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How to Sell Through Influencers When You Can’t Reach Decision Makers

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Over the last 10 years, it seems like it has been getting harder and harder for salespeople to connect with economic buyers. There are several reasons for this: The advent of buying products by committee, the rise of the remote workforce, and the general increased pace and velocity of business.

As a result, many salespeople have to sell through influencers. Some of these influencers will actively work with you to promote your product to the economic buyer, while others prefer to take the information and go it alone, so you need to be prepared to work with both.

The reality of inbound sales is that prospects have ultimate control of the sales process, so understanding how to manage influencers can help you close more accounts.

What’s an influencer anyway?

An influencer is a point of contact at a prospective company -- sometimes the original contact or the person who connects with a sales resource -- who has been tasked with doing discovery for a purchase. They have the power to affect a decision but don’t have the budget or authority to finalize the agreement or make the purchase. An influencer typically needs to work with an economic buyer (someone who has a budget and purchasing authority) to complete the transaction.

Working with Junior Influencers

A junior influencer tends to be an individual contributor who is in the relevant department but doesn’t report to the economic buyer. They may be new to the company or even a contractor who has been given specific instructions to uncover specific facts to present to a strong influencer, committee, or decision maker in regards to purchasing technology or services. Because they are relatively low-level, they usually don’t have a lot of information about the company they represent or the underlying reason for the purchase or the business pain that is being addressed.

Junior influencers can only bring you so far, but connecting and helping them with the education process can pay dividends in a few ways.

  1. If you make them look smart, you can earn an advocate.
  2. Helping them save time is the key to their mindsets, and showing them how you’ll do it will make them a convert.
  3. You can determine if your solution should be a consideration for the final decision, and you can provide your expertise to make sure they are considering all the variables of the purchase.

Depending on how they approach the assignment, a junior influencer has limited value as as an advocate in the sales process. Why? They don’t necessarily understand the issues in enough detail to give your helpful (or even accurate information). They simply don’t have enough experience. They have been tasked with a very specific assignment. They are trying to accomplish that assignment. Even diligent junior influencers may be reluctant to share a lot of information. But you can still help by adding value in the sales process.

There are four main ways to work with junior influencers. You can:

  1. Educate them on the industry.
  2. Provide a checklist of questions that a typical prospect will ask to use as their evaluation criteria for the purchase.
  3. Provide educational background information.
  4. Ask them to find out some specific information from strong influencers or decision makers that they need to effectively compare different vendors.

In exchange, request transparency and their help to understand the pertinent information that’ll help you make an informed recommendation. In nearly all cases, the more you can educate a junior influencer, the better. Most are appreciative of the time that you take to help them look good. The most important value the junior influencer can provide is to give you the names and contact of senior influencers or decision makers to engage, when they are ready. Getting past the gatekeeper is only the first step of sales journey.

Working with Strong Influencers

Working with strong influencers is a bit different. They tend to hold more senior positions at the company and have a very strong grasp of the business pain being addressed as well as the purchasing process. They typically talk to the decision maker on a regular basis and have firsthand experience going through the buying process. They can tell you the decision criteria for the purchase, what to show and what not to show on a demo, what to emphasize and what to avoid, and “coach” you through either successful past experiences or earlier false starts.

A strong influencer should be able to tell you if they want to go it alone and create their own strategy for selling to the decision maker. I like to offer my help by providing all the necessary information, reviewing the presentation and proposal, and occasionally listening in on the call to field any questions. A strong influencer should be able to tell you their odds of success and define ways the deal could go south.

5 Questions to Separate Junior From Strong Influencers

Of course, you can’t just ask people whether they’re junior or senior -- this is a dopey move. Instead, ask these five questions to separate strong influencers from junior ones.

  1. Have you done this before?
  2. Do you have high confidence the decision maker will follow your recommendation?
  3. Is there anyone on your team who might hijack our conversation?
  4. What are the decision maker’s personality traits and what will they focus on in a sales conversation?
  5. What are the potential curveballs?

One final tip: I like to build a proposal and then review it so the influencer has some familiarity with the material before she presents it to the decision maker. I find that a slide deck usually works better than a written proposal, but the influencer can help you determine which presentation method is more appropriate for the decision. Build a deck that shows value and is specifically tailored to the needs of the prospect. Anticipate and prepare around standard objections and be available when the meeting takes place. If the influencer thinks the decision maker will appreciate it, offer a private meeting with an executive at your company either before or after the presentation to make a personal connection and offer further guidance.

How do you work with influencers? Let us know in the comments below.

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