There are more influencers in your sale than last year, but you could turn that into an advantage.
Anyone in the Business-to-business selling world has heard it every year – for years. The number of people at customers involved in the group buying decision – the buying ecosystem — has grown. Again. Research houses as respected as CSO insights have been tracking it for at least a decade, as far back as I bothered looking.
If you believe all of the sales methodology purveyors out there, this is a challenge to be managed. You meet the challenge by using tools to capture the complexity and manage it. This works, but the unspoken message is that more people makes the selling problem harder. In other words, you shouldn’t change the number.
None of these experts look at the causes of the increase to uncover different coping strategies. To me, the less you know about why the buying ecosystem is growing, the less you can manage it effectively.
Why is it happening?
Are products/services getting more complex? In certain industries, they are – absolutely. However, ecosystems are expanding in industries that aren’t innovating or introducing more complex products. Thus, Increasing product/service complexity probably isn’t the predominant driver.
Buying organizations are becoming more complex. I’ve watched over the decades asmanycompanies have developed sub-specialties, then sub-sub-specialties. In other words, organizations have narrower silos, and more of them…silos have evolved into soda straws.
Not only does this expand decision teams….it means that organizations are excluding some marginally involved departments in order to streamline those teams. There is internal resistance to adding wider perspectives – to avoid social complexity. As a result, even though more people are involved in a decision, a less complete section of the true problem scope might be represented. The team simultaneously becomes more dysfunctional (bigger) andnarrows solution focus. Yikes.
Here’s where it gets really messy. Problem definition by a too-narrow team suffers when teams self-educate (as we’ve all heard many times now, customers complete the majority of their decision before engaging any sales person). When organizations get more narrowly siloed, decision criteria narrow. All this happens while group difficulty in building consensus rises.
Sounds hopeless, no? Does it sound familiar? Research shows that “no decision” is winning more often, and this dynamic explains why.
Manage the Increased Complexity? Or Shape It?
Conventional selling wisdom tells us to minimize group decision complexity. The natural advice is to keep anyone who wasn’t already assigned to the decision ecosystem out of the mix. This makes some sense…until you have a differentiated product…whose value extends beyond conventional boundaries. Spoiler alert: this happens more often than most selling organizations think.
I’ve heard this conventional seller story so many times:. “I sold to all my personas, but I was blind-sided when a competitor engaged in ways I didn’t”. “That competitor sold to executives, and to departments who I thought weren’t even involved”.
What just happened? The winner sold to people outside of the conventional ecosystem. When they did, multiple silos were involved. Thus, an executive needed to engage to make sure that cross-silo value was validated, purchased and implemented correctly.
- Sell wider. Build value wherever your solution creates it, and strategically add people with a natural affinity to your solution to the ecosystem.
- Sell Higher: executive selling. By demonstrating wide benefits (in executive-level language), you can be “introduced down” to additional influencers – again, who are natural allies.
Many of your competitors aren’t selling this way. They buy in to conventional selling wisdom, and try to keep things simple. They are selling the same way they were before customers siloed, then sub-siloed.
Expanding buying organizations isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s also dangerous if your sales people don’t have the business acumen to build value for additional outcomes…and to talk executive language. However, it’s what sellers who blind-side their competitors are doing. Somebody’s figured it out.
Do you want to be the windshield or the bug? Do you want to weather the storm…or do you want to be the storm?
Did you find this thought-provoking? Please share. Or, Comment below. Contact me if you’d like to talk about building a sales organization that is the danger.