A client had spent 9 months on a six-figure deal that never closed, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong.

They met with a former buyer who had recently left the target company (aka an Emissary) to discuss the deal and figure out what had happened.

“Of course you lost the deal,” said their Emissary, who met them after the pitch had gone south.

“You didn’t know about Frank. Frank sits in the New York office. He doesn’t do a whole lot, but he does have veto power on major deals. If you don’t know Frank, the deal’s not getting done.”

The groans on the call were audible.

We’ve all encountered a Frank in our lives – an unseen hand that nixes our hopes of closing a hard-fought deal for reasons we can’t even begin to comprehend. 

So how can we learn more about who the real gatekeepers are in the IT organization, who the influencers are, and who has real authority?

We asked our Emissaries from Merck, CVS, and Refinery29 to tell us what sales teams should understand about a company and the market they serve before going into the sale and how they can best get their buyers’ attention.

Turns out, understanding the buyer goes beyond the type of info you can dig up in a database.

1. Going through the business team is the traditional best practice, but it can lead to more obstacles later in the cycle. Bring IT in early.

Connecting with the business team will get you in the door, but they can’t help you once you reach later stages of the cycle. IT needs to be involved early on, and if you haven’t addressed their concerns, it will cause problems and delays.

“It’s just their general practice to reach into the business teams, you know usually they get the bite, but then when it gets down to contracting and working out the details, that’s when they hit the obstacles,” says the former Senior Director, Enterprise Digital at CVS.

Whether through your key account resource or through a service like Emissary, you need to get a clear picture of how the internal org is built to succeed.

“Have your champion explain the internal organization structure, and then help them sell it internally; they can’t effect change across the organization.”
former Director of Engineering at Refinery29

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2. Read the room: Pay close attention in initial meetings and calls to spot the decision makers and influencers.

After multiple calls and countless follow-up emails, you’ve finally managed to land an in-person sales meeting with a major enterprise prospect. Unfortunately, there are half-dozen people from the prospect company on the meeting invitation. 

According to a recent SAP study, 52% of B2B buyers said that the biggest risk of getting a purchase wrong is wasting company money. Perhaps that’s why, according to Gartner, a firm of between 100-500 people has an average of 7 people involved in most business buying decision processes. 

This trend towards enterprise risk-aversion has unfortunately resulted in a an ever-growing list of parties that need to be convinced and persuaded in the business buying decision process. 

With so many parties involved, who’s the decision maker in the room going to be?

If you think it’s the person with the most senior title, think again. The person with the corner office isn’t always the one who calls the shots on procuring a new vendor. In fact, in many cases, the most senior title at the table may defer to a more junior stakeholder on purchasing decisions. 

By reading the room and using organizational insight and behavioral dynamics to identify decision makers, gatekeepers and influencers, your sales team can increase its close rate and shorten its sales cycle.

3. Make sure you know the real owners of procurement and the business buying decision process.

Who owns the procurement process is changing — make sure you know who owns the function within your account, so you can address their concerns earlier in the cycle.

“Business teams no longer own procurement — now, most companies align with finance and IT, so issues like implementation and security are dealt with earlier in the buying process.”
former Senior Director, Enterprise Digital at CVS

This means asking the right questions, connecting with others who have worked there, and identifying gatekeepers as early as possible. Getting out ahead of the process allows you to better prepare responses, manage uncertainty and overcome objections.

4. There’s no way around it: you need buy-in from every side of the process.

IT sales are collaborative: period, full stop. In a large organization, there are many components to the tech stack that have to be considered, e.g. integration, security, hosting and storage, in addition to the essential functionality of the application.

“In IT, there are many people who need to say yes.”
former Program Director, Global Technology at Merck

The consequence of this is that any purchasing decision requires input from multiple decision makers, and banking on one of the players isn’t a good strategy.

You still need approval from the other stakeholders, and there are few situations where one player can influence every player. 

Key Takeaways

Emissaries from Merck, CVS, and Refinery29 told us us what sales teams should understand about a company and the business buying decision process before going into the sale, and how they can best get their buyers’ attention:

  • Going through the business is a great way to connect with buyers, but don’t forget to bring in IT early (and often).
  • Read the room in initial meetings to understand who is making decisions, who the gatekeeper is, and who will be influencing the decision.
  • Ask questions early around the procurement processes to assure quicker turnaround on key deliverables, and higher likelihood of success.
  • IT sales are collaborative: period, full stop. Understand the buyer’s technology stack, where you fit in, and where your product will impact the organization.

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