When I started my Sales career, I saw things through a rather simple lens. In my blatantly naïve perspective, there was ONE decision maker in every prospective account who was the most likely to purchase my company’s services. “This person should be my key contact”. “This is the person I must build a relationship with”. “I win over this person and I win the business”. – These were the thoughts that ran through my head.
I became aware of the reality very quickly. My leadership introduced me to the concept of working with various influencers, building consensus, and building a multi-threaded play in my accounts.
To this day, however, I see sales professionals make the mistake of selling to just one decision maker. Salespeople selling to my company make this mistake every week. Seasoned sales execs hang their hopes of securing a 100K deal on their interactions with just one CXO. I will be candid in saying that I too fall back into bad habits. Last week I found still find myself realising I have a single-threaded play in some of my opportunities!
And it happens so easily.
Three Common Traps
Here are the three most common traps that leave you ‘dangling from a thread’, in the unsafe position of selling to one decision maker:
- Existing Relationship: you do not want to ruin a perfectly good relationship with your key contact.
- Blocker: your key contact is actively discouraging you from contacting any colleagues.
- At the Top Already: you are engaged with the CEO/ Director/Owner: why deal with anyone else?
These are perfectly reasonable excuses to give to yourself, or to your leadership. You do not want to spoil your chances of winning the opportunity by destroying a good relationship, or worse, peeving off an already over-zealous ‘blocker’. And no-one questions your ability to bring a deal over the line if you are engaged at the top end of town.
Every Sales professional is happy to sell to multiple personas, when they are presented with smiling faces at a boardroom table. However here is the crux of the issue: when it is critical that you sell to more personas within an account, you have a good reason to NOT do so.
It is a challenge to change your sales strategy and move away from that one decision maker. Yes, it might seem risky to alter the play. You most certainly risk putting your key decision maker off-side.
But make no mistake – the more significant risk is sticking with a single threaded approach. Below are 3 scenarios where selling to just ONE decision maker leaves you dangling from a thin rope.
Why Selling to Just One Decision Maker is a Mistake
If you only have one connection within your account and that person quits, gets move sideways, or (worst of all) is dismissed, you have a significant issue on your hands. In Australia, AHRI estimates churn rates at slightly above 15%. This means, at least 1 in 7 Australian decision makers is likely to leave the job inside the next 12 months. Unless your decision maker knows and trusts you deeply, the news of their departure may leave you as a shock – and leave your pipeline empty.
This is my own term for a common situation in B2B Sales: only seeing the tip of the iceberg. A decision maker may reach out to you with a valid request that is only a smaller part of the greater opportunity. Often this request will sound like an urgent, real request for business. You must provide a quote, timeframes, and commitments. You pull internal resources together and deliver. Then you hear nothing…until months later, your find out a competitor is engaged in the account.
Why? Your contact was not the real decision maker. The real power in the account leveraged your key contact to fish for information. The actual decision maker used this information to gain better leverage with their chosen vendor. You missed your chance to have a real shot at the opportunity. You did not find out what was laying under the surface.
In this scenario, you are engaged with power. You know there is budget, you know how much, and who authorises the payments. You have done everything right…with this person. But you don’t get the order. The scope changes, and you lose control of the selling cycle. You then find out there is a certain somebody (let’s call them the super-influencer) within the account a layer or two down from the decision maker, who really doesn’t want your solution. They are sure your competitor’s solution is superior and they are determined to do whatever it takes to get that provider in.
Chances are, had you engaged the super-influencer correctly, you could have won them over before your competition did. Because you ignored this person, they felt sidelined. They went out of your way to make you lose. You will find this happens especially where the decision maker likes to make collaborative decisions: the super-influencer will have their way 90% of the time.
Overcoming the Three Common Traps
So, there you are: three extremely common scenarios where a selling to just one contact will let you down. Again, I understand completely that no situation is black and white. There will always be a risk in widening your strategy to multiple contacts…and a corresponding benefit. Take that risk, do it carefully, and find a sales coach or deal coach if you want external advice on how to do it right.
To get you started, here is your guide on how to overcome the three traps we covered earlier:
- Existing Relationship (you do not want to ruin a perfectly good relationship with your key contact)
Communicate, communicate, communicate! If your relationship is good, ask this person to introduce you to their team, their colleagues, their manager. And if your mutual trust is good enough, they will make these introductions and help you be successful.
- Blocker (your key contact is actively discouraging you from contacting any of their colleagues
Call their bluff: they only have the right to direct your play if they are paying your bills. Are they giving you the business? In that case, certainly tread with care. Otherwise, stop giving them so much credibility. Most likely they are protecting a favoured vendor. Go to the source of power, and work your way back down. Worse case, you will qualify-out sooner and stop wasting your time.
- At the Top Already (you are engaged with the CEO/ Director/Owner: why deal with anyone else)
This is the easiest trap to get out of. In fact, it is only a trap if you remain unaware it is a trap. Good CEOs love delegating. A savvy business owner wants nothing more than for their best suppliers to build strong relationships with their best staff. Ask your contact who in their team you should be working more closely with. One email later and you are out of the trap.
Congratulations, you have made it to the end! Thank you for reading this far.
I want to know more…
If you would like to hear more: I run a 90-minute keynote on this topic. Should you wish to book me for your next sales meeting or to speak with your sales team, please reach out to our Head of Sales, Joe Barnes, at email@example.com.
If you enjoyed what I had to say, or better yet, would like to add to / disagree with anything I have articulated, please reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, feel free to send me a LinkedIn request.