what we sell?
- Does the contact have authority to make financial commitments?
- Does the contact’s opinion matter more than the Org Chart indicates?
Putting it All Together
The Relationship Matrix tool is a template for organizing the Role, Relationship and Influence information in a meaningful and useful way. It contains a series of questions that enable the rep to assess the players involved in the decision. The tool provides a quick scoring system that assigns weights to the Relationship and Influence dimensions so that it is easy to evaluate the political landscape. Low scores identify gaps that need to be addressed.
Is Anything Missing?
Some of the most valuable pieces of information in the Relationship Matrix are the empty spaces and the unknowns. It is quite clear if a key role is missing. If no contact has a check in the “Financial Approver” role, the crack has to be filled. Likewise, if the matrix shows that a key decision maker offers no political support, a strategy to overcome this weakness is needed.
I am interested to hear about how your organization overcomes this common challenge that vexes so many sales people every day. Please comment in the space below. The tool I am sharing today is one way to tackle the problem, but we often see more sophisticated methods, and some that are embedded in CRM solutions. Sometimes these tools require too much information and actually delay the sales process, so a balance is essential.
Take stock of your sales organization’s ability to effectively sell a complex solution to a team of decision makers. Win-Loss reviews will make this very clear – selling to the wrong person is hard to admit, but it plays a big role in deals that slip away. An effective sales process is limited by the contacts that it touches; a Relationship Matrix will avoid this pitfall and improve results.