In the sales profession, we’ve spent a long time training our people to find senior decision makers in the customer’s organization. As we’ve progressed into solution selling, our goal has been to reach higher and higher – right into the C-Suite. Once there, we speculate, decision authority will be unlimited, at least that’s our theory.
During our research into high performing seller behavior we spoke to a Head of Sales who was thrilled his team finally presented to the CEO of the client organization. That CEO agreed to sign the contract before the quarter end – fantastic success! – and then what happened? He went silent. Why? Because the CEO was embarrassed that he actually needed board approval to sign off on the deal. Title isn’t always the best indicator for discretion when it comes to purchasing.
Finding the Decision Maker in a Larger Group
In reality, there is no single decision maker left in most organizations. Even if you get red carpet access to the CEO early in a decision making journey, he or she will likely send you to a cross-functional team, who will each review the proposal and report back before a decision is made. Consensus buying is the norm. In fact in a 2018 survey of 300 sales professionals we did while part of CEB/Gartner, the average number of stakeholders in a B2B purchase hovers around 10.2.
Terry the Maintenance Supervisor Mobilizer
Here’s a personal story to make the point. I worked for an energy efficiency company in the UK a few years ago. We specialized in optimizing the voltage of clients’ sites to save money and energy use. We would protect their equipment by installing a voltage optimizer into their electrical supply. This was a new concept to many clients, so we spent a lot of time commercially teaching key stakeholders on relevant issues they faced, and leading to our solution.
I met Terry at a trade show. While doing the usual not-so-subtle badge glance, I saw ‘Supervisor’ on his tag and I wrote him off. Clearly there must be someone more important, I thought, a ‘true decision maker’ out there I could speak to (we often closed deals with Directors of Engineering/Real Estate and for smaller companies even CEOs).
Terry and I got back in contact by email and started going through some early stage pipeline activities. I verified he was interested and had access to the information needed to drive the sale. Despite getting through this stage, our CEO wasn’t too keen on me traveling to meet a lowly ‘Supervisor’ but in the end he relented and I got on the train to meet Terry for a follow up meeting.
Meeting the Stakeholder Group
I met Terry at the hotel where he worked, and he took me to the equipment room so I could map out where our product would fit. Terry then took me into an office to meet the Engineering Manager. We had a quick discussion with him about the product, and Terry then introduced me to the GM who asked for a case study in a similar property type, which of course I sent him.
Two weeks later, I returned, Terry sat me down and said they were ready to make the purchase, and that he’d been in touch with the Group Real Estate Director (6 other hotels in the group) and had gotten agreement to make this a pilot for the other hotels.
Somewhat stunned I asked the GM as he wrote the Purchase Order if he had any last questions about his purchase and he said “No I’ve talked this through with Terry and he’s happy, so I’m happy”. The GM wrote the PO and, gripping it tightly, I staggered out into the street, still in a state of semi shock.
Wasn’t that too easy?
Terry is what we call a Mobilizer, a client contact who can bring together multiple stakeholders to drive consensus in the buying process. In this case, I met two other stakeholders and I know there were at least two more stakeholders involved at the hotel and at least one at the Group level I never met.
Those stakeholders trusted and believed in Terry’s capabilities – not mine – and he in turn worked with them to understand how this purchase benefited the hotel and the group. Terry was an authority on the operation of the hotel so once we had his blessing, all of these stakeholders felt comfortable that the purchase decision was sound.
With a sales cycle of between 6-12 months on average, this process was very different than what I typically experienced. Thanks to the work Terry was doing on the client side, the sales cycle was only three months long.
Identifying a Mobilizer
Research into high performing sellers tells us that anyone who targets mobilizers is 31% more likely to be a high performer. This research also bears out my experience that Mobilizers can be found at any level of an organization, not just the top.
Let’s look at the traits Terry displayed that would help us identify him as a Mobilizer:
- He worked hard to pressure test what I was telling him – making sure he felt comfortable before he got behind the idea of voltage optimization
- He had great access and respect in his organization and was able to introduce me to people I needed to meet without difficulty. Also he was already engaging the Group Real Estate Director, without my knowing, because he knew his blessing would make the purchase easier, and of more immediate value for the group.
- He acted independently, could summon others to meetings, asked targeted questions aimed at understanding the solution’s core purpose, and generally appeared to be in charge of the agenda. These are all reliable signs you’re working with a Mobilizer.
The Mobilizer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, they are joined by talkers and blockers in the customer stakeholder community. All too often core performing reps talk to the “talkers” who are readily available, but don’t drive organizational action in the buying group.
Find Your Mobilizers…
I would caution sales reps against constantly looking for the C-Suite or a VP to engage at all cost. What you may need to find is a mobilizer or a “Terry” and he or she will help you sell to the buying group of senior individuals in ways you can’t on your own.
I’m sure you can already think of a great deal where you might be working with a mobilizer already, and are just now figuring that out. Keep replicating that strategy. There is more than one Terry out there. You’ll be glad you did.