If it seems like B2B enterprise sales are becoming more complex, that’s because they really are. Just two years ago, there was an average of five stakeholders in the room for most enterprise sales decisions. Today, the number has ballooned to seven stakeholder persona.
Think about that: Seven different agendas, communication styles, priorities, and pain points—and unless they all align on your solution, the deal’s DOA. Of course, research shows that as B2B buying committees grow in size, so too does their propensity to say “no.” Little wonder, then, that CSO Insights found that for the seventh straight year, fewer sellers than ever are hitting their quotas.
With the stakes so high, you need to understand what makes these “magnificent seven” tick. We’ll break down the seven personas you’re likely to encounter in your next pitch, and we’ll show you how to take a more strategic approach to communicating with each.
Stakeholder Persona: The Advocate
It all starts with your Advocate, your initial point of contact in the sales cycle. She’s the person you’re the closest to at your prospect’s organization, the one whose trust you’ve managed to earn in the course of building a relationship. She’s the reason you’ve landed this meeting in the first place—and you’ve got to make the most of the affinity you’ve so carefully built.
So your strategy—and your preparation—starts with your Advocate. First, do some reconnaissance with her around the meeting invite itself, but keep in mind that who’s attending the meeting is far less important than why they’re there. Instead of simply gathering their titles and crawling their LinkedIn profiles, ask your Advocate for insight into each person’s role in the deal, their priorities, and any likely objections they may have. This should give you the kind of granular insights you can’t glean from org charts.
Your Strategy: Make Her Shine
Out of seven stakeholder personas in the room, only your Advocate is invested in your success, so use that to maximum advantage. Help her help you by looking ahead to common objections and procurement headaches, and arm her ahead of time with info she can use to champion your product internally. One-pagers, case studies, and even infographics can help your Advocate sell your solution to the other six folks involved.
But be mindful that your Advocate is on the hook for everyone else’s time—and the worst thing you can do is waste it. You’ve got to be polished, thoughtful, and prepared. If you make her look anything less than brilliant for bringing you in, you’re going to lose the only lifeline you have to this prospect.
Every pitch meeting has a member who’s highly engaged—and highly truculent. These are hallmarks of the Skeptic. He’s got an axe to grind, and he is not excited about what you have to say or what your solution can deliver.
The Skeptic is a frequent flier in IT deals, likely because a solid majority of IT professionals say they prefer “a salesperson who understands my specific problem and matches a solution.” This means you need to listen more than you talk and, no matter how much research you put in ahead of time, he isn’t going to buy what you’re selling unless you let him tell you about the organization’s problems and priorities first.
As one Emissary, a former IT exec at Starbucks, put it: “I don’t care how much you think you know about my company. External research will only get you half the story. Unless you work there or have worked there, you’ll absolutely need to learn about our challenges directly from us.”
Your Strategy: Let Him Vent
Your Advocate should be able to point out the Skeptic ahead of time, but if she can’t, it won’t take you long to identify him. He’ll be the one objecting loudly and frequently. Once this happens, engage him directly. Give him time to share his challenges, but control the conversation by asking pointed questions. Avoid open-ended inquiries that lead to lengthy answers.
And whatever you do, don’t challenge him. Just 19 percent of IT stakeholders and 29 percent of marketers welcome “challenger” sales tactics. So patiently hear him out, and offer to provide case studies after the meeting concludes. It’s your only safe bet for keeping the Skeptic from turning the meeting toxic.
Stakeholder Persona: The Gatekeeper
The gatekeeper stakeholder persona usually hails from the tech, security, or procurement side. She’ll come to the meeting prepared to carefully listen, but she’ll also have some very specific questions that you must be ready to answer. Don’t or can’t? The meeting will likely tank, fast.
Hopefully, of course, you’ll have already identified most of these questions through your planning conversation with your Advocate. At the same time, given the range of potential objections the Gatekeeper might have—everything from data security to compliance, ease of implementation, storage performance, integration, and so much more—it’s also important to dial in on the concerns that matters most. Ultimately, these might not be the most exciting questions to answer, but you’ll still need to speak to them clearly and persuasively. Your next closed-won hangs in the balance.
Your Strategy: Tech Talks to Tech
Since 77 percent of buyers rate their last purchase as “very complex or difficult,” you need to simplify the story you tell as much as possible. The technical details do matter, of course, but they’re only part of the picture. And you only have an hour to make your case. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring your sales engineer or technical account manager to this crucial first meeting.
“In the 90s, you had time to meet two or three times,” said one Emissary, a former SVP of information security at BB&T. “Now, time is so precious you can’t afford to waste it. Bring your sales engineer or technical account manager to the first meeting so they can address any technical issues right off the bat. That person needs to be in the room whenever you’re talking tech”
From there, foster a direct connection between the Gatekeeper and your tech guru, for example, by encouraging the Gatekeeper to ask questions directly as they arise. “They’re going to form a bond,” our Emissary said. “That’s why you let tech talk to tech.”
Stakeholder Persona: The Influencer
While often a somewhat junior stakeholder, the Influencer nonetheless occupies a potent position within the buying committee. This is likely an internal SME. She’s a millennial and is the person the senior-most decision-maker looks to for input around buying decisions. Her input, therefore, often carries the day.
But this is another area where you can work closely with your Advocate to gain an edge. For starters, you should try to piece together a hierarchy of influence. Who has the most power to truly influence outcomes? The answer might not be who you think, and it can decisively impact your odds of success. For example, a recent survey of business professionals involved in buying processes at enterprises found that 90 percent of the time, deals hinge on the ability of salespeople to convince a single person on the buying committee. Obviously, reaching this “dominant influencer” is key to your success.
Your Strategy: Give Her the Spotlight
Keep in mind that the role of the Influencer is, in many instances at least as important as that of the senior-most leader—say, the CIO, CMO or another chief executive.
One study found that, among buying committees, just 13 percent of millennials are decision-makers, while the rest are researchers, project managers, or influencers. And since 59 percent of millennials prefer to do research on a product prior to engaging a seller, your best opportunity is to engage her by asking how she perceives your solution in comparison with your competitors. This gives her a chance to shine and show off all the research she’s done. If you can give an influencer a win in front of her boss while showing you value her contribution, she’s much more likely to warm to your pitch—and less likely to derail the deal down the line.
Decision-Makers are likely top-level C-suite stakeholders: CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, and the like. More than other stakeholders, she’s going to be centrally concerned with ROI. So you should have case studies handy and be able to speak to them in detail—including obstacles you’ve helped customers overcome and factors that ultimately made for success. Tie that back to ROI, and you’re speaking the right language.
That’s why it’s a good idea to be transparent about pricing from the jump. In fact, 58 percent of buyers want to talk pricing up front, so you need to come prepared with transparent pricing—and be ready for questions. Because there will be questions.
Your Strategy: All About ROI and Relationships
Case studies are your best friend here. Showing that similar companies—not just big names—get measurable value from your solution is key. In the event that pricing becomes a sticking point, consider offering a discount or a proof of concept. This kind of gesture should be viewed as low-hanging fruit—particularly considering the potential upside of a long-term partnership.
“Show us that you care about us for the long term,” said one Emissary, a former VP of IT at Exelon. “If you show a long-term play and a long-term relationship, that’s a much more satisfying relationship than going for the quick kill. Show us you’ll give us a discount or you’re willing to do a free proof of concept, we’ll talk about writing up a contract.”
Even if you’ve got a fairly in-depth read on everyone in the room from your Advocate, there’s always the Wild Card. He was added to the invite at the last minute, so you don’t have the time to gather intel on who he is and how he fits into the bigger buying picture.
“I just rang Bob on my way here,” the Influencer might say. “Thought I should drag him in with me—he’ll definitely have questions.”
Your Strategy: Listen and Learn
If his opinion matters to your Advocate enough that she disrupted his day just to bring him in, it should matter to you, too. Fortunately, you should be able to glean at least his title and department from the initial round of introductions, and that should give you some context for why he’s in the room. Compliance? He’s going to be worried about risk and regulation. Procurement? Cost and integration are top priorities. These are likely safe assumptions, but gain certainty by engaging him directly. Ask about his chief concerns related to your product, and give him time to voice them.
From there, build comfort and trust by mirroring his mannerisms and communication style. Since 81 percent of buyers prefer to engage with sellers who share their mannerisms, this is a simple way to build affinity with the Wildcard, even without knowing much about him.
There’s always one person in the room who’s conspicuously multitasking, window-gazing, or swiping on Tinder. This is the Checked-out stakeholder. He’s not interested in what you’re selling, but he was clearly invited for some reason—and it’s up to you find out what that reason is.
The Checked-out may have some influence, but it’s much more likely he’s a representative of a dependent department or function and is simply making sure your solution checks off a requisite box.
Your Strategy: Don’t Engage
You’ve only got an hour, and if swiping right is more important to him than a major purchasing decision, don’t waste your time. Focus on more important stakeholders for now, since you can always share more information with him later on—and if you got a clear picture from your Advocate about why he’s there, you should know what that information is. Ultimately, though, he’s a low-influence and low-engagement stakeholder, so don’t waste too much time here.
Stakeholder Persona Executive Summary
Today’s enterprise buying committees usually involve seven stakeholder personas—and they’ll all need to align on your solution. We’ve broken down the seven stakeholder persona you’re likely to encounter in any enterprise sales meeting and given you a plan to communicate with them strategically.