I am sure you remember this from basic math class. When you are talking with one person, you either convince the person or do not. When talking with as few as two people, you can convince them both, neither, or either one. One of them can convince the other to support you or to oppose you. The more people, the more complicated things can get. The combinations and complications grow geometrically (1, 2, 4, 16) rather than arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4). Group dynamics can affect the behavior of crowds for good or for bad. People influence each other.
A reality of business is the idea of the “stakeholder.” One person may have final authority to make decisions in a company, but that person will always have others concerned with the decision. At the very least, the CFO will have input on any decision that requires spending money. Your goal is to get the company to spend money.
The trend in companies is to have all of the major internal stakeholders attend group sales presentations. But why is there this trend toward selling to a group? The philosophy of group participation as a way to improve the quality of decision making has been growing in popularity for decades. This has been motivated by the increasing desire to reduce the risk associated with big-ticket purchasing and to get more buy-in from people who have to carry out the decision once made.
There is still a good chance that only one person will make the final decision — and it is your job to find out which one — but all who attend the meeting, and others, will have an input into the decision. They will have even more of an input because they will have attended the meeting, heard the same things the decision maker heard and can speak from the same frame of reference.
Your sales presentation has to appeal to all those at the meeting. You have to be able to successfully deal with any questions they may have by covering the question in your presentation, by directly responding to questions when they are asked, or by finding the answer and getting back to them after the meeting. You have to answer everyone with the same courtesy, comprehensiveness, and accuracy you give questions from the boss, who will hear your answer as well as get the other people’s input.
Despite group selling changing the dynamics, the basic purpose of selling has not changed and must be kept in mind. All clients still have unmet objectives and are all still looking for ways to meet their objectives. Client objectives always include personal, as well as business, objectives. Your job is to find some way of determining these objectives. Your contact person at the client’s office should be able to provide some answers. He or she should not object to answering these questions. The contact has a stake in you putting on a good sales presentation and finding ways to meet the company’s needs. The contact will realize that giving you this information will help him or her and the company — as well as you.
One way to help deal with the reality of many client voices is to bring one or two co-workers with you, primarily to observe while you are presenting. You can compare their impressions to your own when the meeting ends. Again, it should not bother the clients that you are trying to get more information. They will assume, accurately, that you are not cheating but are just making it easier for your company to meet client needs.
Selling to a group, let me repeat, still has the same goal as selling to one person. You are there to convince the group that you and your company can meet the needs and agendas of them and their company. The difference is that you are dealing with a more complex series of interrelationships — the clients with each other as well as with you. Your homework is harder, but the problem of how to focus your appeal is still quite manageable.