Sales Management Digest

How to Target the Hidden Influencers in a Large Organization
Tom Searcy
Conspiracy theorists would have us all believe there is a shadow government cooperating with aliens, that the Illuminati runs the economy, and that a zombie virus exists and will be accidentally released any day. (I know for a fact that one of these is real, because I saw a whole video confirming it on the Internet.)

So this may sound a bit like a conspiracy theory, but it is always true:
There is a shadow of decision influencers behind the decision maker.Those in the shadows always impact whether a large deal will be awarded to you or a competitor – or whether the status quo will be kept in place.
We refer to these shadow figures as the "Buyers' Table." If you want the advantage in landing larger sales, you need to bring those in the shadows out into the light of day, and you need to convince them to not say "no" to your proposal.

That's right. Your goal is not to persuade them to agree to your idea or approach – it is just to get them not to resist it. They are not decision makers. They can't say "Yes." They only have the power to resist or delay your proposal. And that is what they will do unless you get them out of the shadows and work through their concerns.

Getting out of the Shadows

Often the people in the shadows are not actually lurking – they are busy or unaware of you. Your first job is to become visible and relevant to the shadow person, supported by the decision maker.

You will need the help of the decision maker to get them out of the shadows and ready to take their metaphorical seat at the Buyers' Table. Here are several questions to ask the decision maker that will identify and help you meet with your Buyers' Table:
  • "Who are the people most directly involved in this type of decision?"
  • "How is the selection of companies like ours made?"
  • "How and with whom will the implementation of a solution like ours be made?"
You will notice that none of the questions asks directly, "Who is the decision maker?" or "Do you have the authority to make this decision on your own?" You will have already asked those questions, so you are confident you are speaking to a decision maker.

This set of questions should yield a list of people with whom you interact over the course of the sales process.

Working with the Buyers' Table

Very few members of the Buyers' Table will feel they have time to meet with you. It's not your fault – it's just that they had a lot of things going on already before the boss said they needed to meet with you. It usually does take the boss saying to meet with you, by the way, to get that conversation with the Buyers' Table member to happen. Some guidelines:
  • Know what you need to ask before you meet with each contact
  • Take a relevant subject matter expert who mirrors what the contact does
  • Let the contact talk about his or her concerns for a long time before you discuss how you will implement and overcome implementation and quality concerns
  • Remember, your job is not as much about selling benefits as it is about overcoming concerns and instilling confidence
  • Make certain the contact will be consulted as part of the final decision
You will want to anticipate and map this approach, gathering information and building confidence with the influencers. Bring them out of the shadows so they do not resist the selection of your company or approach when the time to select both has come.

There was a time when convincing a single decision maker was all that was necessary to win a deal. With complex systems and collaborative decision making becoming the organizational norm, the time of lone-wolf deals has passed. If you want to win large opportunities, you have to identify your Buyers' Table early and focus on alleviating their concerns early in the selling process.

Tom Searcy is CEO and founder of Hunt Big Sales – a sales strategy company that helps CEOs double the size of their company – and author of Life After the Death of Selling: How to Thrive in the New Era of Sales. Follow @tomsearcy.
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