Who calls the shots? Understanding decision making committees

Fredrik Jonsson

Much has been written about changing buyer behaviors, the automation of transactional sales and the sales profession’s continuing march towards increased irrelevance and inevitable extinction.

However, here is an exception: complex sales is heading in the opposite direction. In these environments, more options and more information have not resulted in transactional buying behaviors. Yes, buyers tend to shortlist after having completed extensive research online. However, procuring an IT system for a large accounting team is not a quick decision. A number of variables need to be considered. This decision will have a significant impact on a large number of people. Subsequently we see sales cycles getting longer, more deals ending up with no decisions and sales costs increasing.

Navigating the complex sale

Another prominent factor: more and more people are being involved in the customer’s buying process generally and within the decision making teams specifically. A B2B purchasing process may start with a Google search, but decisions are made by committee. The larger said committees get, the smaller the chance of winning.

"A B2B purchasing process may start with a Google search, but decisions are made by committee. The larger said committees get, the smaller the chance of winning."
Fredrik Jonsson

According to Harvard Business Review, the average number of people involved in a B2B purchasing decision is 5.4. Subsequently, complex sales is not, and has never been about, convincing one person. It’s about building consensus for your proposed solution within the decision making committee.

What can we do to identify the relevant customer stakeholders and better understand what we need to do to facilitate the buying decision in a given opportunity?

Map it out

How many stakeholders do you identify in a given opportunity today? Hand to your heart – does your sales process require the identification of 5 or more people, or do you primarily focus on finding the decision maker / problem owner and go from there? Start by mapping out the client organization to better understand the overall reporting structure and make sure you have a broad enough contact base within the prospective company. Once mapped out, move on to identifying the contacts that actually make up the decision making committee for this opportunity. Who will be affected by the change proposed?

Current attitude and influence

Once we have identified the committee members, we need to keep tabs on their attitude to our solution, as well as their influence on the final decision. Are they neutral, hostile or convinced? Do they have minor or significant influence on the final decision? Dynamics can differ depending on the customer’s buying culture – extensive consensus building may not be required in deals where decisions are made in a top-down hierarchical manner. In these situations it may be enough to have sufficient support from one or two major players, while other opportunities will require firm approval across the board.

Changing attitudes

Having identified the current situation, what can you do to:

  • Improve each person’s attitude to the solution you are offering and;
  • Improve the overall perception within the group?

There are numerous tactics to employ. However, one best practice is to remain relevant by asking questions and showing how your solutions add value to the problems that are high on each stakeholder’s personal agenda. An operations manager, HR manager and VP of sales may all sit on the same committee, but need to be reassured that what you offer will help them in their respective areas of responsibility. However, you will also need to present a case for the overall solution. Can you help the members understand the cost of inaction for the company and how can you quantify the cost of sticking to status quo? What are the common pain points you can identify between the committee members and how can you address them?

Understanding the decision making committee can also prove very effective for qualifying out early. We often ask our clients to analyze their loss cycle – i.e the average sales cycle for all lost deals during a particular time period. They are consistently much longer than for deals won. These findings are backed up by research: sales people spend up to 65% more time on opportunities they end up not winning. Bad news should come early - if the people with the most influence are hostile to your solution, you should focus on deals where you have a better chance of influencing the outcome rather than hoping for a result.

In conclusion

In complex B2B sales, more than 5 people are involved in the purchasing decision, on average. To facilitate the buying process and put ourselves in a position to win, we need to identify the people that make up the decision making committee and map out their attitude to our solution and influence on the final decision.

Once we have a better understanding of the group dynamics, we can look for the best ways to engage with the committee members in order to facilitate the buying process and reach consensus.

Looking to learn more about decision team mapping? Send us an email on sales@membrain.com (we read all emails) and we will share our best practices with you.

Fredrik Jonsson
Published November 11, 2015, written by

Fredrik Jonsson

You know people that get excited about things like pomodoros and timeboxing strategies? Fredrik is one of them. He's also a former freelance writer and subsequently a man of many words. Words used to help companies take action on better ways to increase sales effectivenes. Fredrik is our Chief Content Officer at Membrain, the world's first sales software helping companies move from merely having a sales strategy towards executing it on a daily basis.

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