Enterprise, Sales and marketing, Sales and marketing

Technology Sales Proposals: Which Decision Maker Said No and Why

Group of businessperson and technology concept.
Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence

My friend Brian MacIver added a brilliant comment to my post “On Consensus Buying.” I’m shamelessly taking his idea on identifying “Who said no,” and expanding on it.

Let me back up. We know some things to be true about modern complex B2B buying.

  • There’s seldom “A Decision maker.” For a complex decision, it’s a group of individuals, with differing priorities and interests. There may be people that exercise more influence in the process, but it is rarely a single person.
  • The size of the decision-making group is growing. Part of it is that when we are considering a complex B2B buying decision, it impacts many people in the organization, so they need to be involved. Part of it is the risk may be high, individuals or small groups may be uncomfortable making the decision without additional input. The growing size of the buying group makes it more difficult to achieve consensus on the buying decision. We might think, it’s pretty easy to get two to three people aligned around a decision, it’s more difficult when five to seven people are involved, but today we have more than 13 people involved. Getting consensus among the buying group makes herding cats seem like child’s play.
  • As a result, the majority of the time, the buying group fails to make a decision. The majority of buying efforts end in no decision being made.
  • And for those that do make a decision, an increasing percentage have high regret. That doesn’t mean they change their minds, they just live with the decision, perhaps reframing their expectations, maybe lowering them. But this experience impacts their future decisions, which may impact their perceptions of us if we were “fortunate” enough to win what became a high regret decision (This should cause us to think a lot about the customer experience in implementation and operation.)

Building Consensus

Now here’s the interesting part about consensus that Brian makes vividly clear. Consensus is not about everyone saying, “Yes,” it’s that no one said, “No.” If no one says, “No,” then we have consensus.

But now, we have to dive in to understand the consensus-building process. We focus on getting the buying team to say “Yes,” choosing us. But that’s only a small part of the consensus-building process. As a result, the person/people that say “No,” may not even be saying no regarding a vendor selection, they may be saying no to something else involved in the decision. It may be about the risk. It may be they have a different view of the priorities around the decision or even the scope of the problem the team is seeking to address.

There are dozens of areas, where “consensus” can break down in the problem solving/buying process. If there isn’t consensus in what the group is trying to achieve, what success means, the scope and goals of the project. If there isn’t consensus on the broader issues the team members need to address (not just vendor selection). If team members shift their priorities, focus on other things.

We tend to focus only on one aspect of what the buying team is doing, we focus on getting them to say, “Yes” to us. Yet the project can fail if a team member says, “No,” not to us, but to another aspect of the project.

Before you throw your hands up in the air, saying, “How do we manage something so complex?” there is some relief. Crassly, what we have to help the buying team achieve is not people saying, “Yes,” but rather avoiding “No’s.” For example, some members of the team could care less about the vendor choice. It may not impact them or mean nothing to their work. We don’t need them to say “Yes,” to us.

Getting to Yes

It’s not our responsibility to resolve all the “Nos”, particularly in areas that are not impacted by the vendor decision. But it’s important that our customers recognize this and manage this within their consensus-building process. We might coach them in the process of building and maintaining consensus. But we may not be the people that must resolve this.

And then, we have to think about what has to be resolved. We tend to think consensus is everyone saying “Yes.” The reality is it’s just the avoidance of “No.” There may be a huge number of issues where people involved in the project just don’t care, nor do they need to care.

Thanks so much Brian!

Contributed blog courtesy of Partners in Excellence, and authored by David Brock, president at Partners in Excellence. Read more contributed blogs from David Brock here.