Selling to Your Buyer’s Entire Political Culture

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The reality of today’s buyers is they rarely make decisions alone.

A “final decision maker” will still seek opinions and insights from others, even when they alone are the final decision maker of their vendor selection. However, most sales professionals only focus their attention selling to their main buyer or decision maker and see little value talking with the rest of the buyer’s organization, after all, they say, “I’m already talking to the decision maker who signs the checks, what’s the value of talking with anyone else?”

Getting “Higher, wider and deeper” within your prospects and customers

However, increasing your relationships, connections, and customer information can significantly increase your competitive advantage. Just calling on the final or top decision maker is not enough in today’s buying culture, you need to get higher, wider, and deeper within your buyer’s organization if you want to increase your competitive advantage, and ultimately win their business.

Every organization has three levels of political awareness and power

The most powerful group is the “Inner Circle.” These are the decision makers who can easily decide what to buy and who to buy from. However, the “Inner Circle” decision makers are influenced by the second group, the “Outer Circle.” The “Outer Circle” influencers provide feedback, council and share opinions with decision makers. The third and final political group within your buyer’s organization is the group titled “What’s a circle?” This third group neither recognizes nor understands their organization’s political structure thinking there are no political levels within their company, and decisions to buy are only made on the merit of who is the best vendor who can provide the most value to their company.

The reality of buying in today’s hyper-competitive world is the more politically aware, or closer you get to the “Inner Circle” political level, the less likely these people will want to tell you the truth about what is really going on in their company.

Buyers don’t benefit telling you the truth…

The reality of buying is that there is little value in a decision maker telling you the complete truth. As an example, let’s say I’m the buyer who is buying from your competitors and you’re the sales person calling on my company. As you walk into my office I say “Thank goodness you’re here! My current supplier has been ignoring me, I can’t get any support from them, and they keep missing their promised delivery dates. Their billing system is all screwed up and no one there seems to even care about my business.” What would you be thinking as your prospect told you that? How many of you are thinking “Cha-ching!?”

Buyers have learned they have to have two levels of openness to all but their closest vendors. The first level of openness is when a buyer isn’t in “buying mode.”

This is the time where they’re not evaluating or shopping for new vendors. During this open mode buyers at all three political levels will be happy to answer any of your questions and to tell you exactly how things are going, both the good and bad, with their current suppliers. They are so open now since they don’t feel anything they say can be used against them since they’re not ready to buy again, or to renew an existing agreement at this time.

But when they’re getting ready to buy again and start shopping multiple vendors they move to the second and most restrictive level of openness. When a buyer is shopping and talking with vendors they know they’ll lose the ability to effectively negotiate with any vendor who knows about any significant gaps in current service or any displeasure with their current supplier. It’s kind of hard to be a tough negotiator and to demand a lower price from you, the vendor, if you know I’m unhappy and not likely to continue with my current supplier.

This is why it is so critical you get “higher, wider, and deeper” within a prospect’s or existing customer’s organization.

You want to get higher, getting to all the decision makers in their “Inner circle” the people who sign the contracts and checks. You want to get wider, getting to anyone who will be able to influence their Inner Circle, such as other department heads or other areas of responsibility within your buyer’s organization. In addition, you want to get deeper, getting to the non-politically aware “What’s a circle” group such as their front line users and operators.

When a buyer is in their shut down “shopping mode,” the “Inner Circle” decision makers will only tell you what they think will help them negotiate more value or a lower price. Therefore, any problems with their current vendor will be hidden or dismissed, since any sign of problems with their current supplier will just help you justify why they have to pay your higher prices.

These politically aware buyers know that if you get to their less politically aware “Outer Circle Influencers” or politically clueless users and operators you could learn what is really happening, and how much their company really needs to buy from you even when you have a higher price. This is why these decision makers will work to restrict your access to anyone else within their organization during their vendor evaluations even demanding you only talk to them.

The value of thinking and planning more moves ahead than your customers…

This is why one of the foundations of success in selling is based on you thinking and planning more moves ahead than either your competitors or your buyers. Successful selling and negotiations are founded on information and awareness. The more you know about what is really going on within your prospect or customer the more you can focus your communications on positioning, and proving your greater value and ability to improve their working environment compared to any other competitive alternative. The lowest total cost vendor will always be the one who can identify and then improve the most buyer challenges and problems.

But you need to know what’s really going on in order to successfully communicate and prove your lower total cost and enhanced ability to improve their business. If you, like the majority of sales people, only wait until your customer identifies that they are ready to shop and talk with you, then you are guaranteed to be locked out of the very information that can help you justify why you are the best vendor for their needs. You need to get into your prospects and customers political environment before they shut down into “buying mode” so you can learn what’s really going on from a variety of individuals at all three political levels: decision makers, influencers, and the front-line operators and users.

This is why it’s critical to establish as many buyer contacts at all three political levels and to start looking for new selling opportunities within your prospects and current customers before they shut down into “buying mode.” If you are able to complete the majority of your contact building and information gathering before they shut down you can then use this competitively unique information and contacts in your selling efforts even though your competitors are not allowed to talk to anyone other than the main buyer or decision maker. Even when the decision maker shuts down access to vendors you can still usually informally communicate with any contacts already established to get a clearer perspective of what’s really going on.

What can you do to get “higher, wider, and deeper” now, before your buyers move into their restrictive “buying mode?

What can you do to think and plan more moves ahead than your prospects and customers? Moreover, what can you do now to get “higher, wider, and deeper” before your decision maker shuts down the flow of information as they move into buying mode? Once again, your competitive advantage, value, and uniqueness will be based on you proactively initiating instead of reactively responding. You have to start selling, conducting your research and establishing your contacts within an organization before your buyer is ready to start evaluating, and buying if you want to increase your control of your buyers buying process.

We know you’re good, now the question is, are you good enough and proactive enough to think and plan more moves ahead than either your buyers or your competitors, so you can increase your competitive advantage and ability to win the business, even at a higher price?
Jim Pancero