Building Consensus with Buying Committees: How to Avoid a No-Decision Deal

By Sharon Gillenwater

According to Harvard Business Review, the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases grew from an average of 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017.

HBR also found that a typical solutions purchase is taking much longer than customers expect; 65 percent of buyers surveyed said they are spending as much time just getting ready to speak with a sales rep as they had expected to complete the entire purchase process.

These buying committees, HBR says, are composed of individuals from a variety of roles, functions, and geographies. As groups, they tend to be risk averse and often fail to reach consensus.

No decision. Which means no sale for you.

From what customers tell us – as well as our own first-hand experience – this is extremely frustrating. It can also ding financial results: On quarterly earnings calls, CEOs routinely cite delayed deals as excuses for lower-than-expected quarterly revenue numbers.

Can “no decision” scenarios be avoided?

Not always. Sometimes buying committees fail to buy due to factors completely beyond your control.

This means we need to turn our attention to what we CAN control – and there are two main factors.

  1. Build Consensus

The first is your ability to persistently remind the buying committee of its company’s strategy and objectives. After all, the committee members might come from different roles, departments, and functions, but they all work for the same company and should be working for the same outcome, right?

The operative word here is should.

It is not uncommon for individual players to lose sight of the greater corporate vision and strategy. At large enterprises, it is easy to become so wrapped up in departmental issues that people fail to see the forest for the trees.

As a salesperson, you can help them stay focused on the big picture in terms of what the company is trying to achieve. Through clear and persistent communication, get them to validate – and agree on – what they should all have in common, which is rallying around the company’s stated strategy and objectives.

How do you do this? First, do some research on the company’s strategy, key initiatives, and what its top executives are saying. Reading corporate earnings calls is key for public companies. Also, look for interviews with the CEO and other top executives.

Here are some questions you want to be able to answer:

  • What is the company’s strategic focus for the coming year? If your buyers all roll up to one functional leader (e.g., CMO, CIO, CFO), research their objectives and priorities, as well. 
  • What challenges are they up against? Are they being asked to cut spending? Are they facing a disruptive competitor? 
  • What technology investments are they planning on making this year? 
  • Are they in growth mode or cost-cutting mode?

Next, validate what you’ve learned with the buying committee. Whenever possible, use the words of their top leaders. You can say things like:

“Last month, your CEO told analysts that X is a big priority for the company. Is it correct to assume you are trying to drive X with this project?”

Or…

“I just finished reading an interview with your CIO and she said she was going to spend most of her budget this year on solutions that drive Y. Is it correct to assume this project falls under those priority investments?”

Of course, you want the answers to these questions to always be “yes.” Most of the time they will be, because no one wants to admit to being out of alignment with their own corporate leaders.

  1. Connect the Dots

OK, so you’ve done your homework and you’ve got the buying committee to agree on the greater goals. Now it’s time to prove that your solution will drive the business outcomes the company is seeking. This involves connecting the dots back to your offer and packaging it and positioning it in a way that shows 100 percent alignment with what you have learned about your customer – and have validated with the committee. Three prescriptions for this stage are:

  1. Stay focused on what counts. Don’t oversell them on solutions that do not directly drive their desired business outcomes. Stick with the ones you know will have an impact. 
  2. Demonstrate prior success. Share customer case studies that track closely to what you are proposing. They need to know you have done this before. 
  3. Prove value. Include data and proof points that show how your solution drove success in a similar scenario. For example, if they are in growth mode, demonstrate how your solution has driven growth with other companies. If cost cutting is the priority, demonstrate how your solution will save them money. This is all about “speaking their language” and positioning your offer in a way that will best resonate with your audience.      

Success in a Nutshell

So, let’s review:

  • Step 1: Remind the buying committee of what their company is trying to accomplish at a high level.
  • Step 2: Show the buying committee how you can help them play a part in achieving the company’s goals.

When you break it down into these two components, it seems easy, logical, and doable.

No Decision Persistence: No, You Can’t Control Everything

Now, none of this takes into account the less logical parts of the equation, such as politics, personalities, and hidden or competing agendas. If we knew how to solve these problems, we would probably be lying on a beach somewhere instead of writing this article.

That, alas, is a topic for another day.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, the only business intelligence tool designed exclusively for C-suite sales, marketing, and recruiters who need to reach, engage, and build relationships with C-level executives. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

About Lisa

Editorial Director at SellingPower.com.
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