Why Focusing on Only One Buyer Will Lose You Sales

Posted on Jul 4, 2013 | 19 comments

Why Focusing on Only One Buyer Will Lose You Sales

This is part of a series that describes a sales methodology for technology companies or frankly many other types of companies, too.

We developed this at our first company and called it PUCCKA – the overall methodology is described here.

PainUnique Selling PropositionChampionCompelling Event.

This post talks about the “K” or Key Players involved in a buying decision.

The first key player I talked about in the previous post was the Champion, who is a person tSalesmanhat is rooting for you or helping you through the process and has both influence and authority – IA. (as opposed to a NINA).

Mostly you need Champions who are “egg breakers.”

But many people get secure in their sales process with just meeting / talking to the people who are the nicest to you. This is one of the most common mistakes untrained people make in a sales process because the nice guy you’re talking to tells you not to worry about the others, that he has you covered.

Or else you avoid meeting others because they are clearly less friendly or sometimes even hostile toward you.

This is a mistake because if you don’t meet a wide variety of people who may have a role in the decision you could be totally blind-sided by a parallel process happening in the buying organization of which you aren’t aware.

Here are some of the other key players you’ll meet on your sales journey:

Enemy – This one is pretty self-evident. The enemy is against you. This might be because he or she doesn’t believe the company should spend money on a solution, doesn’t believe they have a problem or because they prefer not to change at all. Often it’s the latter.

Also know that sometimes your enemy is against you because of a personal vendetta against your champion. If you think that large organizations aren’t political minefields filled with resources competing against each other’s interests you’re kidding yourself. It’s human nature.

The most dangerous enemy is the person who is championing your competitor. If you’re competitors are competent this will happen often so expect it and come to peace with the fact that enemies aren’t always evil – sometimes your competitor just befriended them first.

You should start by seeking knowledge as to why the enemy is against you or perhaps against any solution.

If you have a champion you can learn a lot of this in advance.

But by hearing it directly from the enemy (ask them where they stand on you winning the business! ask them if they have a preferred solution to yours!) two important things happen.

First, you get to hear in their words what their objections are and that gives you a chance to try and overcome them directly. Otherwise you’re relying solely upon your champion to sell in your messages to the enemy.

Second, it’s really easy to vilify somebody you’ve never met. So if they’re in favor of your competitor then you become the big, bad bogey man at a company they are simply against no particular reason. This is often driven by the propaganda of your competitor whom they support.

Like all forms of prejudice, by meeting your enemy it makes them harder to hate you. So if you can’t win them over, at least you need to neutralize them so when your champion slams her fist on the table to advocate for you, your enemy doesn’t feel as bad about saying, “OK, fine.”

She knows you. And after all, even though she doesn’t want to select you, you’re not such a bad guy after all.

Sage – Most organizations are filled with “sages” who have been there for a long period of time and know the organization and its systems inside and out. Sometimes these people never rose up the leadership ranks so you can’t find them by looking at the top people on an org chart.

I used to meet sages by walking the halls and talking to people randomly. I also would ask my champion to tell me who had been around along time, who was really friendly and who was full of long-term corporate knowledge.

The sage is important in helping you to understand the systems, people and processes of the company. They know “why things are the way they are.”

Sages often lack authority. So they can’t really be your Champion.

But they can be a valuable source of information that will also come in handy if you win the business and need to lead an implementation.

Expert – Often decision makers have an “expert” in the organization that they turn to as the “expert witness” on a decision they’re trying to make. This person may be a direct report to the decision maker but often they are not.

It is not uncommon in tech decisions that the expert is a young person many rungs down the corporate ladder.

Often you’ll find a “technical expert” involved in a decision process where the business is making a systems decision. Sometimes it will be a process expert like a CFO or a head of sales operations if you’re selling CEM, for example.

The classic definition of an expert is somebody that DOES have influence but does not have authority. They are a recommender, not a decider.

And an obvious thing to talk with the champion about when you’re trying to understand a key decision maker is to say, “Who does Bob turn to for advice on this kind of decision? Or does he tend to just decide himself.”

It’s funny to me how many people don’t ask the basic questions to help them better sell. If you have a champion and you don’t ask … you don’t get! Ask.

Influencer – An influencer is very similar to an expert but they don’t bring specific domain knowledge to the group decision.

Just as with experience, sometimes the influencer is a direct report of the key decision maker and sometimes they are not.

So best policy is to find polite and respectful ways of asking your champion who influences whom. You might say something like, “When Bob has to make tough decisions, are there 1 or 2 people he tends to reach out to for debate?” or something similar.

We all have people we call when we are weighing tough decisions. Sometimes these people are even outside of the organization.

Find out who influences your buyers.

Sponsor – The Sponsor or “Executive Sponsor” is often a very senior person who holds the budget for the decision you’re trying to get reached. They may not have any involvement other than a simple yes/no when the budget request comes in fro approval.

But ignore them at your risk. Often a key decision-maker can control their sponsor’s decision particularly if they’re worked together for years. You want to find a decision-maker who is good at “managing up” so they don’t get cut off when they ask for approval.

But two points for you:

1. At a minimum you want to know that your champion or decision-maker has one more step in their process (getting final approval from a sponsor). You can find this out by asking, “If you did decide to go ahead with our project – and obviously I’m hoping that you will – is there anybody else up the chain that would still need to sign off on it? Even if it’s just procedurally?”

2. If possible wouldn’t you love to get a short audience with that person if you could. Even a 15-minute meeting could give your decision maker just the extra amount of air cover they need to get a decision pushed through.

As with enemies, when a sponsor has met you (and likes you) it’s 100x easier to get approval to work with you.

Blockers – Finally, it’s worth mentioning the leg breakers that are often involved in a sales process. These are the people who can either unwind a deal you’ve won or at least make your life much more miserable.

1. Technology / Tech Ops & or / Security – This is especially true if you sell SaaS software to a business unit. Often companies will require you to go through a tech audit before signing your contract.

Bringing in tech early in the process isn’t a terrible idea – it can lead to less heartache down the road.

2. Procurement – In a big company you usually have to go through procurement before you finalize your deal. The exact job of procurement is to break your legs! That’s why you need a strong business champion. Procurement will not respond to your pleas to be fair – that’s not their job. But they will respond to the business unit advocating on your behalf.

3. Legal – The other big roadblock in sales is the legal department. They aren’t set up to be your enemy – they are set up to protect the interests of the company by negotiating hard on things that the business buyer often doesn’t think about like indemnities or source-code deposits.

As with procurement, having a strong business champion will pay huge dividends when you go up against legal.


So there you have it – the key players involved in a sales process. It’s your job to track who these people are and make sure you know how each will be involved in your decision.

And speaking of decisions, the final post will be on just that – an Aligned Purchasing Process.

Without an aligned purchasing process, no amount of passion on behalf of a champion is going to lead to a sale this quarter. Knowing whether you are aligned on timing could mean all the difference between hitting your quarterly quota or not.

And if you aren’t aligned you can spend more of your scarce resources on other campaigns that might close this quarter (while marketing nurtures this lead until they are closer to a purchase).

  • http://utekkare.tumblr.com/ Pranay Srinivasan

    The Sages are usually most overlooked.. And they can also usually double as the Expert or influencer …

  • Dave

    Great post, particularly on Sages. A few more tactical thoughts:

    1. Mark’s point is great that nearly every company of any size has a committee or committees where new technology goes to approve. It is usually pretty easy for one person to shoot down a new purchase unless a new product offering has multiple people saying “yes, we really need this”. Multiple relationships are key.

    2. I can think of a number of enterprise businesses where people not on the committee are also potential killers, even people who you may think are not in the decision path. I know of many multi-million dollar enterprise deals where the deciding factors were the long-time customer service reps, not the CEO, CFO or CIO. The reps said “we want X product, it is so much better” and that carried the day. Buy donuts for people and be nice to everyone!

    3. Understand the budget cycles of your buyers. Some large companies are locking budgets for 2014 now in July 2013. It is important to know the game you are playing in looking for budget and it can affect the deal size you pursue. You may need a small deal if the budget is already locked.

    4. Find out if the company has a procurement process, what it is and what deal size triggers procurement. Some companies have different variations of procurement depending on deal size and you can be well served to pick the one that offers the path of least resistance. Key terms to look out for to find the differentiation are global/strategic versus tactical/business unit sourcing. The tactical/BU sourcing is often much friendlier and faster, even if it means a smaller deal.

    5. If there is a procurement process, make sure to leave gas in the tank for further price cuts regardless of how strong you think your deal is with your executive sponsor/BU champion. Remember, procurement people are compensated by how much the deal terms improve from the time it gets to procurement to the time it signs. And generally they do not care about your deadlines unless your executive sponsor has serious juice, and few have as much juice as they think they do.

  • http://twitter.com/robbieab Robbie Abed

    ||| If possible wouldn’t you love to get a short audience with that person if you could. Even a 15-minute meeting could give your decision maker just the extra amount of air cover they need to get a decision pushed through. |||

    Great point about getting introduced to others. If you don’t ask for it right away, you might never have a chance again to meet that person. 10 minutes of face time can change everything.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Another great post in this series. Three main takeaways (for me anyway):

    (1) Keep your friends close and your “enemies” closer (I mentioned this in your last post too).

    (2) If your Champion won’t introduce you to the Sponsor, they are not your Champion.

    (3) The more people you know, and the more you listen to each of them, the (much) higher your odds of closing the sale.

    I can almost guarantee that at the end of any sales campaign, your customer will admit to you that they could have purchased ANY of the products that were in contention. The difference is almost always in the intangibles – and the more people that feel they could work with your company (even if it wasn’t their first choice) will be a huge advantage when group-think comes together to pick a single winner.

    Mark – as an aside, I love your “You don’t ask, you don’t get” post – I have sent it to my kids (both teenagers) – who are usually pretty outgoing, but have had important issues (to them) in the past few months where they are afraid to ask for what they want. I have told my oldest that I must have failed her as a parent, because Mark Suster’s kid is asking for a slice of chocolate cake, and she can’t ask how much she is getting paid (or not) for her internship :-)

  • RogerVaughn

    $100k+ lesson here, I fizzled a niche CRM company just because of human installation / uptake issues – well said. Software is easier to change than human behavior sometimes.

  • http://www.movingfrommetowe.com/ KareAnderson

    This is so astute and could be applied to other situations and I agree with Pranay’s observation

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Totally agree

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: 3 … that’s the final post! 😉

    re: 5 – yup. wrote this http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2012/02/26/everybody-wants-their-pound-of-flesh-how-to-negotiate-with-buyers/

    Agree with your points. Thanks for adding.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    “10 minutes of face time can change everything.” … often does

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agree on all points. And for your daughter … sometime’s it’s just engrained. I can’t take too much credit for Jacob other than emulation.

    Strangely I’ve noticed that women in general (not 100% true of course) don’t ask for comp as much as men do. I think Sheryl has talked about this. I’m often coaching women to ask for what they’re worth.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Minus the word sometimes

  • CampRyenWater

    Once you meet all of the key players, diagram the flow of your quote passing amongst all the parties for approval. This reverse engineering can help you determine how long the “process will take” amongst all of the “Key Players.” The last person in the process should always be the CFO, especially for deals at 1MM. While you are at it, discuss with your sponsor the process for a deal reaching the desk of the CFO. What artifact and business justification will the CFO need to sign off on it.

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

    Never believe the one deal you want to happen will.

    They usually don’t.

    Been my rule for 20 years of sales. A wonderful surprise when it does happen.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    If emulation was all there was to it, we’d have no problem here :-)

    I hadn’t been too motivated to read Sheryl’s book after all the hoopla, but you make a great point – I have two very solid reasons (both my daughters) to understand woman leaders in business, because they both have that potential. It’s on my reading list. Thanks.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    I look at this just a little bit differently…. using Andy Grove’s “only the paranoid survive”, I spend most of my time looking at why my deal *won’t* close – and work on addressing those issues. That way, I’m doing everything I possibly can to make sure the one deal I want to happen DOES.

  • John Hoskins

    You’re killin me with this stuff. Can’t wait for Suster on Negotiation skills. Keep it comin.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    I like your blended approach of strategic selling, power base selling and account-based selling, all-in-one distillation of these essentials.

    As a complement to this, one could draw an Org chart of these relationships and slot people in them. That way, you can see the gaps.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster
  • Anton Lebedev

    Thanks for great post Mark!

    Can you suggest ways to ask or arrange meetings with different people in one organization. Sometimes it’s not easy for me to do it once I speak to a particular person.