Most salespeople think that to be successful in sales, you always need to get to a decision maker, no matter what. Why waste time talking to anyone else but the person who has the authority to sign the contract?
But in my opinion, this is a misconception. While it’s ideal to reach a decision maker, other influential stakeholders can be incredibly helpful allies if they believe in your offering. If approached correctly, they can even close the decision maker on your behalf.
However, note the caveat -- influencers must be approached correctly. Many sales reps make one of two mistakes when dealing with influencers: They either waste time trying to sell them, hoping that they secretly have decision making power, or they simply quit and move onto another prospect, without even considering how this offering might benefit the influencer.
The next time you get an influencer on the phone, don’t try to go over their head, and don’t quit. Instead, deploy the following process to sell through them.
1) Determine if the influencer is a talker or a mobilizer.
Your contact might work directly with the decision maker, but that doesn’t mean they can persuade them to take action. There are different types of influencers -- I call influencers with big vision but little execution ability “talkers,” and those with little vision but mighty execution ability “mobilizers.”
How can you tell if you’re dealing with a talker or a mobilizer? Softly ask about their track record. Have they ever had success pushing a project through the decision maker before? If not, they’re most likely a talker.
But that doesn’t mean this person isn’t useful. Talkers and mobilizers travel in packs, so strive to earn the talker’s trust in order to gain an introduction to a mobilizer. The mobilizer might be another stakeholder, someone in the purchasing department, or maybe even an executive assistant who vets vendors.
The talker can help you navigate the org chart if they trust you. Remember this before tossing a talker aside.
2) Discover the mobilizer’s pain and challenges.
Once you find a mobilizer, seek to understand their pain points. If they are challenges that can be solved with your offering, you’ll gain a powerful partner in the quest to sell the decision maker.
To uncover challenges, I often ask, “What’s the hardest part of your job?” It’s very rare that an influencer doesn’t have an answer to this question. Jot down their responses and note which issues can be solved or mitigated by your product or service.
Next, ask them about their goals for the year, and what happens if all doesn’t go according to plan. Now you understand what consequences they’re up against if they don’t find a solution for the roadblocks standing in the way of results.
If it’s clear the mobilizer’s challenges are taking a toll on the company, the influencer has the opportunity to look like a hero by presenting your solution to the decision maker. Now a signed deal isn’t just a good outcome for you -- it’s a win-win.
When the mobilizer understands and appreciates the value of your product, it’s time to move onto the next step.
3) Coach the influencer.
Now that you and your influencer are on the same side, it’s time to bring the decision maker around to your point of view as well. How? The salesperson should coach the influencer to effectively sell the solution to their boss.
But telling the influencer to do this outright is guaranteed to put them off. Instead, frame the coaching opportunity as something they want, so that they actually ask you to coach them. For example, I usually ask, “If I’m able to help you sell this to your boss, would that be a valuable use of your time?” If they agree, you can proceed without sounding pushy.
Spend coaching time enabling your influencer to make the best possible argument for your offering. Provide them with customized content and ROI calculations, connect the company goals with the product’s value, and explain how your offering differs from competitors’. Give your time freely to ensure they feel comfortable and confident going to the decision maker.
4) Set a date for the influencer to approach the decision maker.
Often, an internal influencer knows when to present a new product to the decision maker to maximize the chances of hearing a “yes” better than a salesperson. They could just tack a discussion on to the end of an existing meeting, or schedule a brief time to chat after a one-on-one.
But don’t just take a vague assurance of “I’ll be sure to talk this over with my boss” as a sign that the deal is done. Get specific about it -- when do they plan to present your solution? Is there a meeting agenda they could share with you? Would they like to meet for coffee beforehand to talk over the business case? Don’t stop (gently) asking about the meeting until you have a solid date and time from the influencer.
To make sure the meeting happened (ideally, according to plan) I then ask if we can put 10 minutes on the calendar to debrief afterwards. The influencer usually says yes, because they feel indebted to you since you helped them build the business case. You’ve given, and now you can get.
This account-based selling technique has resulted in a handful of new customers for me. So the next time you come across an influencer, think twice before you disqualify them. You might just be shutting yourself out from your next big deal.
Originally published Feb 25, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017