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There’s a reason that the “murder board” has become such an appealing crime-show trope. When a detective puts photos of all the suspects and their associates on a wall with strings mapping out details and relationships, it’s a great way to visualize how the characters relate to each other as part of a larger investigation. And it allows the audience to follow along to analyze the connections on the board to try to decode the pattern and solve the case.
When you are a business selling to other businesses, you need more than a winning product or service. An average of seven people weigh in on the buying decision at firms with 100-500 employees, according to Gartner, and larger companies are even more complicated, as there are additional layers of people who can scuttle your sale. One truism in big-account selling is that it’s the people you don’t know who will kill your deal. So you need a keen eye for understanding the mix of people who will be involved in the process. To maximize your chances for success, you will need to discern who is influential, who is friendly to your proposition, who is a detractor and who is competing for the same budget.
Managing influence, building relationships
The real power lies in understanding not just the cast of characters, but the relationships between all of them. This will allow you to navigate to and influence the decision makers.
Managing influence and building relationships is increasingly critical for high-growth B2B companies that are moving from selling to the middle market to selling to larger enterprises. Going from smaller firms to larger organizations, there is an explosion of stakeholders who will impact buying decisions, and the stakes and politics tend to be heightened and increasingly complex.
If you don’t get this right, this effect can create a ceiling for the size of the company that will buy your service. It can also limit the deal sizes your team will do, especially if they’re not talking to the right level inside the customer.
Growing effectively in this environment requires being more intentional about understanding relationships. Especially in the face of Covid-19, this kind of approach becomes even more critical. The combination of highly educated and empowered customers coupled with 2020-style remote selling means enterprise sales teams must carefully map their prospect organization and take a systematic approach to understanding who they are selling to and how those teams interact with each other.
This approach will help you demystify your sales efforts. And while sales and service to large organizations may look like an art, it really can be approached as a science, where structures can be mapped out and interactions can be measured and maximized.
You might think your CRM already does this, but it doesn’t. CRMs are great for tracking contacts, but they don’t tell you anything about which of those people are most important, how they buy, who they are connected to or how they think.
At best, most organizations are only looking at their number of interactions with a prospect as a measure of health, as opposed to putting criteria around the strength of those relationships and evaluating them using a consistent methodology and measurement convention. A sales rep indicating that she and the prospect have a “strong” relationship during a forecast call does not provide data that helps a sales leader understand their status in a deal or their likelihood of winning. Projections become guesswork.
To enable predictability in sales, it’s important to have a set of criteria to evaluate the strength of relationships, and be able to score it based on key factors, like how much contact the team has had with the individual, how influential they are, how they make decisions and who from the buying group influences their decisions. Connecting the dots on influence to navigate to the key players and decision makers is often the difference between success and failure — between losing the deal and closing the deal.
The difference between power and influence
While sales people generally like to get as high as they can in an organization to get to senior decision makers, they often overlook people in the organization who are influential. Many times, senior leaders have valuable lieutenants and members of their team they look to in order to decide the best outcomes, and failure to identify those people and build relationships can be the death of the deal. This is especially true in new customer pursuits where the sales rep doesn’t understand the politics and the power structure. While corporate hierarchy and titles are a sign of potential power, they often don’t tell the full story of who is influential and whose voice matters.
To improve chances for success, think about mapping players, with color codes for the relationships between the players and their relationship with your team. Uncover influence by looking for people or teams that have worked together at their last job, share common associations or have like backgrounds. That becomes an easy way to inquire with your friendlies to find out more. Get clear about decision criteria and how a deal gets signed and how many people have to touch it. Especially in large deals, many people can say no, while only key set of players can say yes. Failure to identify these influencers and their relationships can be costly.
Like a crime show, the map of the individuals begins to tell a story of the account and the people that matter. This probably sounds like a lot of work, but remember: Relationships don’t stop with sales, but flow through your whole organization. After you win that client you need to service and retain that account. Those relationships will carry you when there is an opportunity to cross sell and upsell. Future business is not won through a single thread, but a mesh of relationships between your company and theirs.
Like the investigating team using the murder board to solve a crime, a relationship map and influence strategy helps to conceptualize and visualize the people in the account. Not only that, but it becomes a source of truth for reference and iteration in the future. This helps the entire team – from sales, to marketing, to customer success and more – build on those relationships and capture more business.