(Interview with Succeed Magazine)
Succeed Magazine – www.succeed.co.za – May/June 2005
Let us get one thing straight. Complex selling does not involve getting over-anxious baby boomers to buy overpriced clusters. It also does not involve selling feel-good tapes to those with inferiority complexes. No, you are already great, you are already wonderful and everybody likes you. Your problem is closing the bigger deals.
Every ambitious person lives for that one, big business deal. Unfortunately, too often that deal turns out to be the Titanic. No matter how fancy you think your offer is, no matter how big the enthusiasm with which you are received – there is no deal until the necessary signatures are on the dotted line and the fat lady is ready to start her serenade.
In a complex sale more often than not you find two or more individuals involved in the purchasing decision. Sometimes it can even take an entire board of directors or a specially appointed task team. Complex selling also occurs when the deal requires a large financial commitment, if the purchased product has a major influence on company-wide operating procedures or when the company is experiencing financial difficulty and a purchase needs approval from several people. Regardless of all these factors, one constant remains – you must identify and deliver your message to the right people. With complex selling it is mainly about getting “buy-in” to reach the eventual “buying stage”.
“There are typically six power players that can influence a potential deal,” says Bill Gibson. “Identifying and managing your business relationship with these players effectively and efficiently is the key to turning any pumpkin into a gold-plated carriage.”
These six players are the Navigator, the Ruler, the User(s), the Protector, the Opposer and the Contributor. It is possible one person could wear the hat for two or three of these power players. Bill Gibson on each of these power players:
1. Navigators are those people who can point you in the right direction. They need personally to see some value in the service or product that you are offering, whether it is for their specific department, its general business value, political value or maybe because they just believe in you and the product. The navigator must be a well-respected individual who can influence other decision makers or at least highlight which people in the decision-making process swing the heaviest clubs and what their personal stance regarding your product might be. “Always remember that a navigator does not sell for you but merely assists you with important insights so you can present the right information to the right people,” says Gibson. “Always respect their reputation, always value their need for anonymity and always remember that no one is going to help you unless they like you and trust you.”
2. The Ruler is the CEO, chairman, president or person of equal status. He or she can veto any decision made, but can also give the green light when other senior managers say no. The Ruler can be an appointed group of people who jointly make the final decision, but usually there will be one person whose opinion outweighs and can sway that of others. Generally, Rulers do not like being bothered with the finer details of what is offered. A Ruler wants to know if the product or service fits in with the bigger picture of what the company is trying to accomplish. What is the bottom line cost involved in its implementation? What sort of return on investment can be expected and how long will it take to see real returns? Does the product have an acceptable tool to measure its effectiveness and what are the ultimate benefits of implementation? “Rulers are results-orientated, strategic thinkers and acute visionaries,” says Gibson. “But do not make the mistake of thinking they are dreamless or lack creativity. It is a Ruler’s job to take calculated risks to improve the business and often they are privy to information other employees are not. A certain product or service may fit in perfectly with strategies or changes in policy that others on the decision influencing team don’t know about yet – so never dismiss the possibility that the Ruler may exercise his or her authority by implementing a previously rejected offering.” Never talk down to Rulers. Value their opinions and listen to what they have to say. The best way to meet the Ruler is through personal introduction, maybe through a Navigator, at VIP functions, at group presentations to the Ruler’s team, coincidental encounters and, of course, when the time comes to deliver your final proposal. There are certain key factors to keep in mind when considering at what level you will find the Ruler’s position in reference to your specific offer:
• Tighter company spending may require higher purchase clearance which could mean having to deal with a different Ruler who is higher up
• If the numbers, both in costs or volume, of the purchase is high, then you may have to deal with a different, or more than one Ruler, often further up the organisation
• If the company has no experience in dealing with you, or any knowledge of your product or service, the level of clearance may be higher because the risk is higher. They “pass the buck” higher up the ladder
• If the organisation is autocratic, most of the decisions will be made by a high ranking Ruler(s) who likes to have his or her fingers on everything.
“You may only get one chance to meet the Ruler, so you better make it stick,” says Gibson. “Know your product, know the Ruler’s business and personal agendas, likes and dislikes and, above all, know your place.”
3. Users are the people who actually use the product and, even if they have no power to decide on a purchase, they often have the power and credibility to influence those who do. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” says Gibson. “Users could be Navigators or even Rulers, but in general the User will be someone, or a group of individuals who will work with the prospective product the most.” Show the Users the respect they deserve. Do not think you have to make them feel important – they ARE important and will test your product knowledge to the full. They will ask the nitty-gritty How to? and What If? questions Rulers do not have the time for. Listen to their suggestions, objections and queries. If they support you, chances are they will punt your product to management which will weigh in your favour when a final decision is made. They can also sabotage your product, process or service even after the purchase is made. They have to work with it and can make sure you don’t get repeat business. “Users are generally operatives, administrative staff, trainers, sales people, department managers and the like,” says Gibson.
4. Protectors are individuals whose job it is to make sure any and all purchases comply with company specifications, criteria and standards. A human resource manager, for example, will dismiss any training modules that do not comply with national qualification standards or modules that are not accredited. Protectors separate emotion from the purchasing decision. They are in charge of quality control and are therefore highly analytical individuals, well educated, informed and are excellent negotiators. They may not have the power to say “yes” to a purchase, but they can certainly say “no” or eliminate you from the short list.
“Protectors are often procurement managers, chief financial officers, senior officers in the company’s legal department, other financial controllers and even PA’s,” says Gibson. “Identify with their needs, ask how you can make their job easier, in which format they require information be presented and have all necessary data they might want readily available.”
5. Every proposal has a balance and just as there will be people who are pro your product, there will be others who oppose it. “Do not get upset about it,” says Gibson. “All you have to do is make it impossible for an Opposer to deny the benefits of your product without looking selfish and not acting in the best interests of the company.” An Opposer may have a political reason for his or her actions. They may support another supplier or may be fearful that their department’s budget will be cut to implement your product. “Opposers sometimes act illogically, but you ignore them at your own peril,” says Gibson. “Show them a great level of acceptance and receptivity for their suggestions and concerns, but stick to the value the company will enjoy by implementing your product. Stack the cards so high that the Opposer will eventually have to concede and recognise the validity of the facts presented.”
6. Lastly, but not least – find out who the Contributors are. Make use of the Navigator and find out who has the decision maker’s ear. It could be a spouse, a close associate, a valued consultant or anyone who has access to key power players and whose opinion is held in high regard. Look for ways to influence the Contributors’ values but make sure you do not come across as over-bearing or abusive. You are already great, you are already wonderful and everybody likes you. Now that you have a framework pointing out most of the known icebergs, it is up to you to stand up and be counted. The pens are ready, the dotted lines are empty and the fat lady is waiting with bated breath.
For more information on KBI’s Managing Complex Business Relationships System sales training process, or to contact Bill Gibson, call (011) 784 1720 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org