I recently came across a post written by Aja Frost on HubSpot’s Blog. In there, she writes that according to Brent Adamson, principal executive advisor at CEB, the average number of customer stakeholders involved in a B2B purchasing decision is 6.8 -- up from 5.4 in late 2014. In itself this an utterly useless data point.
Why do I put the relevance in question?
Not having the details of the research that led to this statement, I cannot exclude that the trend is, at least partially, caused by changing demographics in the audience surveyed. If there were more respondents with transactional sales in the research carried out in 2014 (usually fewer customer stakeholders involved in a buying decision) compared to this latest research, carried out 18 months later, this fact alone can lead to the observed trend everything else remaining the same.
I also have a general aversion against averages on numbers of people. I am still waiting to meet a “.4 “or a “.8” person.
Why is the statement nevertheless relevant?
Notwithstanding this rant, sales leaders should ask themselves whether the fact of the involvement of more than one stakeholder in customer purchasing decisions is reflected in their current selling system. Ignoring this question can be the major reason for a high percentage of deals that end in a “no decision” by the customer.
The road-map below outlines how sales leaders can analyze to what extend their selling systems is designed to help sellers to cope with the involvement of multiple customer stakeholders in a purchasing decision.
Listen to the “Voice of the Customer”.
Common answers by customers asked for reasons why a deal ended in “no decision” are:
“We underestimated the number of stakeholders involved.”
“It became just too complicated to align all stakeholders.
“We could not agree whether purchasing a solution would bring the expected business benefits.”
“The decision was vetoed by a stakeholder we had not expected to be involved or affected by the decision.”
“The decision became too risky.”
“We could not get an agreement on the urgency of purchasing a solution.”
These are all symptoms that more than one customer stakeholder was involved in the decision. These symptoms also show that customer’s themselves are often not aware of their actual decision process.
Brainstorm the root-causes
Sales leaders can use the following questions to determine possible root-causes within their organizations leading to a high proportion of forecast deals ending in “no decision”.
1. Is our sales process mapped to our customers’ journey?
2. Does the customer journey, we apply, provide for considering the involvement of more than one stakeholder in the buying decision?
3. At what point in the customer journey is the involvement considered?
4. Do we have a methodology in place helping sellers to map the political landscape of the relevant customer stakeholders?
5. Does this methodology consider the following aspects:
a) The culture of the purchasing organization
b) How decisions are reached (consensus, majority, decision by highest executive in case of a tie in the voting)
c) The formal and the informal relationship between the customer stakeholders
d) The power constellations (fighting fractions within the purchasing organization)
Following this road-map, sales leaders will know if and how well their selling system helps sellers to navigate deals where multiple customer stakeholders are involved. There are process designs and methodologies available for addressing these root-causes. However, to be effective, these need to be tailored to a customized solution.
Training the sellers in the use of this customized solution will not be sufficient. Sales managers must at least buy into the insights gained from the analysis outlined above. They must also be convinced that the customized solution will lower the percentage of forecast deals ending in “no decision”.
Finally, the Sales Managers’ willingness to adhere to and coach the customized solution can be improved if they are involved in the root-cause analyses as well as in the choice and tailoring of the customized solution