There’s a big push on sales teams to sell to the “C-suite.” But, for purchases that aren’t strategic to the very mission of the company, the C-suite is rarely the buyer. The seller wants to sell “top down” but the C-suite can’t be bothered considering the seller’s solutions. The result is wasted months on sales campaigns that fall on deaf ears.
In B2B sales, the buyer is typically at least one level below the C-suite, a lieutenant charged with executing on C-suite directives. In larger companies, the true buyer may be several layers below. Perhaps more importantly, the buyer is actually multiple people. They express a common need but that need is filtered through differing, often personal, agendas.
Without identifying, and then satisfying, those agendas it’s common for sellers to make it through to the proposal stage of their sales cycle and then find it tough to close. A telling symptom of this problem is a prospect that goes silent after receiving a proposal. Or, a deal is lost for reasons never stated as key to the decision process. Everything seems to be going well; the buyer appears enthusiastic. Lots of energy and hours are invested by the seller, and then, nothing.
Frustrated CEO’s will tell me that their sales people lack closing skills and ask for sales training recommendations. In my experience, poor closing technique is least often the problem. Rather it’s the failure to identify and satisfy these multiple buyers and their respective agendas. Equally often, the sales person identifies as their buyer someone who is functionally a project manager. That person appears as a buyer since they behave like one; they write the RFP, meet with vendors and actively evaluate solutions. But the functional project manager typically lacks buying authority or political clout. It’s certainly necessary to work closely with these individuals throughout the sales cycle, but treating them as the sole buyer puts a seller at peril.
The solution is to build into the sales process steps for identifying, connecting with, and meeting the agendas of the true buyers. Among the questions to answer:
- Who are the collective buyers, both decision makers and influencers?
- What are the differing agendas that will need to be satisfied?
- Who needs the solution and who will campaign for the status quo?
- What are their relationships to one another, both in terms of hierarchy and function?
- How do their needs change based on their roles?
- What risks will they face in championing a change?
Because that information is rarely available until the seller has earned the customer’s trust, creating buyer personas based on one’s target markets allows the seller to identify all the buyers and their likely agendas, and then craft a value proposition to satisfy those agendas. Fanning out to all these potential buyers with compelling messaging is now possible.
It’s important not to end run or treat the “project manager” as insignificant. They may not be the true buyer but they can keep you in the dark. Instead, work with that individual to build a business case that meets the needs of all the influencers and decision makers. If the project manager is enthusiastic about a vendor’s solution, it’s in their best interests to help them understand the landscape and gain access. If they are gate-keeping, that’s a signal that the value proposition isn’t compelling enough for them to satisfy their own agenda. The agenda for a person at this level often includes avoiding any recommendation that would put her job at risk.
A final tip: Calling into the C-suite seeking direction can yield terrific results. Instead of asking for a meeting, the seller asks, “Who in the company should I call to discuss this offering?” While not the buyer, the C-suite has every interest that quality vendors are engaging with their organization. The seller will often get one or more names, and then be able to call with permission and authority, saying, “The CXO asked that I call you to discuss……”