With so many people involved in the decision-making process, building rapport, understanding motivations and deciphering who is friend or foe can be challenging.
Today, selling is a complex endeavor. There are more buyers at the table—research from Gartner puts this number at 6.8—which increases the complexity for commercial lines agents. With that many people involved in the decision-making process, building rapport, understanding motivations and deciphering who is friend or foe can be challenging.
To further complicate matters, a good salesperson understands buyer roles and personas. Each buyer comes to the table with their own agenda, level of expertise and desire for change, which means adapting your approach to address the challenges of working with different buyers is critical, particularly if you plan to work upmarket with larger, more complex accounts.
Within a team of buyers, these people will most likely be present:
1) Strategic buyer. Their goal is to create a competitive advantage. They often seek differentiation and long-lasting impact as a result of their buying decision. Frequently, this person is in the C-suite or is the business owner.
2) Economic buyer. This buyer is interested in understanding both the cost and the return on investment. They will be curious to understand the affordability of the solution and the potential for financial improvement. This role is typically the chief financial officer.
3) Technical buyer. This buyer is focused on improving outcomes but is also convinced change can create a burden to the organization if not properly implemented. Like the strategic buyer, the technical buyer also looks for long-term solutions when possible. They frequently seek proof and details and want to understand how new solutions will interface with other projects and tools.
4) User or small and midsize enterprise buyer. This person is likely to be an end-user, trainer or leader of a team of users. They are concerned with whether the product will get the job done and whether it will reduce friction or the challenges they are currently experiencing. Understanding how the product works, specific features and differentiators are of key concern.
While these roles are straightforward, they are not the only role a buyer may assume. Each buyer can also play a part in the decision to engage, influence or advocate behind the scenes—or set up barriers to block a deal from moving forward.
Frequently, attention is showered on the real or perceived decision-maker, but equal attention should be paid to developing a relationship with influencers and blockers.
Who Are Influencers?
Influencers are advocates who work behind the scenes with you by sharing internal relationship hierarchies and dynamics, such as what's been tried or failed in the past, and additional insights into challenges that may permeate the organization. Frequently, they help you focus in on challenges and how decisions really get made.
Demonstrating that you're genuinely interested in serving the needs of the business will build trust, something that is critical for influencers to feel confident in assisting you. They must know your value proposition and have a good understanding of your products and services, as well as how they align with the company's strategic initiatives.
A strong influencer provides you with the opportunity to put your best foot forward. However, it is up to you whether you leverage their insights and seal the deal.
Who Are Blockers?
On the other end of the spectrum are blockers. They often see their role as the protector of the decision-maker and the organization. They frequently feel threatened if they lose control because their identity is closely tied to being in the know.
Your ability to assess and identify hidden agendas is key. Getting close to the blocker without being consumed by their motives is a balancing act. Showering them with attention can lead you astray while ignoring them can land you in hot water.
Sharing the benefits of engaging with you for them and the organization can draw them close to you, particularly if you can position them as a hero in the buying process. This can be done by giving them assignments and allowing them to contribute. However, care must be taken not to work with them in lieu of continuing to engage with true decision-makers.
Also, be careful not to go around the blocker, as this can be perceived as a threat and could tank the deal if advocates and decision-makers aren't aware of the challenges you've been facing.
Appeasement is another strategy that can be tempting to employ—just be careful and use your time wisely while doing so. If this is a path you plan to follow, use it while you attempt to build deeper relationships with decision-makers and advocates.
Who Are Decision-Makers?
Bringing leadership to each relationship is important, but especially so when it comes to the decision-maker. This is often the CEO, CFO or another senior sponsor. Build interest and provide insight by focusing on challenges that may hinder financial performance, competitiveness and reputation.
Demonstrate competence by conducting agenda-driven meetings, providing insightful and consistent recaps, developing and following action steps and timelines, and providing executive summaries to help them digest detailed information.
On occasion, decision-makers may push you downstream to work with someone who will report back to them. If so, it is important to gain agreement that you will continue to have access to the decision-maker, have the opportunity to discuss status updates with them and otherwise engage them when their involvement is necessary. Most importantly, you'll want to gain agreement that you will be able to present to them before a final decision is made.
Susan Toussaint is vice president, Growth Solutions, U.S. with ReSource Pro. For over a decade, Susan has been training, coaching and developing programs to help insurance professionals overcome barriers to organic growth. In 2006, she started Injury Management Partners, and in 2009, she co-founded Oceanus Partners with her partner, Frank Pennachio. Today, she is a full-time trainer and consultant focused on developing products and training that help clients attract, acquire and retain profitable, right-fit business.