Multiple decision makers are becoming increasingly involved in B2B decisions. An average of 6.8 people is involved in the decision-making process during the B2B buying journey. This number is steadily rising. In 2013, an average of 5.4 people was reported to be involved. Understanding each decision maker and their role within their organization is integral to a successful buying process in the era of digital selling.
Understanding the influence and disposition of decision makers
While multiple employees may be involved in the decision-making process, their position within the company, and therefore their influence on such a decision, can vary. Generally, there are two main sources of influence within an organization: formal and informal.
Formal influencers are those who are held in high regard within the decision-making process. Informal influencers have less of an influence within their organization, but to ignore their influence would be a mistake on the sellers’ behalf. If these individuals have interest in a particular product or organization they often hold both the expertise and credibility to be involved in the decision-making process.
Once the influence level of the individuals within an organization has been established it is important to understand their disposition in relation to the supplier on offer. Individuals usually fall within one of three disposition groups: advocates, neutral, or opponents.
Advocates illustrate a positive stance, often supporting the supplier in a visible way. On the opposite end of the scale are those with a negative disposition, the opponents. These can sometimes be advocates for your competitors. Those who fit into neither of these categories employ a neutral disposition. These individuals’ stance may be open to influence.
Following the identification of the influence and the disposition status of the decision makers are established, the Influence/Disposition Map can be used to aid organizations in executing the appropriate influencing strategy upon each decision makers dependent on their position on the map. Wilson Learning Worldwide (WLW; 2017) adapted the widely used Power/Interest Matrix (shown in figure 1) to map the influence and disposition of key decision makers within an organization.
Understanding the difference between positions and interests
Another key component to successfully navigating multiple decision makers is understanding the difference between their positions and interests. Simply put, an individual’s position is the what, while their interest is the why.
While understanding the position of clients is important, it is vital to uncover their interests in order to thoroughly deliver the services that will aid them in the completion of their goals. If there are shared interests between the buying and selling organizations, there is an opportunity to work together to achieve the collective goal.
There are often times when there are differing interests between organizations. Alas, this presents an opportunity to work together in order to come up with scenarios that result in mutual gains for all parties involved.
While opposed interests present a more challenging scenario, these tend to dwindle down as the decision-making process progresses. A greater focus is drawn to the shared interests and to converting the differing interests into mutual gains during the later stages.
Preparation is key
During the sales process, it is not uncommon for objections and issues to arise on behalf of the buyers. While it can be difficult to foresee any challenges that may occur, being somewhat prepared to address these issues is an important factor in successfully progressing along the buying journey. It is often said that preparation is the key to success and this is no less true in this scenario.
Wilson Learning Worldwide suggest two preventative techniques; implementing influencing strategies and uncovering the interests of the key influencers.
Once you have identified each individuals’ position and mapped them accordingly on the influence and disposition map, the next step is to employ strategies to influence the buying process.
Johnson and colleagues (2008) adapted the commonly used power/interest grid to include what strategies should be adopted when dealing with stakeholders of different influence and interest. Combining Johnson et al.’s approach with Wilson Learning Worldwide‘s Influence Map (figure 2) can aid in selecting which strategies to employ.
- Capitalize – those of high influence which hold high levels of disposition are the individuals which you need to capitalize on. These key players within the organization should be utilized to further promote your product and message over that of competitors.
- Convert – it is important to keep those of high influence and low disposition satisfied. These individuals have the power to sway the decision-making process in an unfavourable way. The main goal here is to convert them. It is important to convey the value you offer to their business.
- Promote – keeping those of low influence but high disposition informed is important. Understanding why these individuals are of low influence is an important aspect of this strategy. If they are of a promotable quality, promoting their presence and stance upon the issue at hand may aid in increasing their influence within their own organization.
- Insulate – while minimal effort should be applied to those with low influence and low disposition, it is important to not alienate them. Pay enough attention to keep them from damaging your progress with the other decision makers.
The second preventative measure suggested by Wilson Learning Worldwide is to uncover the interests of the decision makers. Revisiting the previously distinguished positions and interests, the interests are the why.
It’s not only important to understand what elements are important to their business but why such elements are important. Interests can be uncovered through simply conversing with the clients or conducting online research on the individual stakeholders and their company.
Once these interests are understood and prioritized via the decision-makers position within the company, targeting these interests in your business message could be the vital component that puts you ahead of competitors.
Effectively dealing with objections
More often than not, issues arise during the sales process. Knowing how to appropriately address these issues can be the difference between a business deciding in your favour or towards that of a competitor.
With multiple decision makers now involved in the modern buying journey, various objections can arise. Objections can often come from individuals who believe their interests are being ignored. Neutralizing the tension in this situation, and addressing it in a swift manner, is a lot more effective than simply answering their objection or question.
Listening and validating the concerns of potential buyers before coming to a solution can ensure a smooth relationship going forward.