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If you’ve been in a sales role, you’ve dealt with this before. If you haven’t been in a sales role, and are starting up your consultancy, you will soon be in a position where you must identify the business buyers for your services.

I was working with a large health insurer. They wanted to move some of their existing team to a third party who would manage part of their calls from clients. They were looking for an outsourcer to lower their costs – exchanging their higher-cost personnel for lower-cost personnel.

My team and I developed an excellent proposal. The solution didn’t focus on cheap labor but added technology and improved processes. This combination would lower costs, give greater service to their customers, and allow them to scale more efficiently as the business grew.

They didn’t think it was possible. We showcased the solution at one of our premier facilities. We built a strong rapport and relationship through the process. They gave us indications that our solution was the one they wanted to buy. So, we drafted our contract and sent it for their signature.

Then the buyer said, “Thanks for putting this together. You’ve really hit this one out of the park. I just need to have Bob take a look and give the green light.”

Me: “Wait. Bob? Who’s Bob?

Buyer: “Oh, Bob is our legal counsel. He’ll need to review your HIPAA protocols to ensure compliance with our standards.”

In complex B2B sales, most corporate buying decisions include a core group of people who all have an influence on the decision to buy your services. They bring their own expectations and decision criteria.

Each person could have the power to kill, block, or delay a deal.

Identifying and interacting with this group—the buying team—is critical for both new sales and your business growth. If you don’t know the buying team early in the sale process, by the time you’re further along it may be too late.

Each role influences the approval of the sale.

Let’s use this template here to discuss the four core roles of the buying team that you need to sell to and how to succeed with each.

The User
This is the person who ultimately will use your service or solution. In small organizations, it’s not uncommon for the User to be the Approver and Evaluator as well (more on those later). In larger organizations, often the User has no role in the decision making process for your service. This status seems counter-intuitive. In my opinion, it is. Operationally, it makes for high risk of failure if the team using your service doesn’t see the value.

How to influence them: Engage them. Illustrate how your service will help on a daily basis. Ask questions such as, “What are your most important tasks?” “What challenges prevent you from achieving them?” “If you had ultimate authority, what would do to ensure you could get that task done?” Note, the User is not interested how your service will help the company’s bottom line; but how it will help make their work easier, safer, and more productive.

Also, some organizations will not allow you to contact users directly except in formalized meetings (usually hosted by a Purchasing team). Alternative methods are through various marketing channels – social media, blogging, white papers, demos (possibly on YouTube?), etc. Go where they are. Inform, educate, entertain. This approach won’t be something you can do quickly, nor should it be a one-off attempt. As you think about your market, reflect on that User’s persona. Where do they hang out? Market to them there.

The Evaluator
An Evaluator can say “no,” but they can’t say “yes.”
In large organizations, there may be multiple people in this role. They can be anyone who evaluates the purchase from an operational, financial, technical, or legal perspective. Their focus centers on how your services will affect their area of responsibility within the organization. They assess and accept based on defined standards, such as RFP requirements (which they likely helped create).

Evaluators are rarely permanent members of the buying decision-making team. They’re usually assigned only for the duration of the selection of service providers.

How to influence them: The Evaluator’s personality type is likely to be analytical. They are more deliberate and cautious – focusing on facts and attention to detail. They often focus on avoiding risks.

Consequently, establish your credibility and acknowledge the Evaluator’s expert status. Follow through with a well-prepared service solution that reduces risks, stresses effectiveness, and how you will meet his/her specifications.

Tip: Ask the Evaluator practical questions about their decision-making criteria. A good approach is to use S-P-I-N selling techniques (more on that in another post).

The Decision Maker (DM)
The DM is the person(s) in the sale who, should they bless the opportunity or you, significantly increases the odds of your winning a sale/contract. Others within the organization typically follow their lead.

Depending on the size and complexity of the company there may be many Decision Makers – one each for operational, financial, technical, or legal teams.

Decision Makers usually have the power to create room in the budget for your services. They are the catalyst to drive the agenda forward.

How to influence them: Decision Makers are looking for a high ROI. Your service solution must demonstrate the value better than others. The better you quantify your impact (for example, returning $5 for every $1 invested) ensures a higher probability of success. However, qualitative benefits can also be discussed, such as better worker and customer satisfaction. Back up qualitative information and quantifiable data (ex. a survey) to add strength to your solution.

Tip: Don’t confuse Evaluators for Decision Makers. In smaller organizations, they could be the same person. In larger ones, they may not.

The Approver
The Approver has the final say in the purchase. They make the final “yes” or “no” decision based on criteria that align with the strategic goals of his/her problems. If a person can say ‘no’ and overturn a decision/recommendation, then they an Approver. The Approver is at the center of the buying team.

You’ll want to develop a relationship with the Approver. Frequently, gatekeepers prevent access to the Approver, but there are techniques to work around this issue (with a little commentary below).

In large organizations, you may find multiple levels of Approvers. It can be confusing as to who has the authority to buy your services. The best recommendation is to target the Approver with the highest dollar spend – usually a VP or C-level individual.

How to influence them: Learn early what criteria the Approver considers for the final decision. Note that the Approver criteria may not be the same as other members of the buying team. In some circumstances, it’s not disclosed. So, it’s critical to engage them early, listen to them carefully, and provide small “favors;” such as ideas, tips, recommendations to his/her immediate issues.

Tip: You may face resistance from the other buying team members – especially if there is a “supply chain” or purchasing officer involved. Be upfront and clear as to your need to engage the Approver. You must make a compelling case to the gatekeeper. Ask for the decision maker to be present as early as possible in the process.

Any of the four roles noted above can have one of these “statuses.”

The Champion is an influential person who helps you navigate through the company. Nurture this relationship as they’ll help you discover what’s most important to each of the buying team members.

A Mentor believes that your service is critical to his or her success. This person may prefer your solution so much that they promote you ahead of your competition.

A Neutral party is indifferent to your solution. A Neutral person may prefer to continue business as usual, views another project as having a higher priority, or want to do-it-themselves. Watch their actions. Are they more receptive to your competition? If so, they move to the next status – the enemy.

An Enemy is your competition’s Mentor.

Too often, a lack of knowledge about a customer’s buying team and the roles its members play is a significant blind spot for consultants. Ensuring that you and your team fully understand the composition of the buying team enables you to position and allocate internal resources, and to decide appropriate tactics and messages more efficiently and with better results.

The size and structure of the company can consolidate these roles (for smaller organizations) or add many more individuals (for larger companies). To determine roles, ask the person leading the buying team. The earlier you involve all four buyer types, the better. They will want an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions, and you’ll have ample time to ensure that you meet the buying team’s criteria.

Using a disciplined approach to identify each buying team member and his or her role helps your company understand whether it has correctly positioned itself with the principal players, I’m enclosing a worksheet to help you think through this process. And there’s more to the selling process that I’m not discussing here such as the possible personas of each member. But this post is already much longer than I intended. So, I’ll write on that later.

Is it always this difficult? Actually, no. Eventually, as your “authority” grows, as your personal network improves, and as your solutions become more refined and compelling, the process shortens. Opterre can help you get there faster-contact us here