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How to Build Stakeholder Agreement in Modern Selling

Customer conversations

stakeholder consensus building

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Aligning Stakeholders on 3 Levels

The picture of buyer consensus now has a new dimension. Previously, sales professionals had to build consensus by convincing each stakeholder of the solution’s value. Today, this challenge has intensified because each buyer must be convinced of more than value. 

They must be convinced that the solution satisfies three additional distinct qualifications which are the conceptual, transitional, and financial aspects of the solution.

The importance of these three aspects illustrates the pragmatic approach stakeholders are taking today when considering a purchase. The solution must represent value that is beyond the theoretical. The solution needs to fit the customer’s future vision in a way that feels real. Often, the value of a solution is presented in a hypothetical context that ignores the disorder, uncertainty, and volatility of the real world. 

By addressing the conceptual, transitional, and financial dimensions of the solution the sales professional is helping the customer see how the product or service will create results in the complex setting of their business.

This renewed focus on the “realness” of value is the result of more stakeholders acknowledging that many more factors influence the success of their business than ever before. Business leaders have always known that many forces – both internal and external – exert control. What is new is the understanding that these forces are greater in number than previously realized. The result: stakeholders need value that is not just on paper, but that is in practice.

Here, we provide a clear, three-part framework sales professionals can use to drive stakeholder consensus across the conceptual, transitional, and financial dimensions of the solution.

Selling the Conceptual Aspects of the Solution

When driving consensus around the conceptual aspects of the solution, the sales professional is helping the buyer develop confidence in the solution’s ability to address their core needs and challenges.

Building the conceptual case is more difficult than it sounds because it consists of many parts. The sales professional must help the buyers address questions like, “what is the risk if we do nothing?” They must also help the stakeholder develop consensus around their solution requirements and the reasons for those requirements. Even the partnership with the sales professional is part of the conceptual aspect of the sale because the relationship is important during solution implementation and support.

Importantly, building consensus around the conceptual aspects of the solution requires the high-level skill of co-creating a future state with the customer. That is, the sales professional must shape the customer’s idea of capabilities needed based on the solution differentiators. In doing so the sales professional helps the stakeholders acknowledge previously unseen needs. This step is crucial because customers often self-diagnose long before any engagement with a sales professional.

One of the most powerful tools for co-creating and evaluating the solution is a collaboration plan which defines the actions both parties will take to ensure the customer is comfortable making a buying decision. This approach is effective because it is pre-emptive, and therefore minimizes late-stage concerns that cause delays. 

A collaboration plan is built in cooperation with the person, or people who hold the power to make a purchase. The value of this approach is that it involves the customer. As a result, they have a sense of ownership of the process. Some of the things found on a collaboration plan include a list of the customer-facing steps needed to complete the sale, the date on which those events will occur, and the people and resources needed to complete each event.

With this kind of plan in place, the sales professional has an objective way to track progress and make iterative changes as necessary.

Selling the Transitional Aspects of the Solution

The expansion of stakeholders in buying decisions has been well documented. What is less discussed are the reasons why this change has occurred. In most cases, this change is due to the fact that more cooperation from more people in a business is needed to implement a new solution. Each person involved in solution implementation has a degree of influence over the buying decision because their work is needed to ensure success.

Therefore, building consensus around the transitional aspects of the solution means developing each stakeholder’s confidence in the implementation of the product or service. The buyers need to know that the solution can work within the complex sprawl of the business. 

Sales professionals do not need to assure stakeholders that the transitional aspects are free of risk. Rather, they must illustrate that the risks are minimal and manageable.

Here, it is often helpful for sales professionals to provide references and case studies illustrating how the solution was successfully implemented in real-world scenarios. Some of the event items found in the collaboration plan will address the transition. Examples include meetings with IT for solutions that will need to work with existing systems and discussions with legal and procurement professionals.

If the transitional aspects are left unaddressed until late in the sales pursuit, then the sales professional risks having to compel an entirely new set of stakeholders in the final stages. 

The key takeaway is that the transitional aspects of a solution represent more than just the logistics behind making the solution work. They also represent real financial costs. As more people are required to assist in the implementation more salaries are directed toward the solution. Similarly, more opportunity costs arise as professionals within the buying organization are required to pull themselves away from competing priorities.

Selling the Financial Aspects of the Solution

Driving consensus across the financial aspect of the solution means proving that the decision to buy will generate a superior return beyond other priorities. The financial stakeholders must be identified early because presenting the solution as an option that rises above the financial value of all other possibilities is a towering task.

This part of consensus building is especially challenging because it often requires the sales professional to anchor the value of the solution to a specific number or set of numbers. Given the scope of this task, some sales professionals attempt to address the financial aspects early in the conversation. Doing so increases the risk of a failed deal. The reason: approaching this topic early often means bypassing the critical step of gaining a full view of the customer’s business model and the financials required for success. Getting the necessary financial detail typically requires having diagnostic conversations with operational, and financial stakeholders.

The most influential decision-maker involved in a financial review of the solution is the CFO. The CFO will not only be focused on the measurability of the solution’s ROI, but they will also want to see the methods used to measure the ROI. Despite intense scrutiny, selling to the CFO presents some unique opportunities. Surveying 330 CFOs, research from PwC shows that “products and services” is the top-ranked category for rebuilding and enhancing revenue streams. Simply, cutting costs is only part of the equation. Survival and profitability cannot be attained with cost avoidance alone; CFOs know that they need to restore revenue. Only one-third of CFOs are “very confident” in their company’s ability to source new revenue opportunities, according to the same study.

Learn more about selling the financial aspects of the solution by downloading the brief, Selling to the CFO

In addition to positioning the reliability of the ROI measurement, sales professionals must also position the durability of the ROI. They must show that the financial benefits of the solution will endure.

A Layered Approach to Building Consensus

Building consensus requires a layered approach. Sales professionals must work with stakeholders to co-create a compelling future state in which the conceptual, transitional, and financial aspects of the solution are compelling and realistic. Doing so means using a detailed collaboration plan, relevant case studies, and validated ROI figures.

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