By Steve Atlas

Picture this. You want to sell a portable HIV test to the Florida Department of Health to use in its field offices. Rather than closing one decision maker, you have to convince an entire committee that your product is the best choice. You find yourself in front of a project manager who wanted the test, a budget analyst with concerns about costs, a lab director needing to compare the accuracy of the test with other current tests, and a field coordinator interested in finding out if the new test is easier to use than a traditional blood test.

Now what? How do you get all these different people to agree? Emanuel Amatrudo, a sales manager for Parsippany, New Jersey-based Innovex, a contract sales organization, knows what it takes.

Research and asking questions are Amatrudo’s keys to success. Before meeting with the department’s committee, he and his reps followed a plan: First, request a list of all committee members’ names and titles. Then anticipate what each participant might ask. If possible, call individual committee members to learn about their concerns.

Amatrudo advises asking questions during individual meetings and committee sessions. For example, a lab specialist and member of the Florida Department of Health committee wanted to know how well the product worked. Could it detect virus levels as effectively as traditional blood sampling? Before answering, Amatrudo’s rep asked, “What is it that you believe your current product isn’t providing for you? If you could select your ideal product, what would you want it to be or do for you?”

“Focus on why you are there,” urges Amatrudo. “Your committee summary should address each member’s concerns, showing how your product is the solution to their problems – the inevitable choice.”

Before concluding his meeting with the committee, Amatrudo says, “If there is a question or concern that I haven’t addressed, ask it now.” He also adds, “Is there any reason why my product or service wouldn’t be a benefit to you?” If the committee members start comparing other products, he acknowledges their strengths but emphasizes the unique value of his product, his company and his sales team’s training service.

Before approaching a committee, Amy Aycock, national account manager for strategic accounts for Islandia, New York-based Computer Associates International, starts by asking herself three questions: Do I understand each committee member’s role or position in the purchasing process? Am I closing the right person – the one with the authority to make a decision? How well do I understand the approval process and time frames required to complete an order?

She then meets with all committee members individually to learn their hidden objections. What is a personal and professional benefit her product or service can offer each individual? What problems does that person have that she can solve? What will happen if those problems aren’t solved?

Aycock’s success relies on building relationships and finding an advocate on the committee who wants what she offers. This person sees her product or service as offering a personal and professional benefit. At one company, Aycock recalls, her advocate was a key decision maker who would get a bonus and more time at home if her proposal was accepted.

The advocate also can be an internal coach who helps you understand the corporate culture, the status of your proposal and who needs to be won over. Aycock recalls, “I was trying to close a 10-person committee. Five people wanted a different solution than mine. My advocate told me three people were concerned about implementation. So I brought in an implementation consultant from my company to address their concerns and show how they could implement my solution within their time limit.”

Not doing your homework can cost you the sale. Amatrudo remembers when he sold insurance. “I made a presentation to a small company in Manhattan about changing their health insurance benefits, but I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t find out who would be at the meeting, why they wanted to change their health insurance or what they were looking for. I just went in, did my presentation and recommended they switch to my company. When the company’s health care analyst pointed out that my program cost more and delivered less service than their present program, the meeting was over and I had lost the sale.”

Amatrudo learned his lesson. “After licking my wounds, I went to another company on the other side of Manhattan. I asked all the questions I should have asked the last time and used the answers to close that company. It remained one of my accounts for five years.”