Why ‘building consensus’ is the crucial skill your sales team needs to master

George Brontén

Tell me if this has ever happened to you. A while back, I walked into a meeting with a prospect I thought was very close to signing a contract...

Throughout the sales process, stakeholders had shared prioritized problems and future plans and keen interest in finding a solution that our company could provide.

When I arrived at a meeting with my two main contacts, I was surprised to find the conference room full of people I had never met. Surprised by this, I forged onward. I employed my best skills to relay my understanding of their problems and ambitions and proceeded to educate the newcomers about the solution we had designed, to “overcome this hurdle”, and move the sale along.

But as the meeting progressed, it became increasingly clear that we had major problems. The people in the room couldn’t agree on anything. Bickering arose, that turned into fighting, and before long, we were so far off the track we couldn’t even see it anymore. The people in that room couldn’t even agree on whether they had a problem, let alone what that problem might be or how to approach a solution.

I had fallen into a very common sales trap

I had failed to build consensus first. The simple truth is, a customer who hasn’t reached consensus about the problem and whether or not it justifies disrupting the status quo, is not ready to discuss solutions, and certainly is not ready to discuss your offering. Oftentimes they don't know how to reach consensus themselves.

It’s likely you can cite a few similar situations on your sales team. The scary part is that most of the time you may not even know that the reason you lost a sale was a failure to build consensus. Often, it looks like a sale that is going gangbusters and then simply fails to close. Your job, as a sales leader, is to set your salespeople up for success, by helping them build consensus first – before they try to drag a client kicking and screaming into a solution.

A customer who hasn’t reached consensus about the problem and if it justifies disrupting the status quo, is not ready to discuss solutions, and certainly is not ready to discuss your product.
George Brontén

Here’s how.

Give up the myth of the “executive decision maker”

You’d be surprised how many salespeople still believe that the holy grail of sales is to reach the “executive decision maker.” While reaching that decision maker is often important, it’s not enough. It is a rare organization in which decisions are made single-handedly by one person, even all the way at the top. According to research by CEB, the average number of individuals on a corporate buying team is now up to 6.8, from 5.4 just two years ago. That means you need to reach at least that many people and sometimes many more, because that doesn’t even count unofficial influencers.

Start at the beginning

You can’t effectively building consensus about your product until your buyer has reached consensus on several other matters:

  • That they have a problem
  • What the problem is
  • That the problem is important enough to invest in
  • That the problem is a current priority
  • What kind of solution is appropriate

Only when the entire buying team is in consensus on all of these matters will they be fully ready to evaluate your product offering. Give your sales team the gift of skills and knowledge to navigate this process with the customer before talking about product.

Design the sales process to drive consensus

An effective sales process will help salespeople start at the beginning, identify all the necessary stakeholders and walk with buyers through the consensus-building phases. Make sure your process and methodology is not just a book on a dusty shelf, but a living, growing system that your salespeople work with every day.

Likewise, train your salespeople in the art of consensus, and then reinforce the training with coaching and on-demand enablement resources.

Of course, I think Membrain is the best system available for designing and implementing your process and enabling your sales team with consensus-building skills. If your team is in consensus on the need for such a system, please reach out to me. Or, just let me know if you need help building that consensus - I promise not to push product at you until you’re ready :)

Download this free Excel tool that helps you design a b2b sales process

George Brontén
Published April 5, 2017, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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