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Identify and Engage Key Decision-Makers

Oct 16, 2018 Red Flag Alert Updated On: October 11, 2023
Identify and Engage Key Decision-Makers

B2B sales are notorious for long sales cycles, opaque decision-making processes and a lot of running up blind alleys. Identifying and focusing on the right decision-makers is one of the most important activities for supercharging your B2B sales operation. In this article we’re going to look at some research and ideas on identifying and engaging decision-makers.

1.      Identify Key Decision-Makers

   a.      Seven Types of Stakeholder

   b.      Go-Getters, Sceptics and Teachers

                      i.     Build a Profile

                     ii.     Ask Revealing Questions

                    iii.     Use LinkedIn and Trade Press

2.      Understand the Decision-Making Process

3.      Reaching Out to Decision-Makers

   a.      Content Marketing

   b.      Outbound Marketing

4.      The Next Step

Identify Key Decision-Makers

According to research by B2B Marketing, 97% of B2B decision-makers know which vendor they want before the selection process begins. This sounds like an extreme headline-grabbing percentage but the principle that pre-engagement is important in sales is sound. Finding and engaging the right stakeholders is one of the most important B2B sales activities.

Businesses are a maze of stakeholders with different agendas, responsibilities and levels of power. Effective B2B sales professionals know that navigating this maze is crucial to their success. Some interesting research from Gartner points to some common mistakes made by average and poor sales teams. Let’s take a look.

Seven Types of Stakeholder

In his Dreamforce Session David Anderson of the CEB Advisory Services (now Gartner) points to research that identifies seven types of customer stakeholder:

  • The Go-Getter – Prefers change to the status quo.
  • The Sceptic – Is cautious and analytical about change.
  • The Friend – Happy to give the salesperson insights.
  • The Teacher – Educates colleagues and is respected.
  • The Guide – Will give the salesperson insights to internal conditions.
  • The Climber – Wants to progress and any change that helps that will be received well.
  • The Blocker – Likes the status quo and blocks new ideas.

According to Anderson, the research shows that high-performing salespeople prioritise relationships with the Go-Getter, Sceptic and Teacher; average performers focus on the Friend, Climber and Guide. 

Conversations with Friends, Guides and Climbers are generally positive and easier but these conversations are less likely to result in action. Conversely, conversations with Go-Getters, Sceptics and Teachers are more difficult because they need more information and are less inclined to be helpful. But Gartner’s research is clear: the best salespeople work with these groups.

Salespeople need to make decisions on whom to approach and where to focus their energy, and they will tend towards the path of least resistance. The people with real power in an organisation are often hard to pin down and even harder to convince. 

Go-Getters, Sceptics and Teachers

So how do we identify and engage these respected and powerful decision-makers?

Build a Profile

You have to start somewhere. It won’t be immediately obvious who these decision-makers are, so for everyone you come into contact with, keep a space to make notes on them, in particular their behaviour. Ideally this will be your CRM, but failing that a Google doc or even a notepad. After a call or meeting as you start writing notes you’ll be forced to address the important question: is this person a key decision-maker?

Ask Revealing Questions

It can be hard to distinguish between different personas, for example, the Go-Getter and the Climber can both seem strongly motivated by change. The difference is that the Go-Getter wants change to improve the business and the Climber is focused on change which makes them look good. You need to dig into their motivations; ask questions such as:

“Why is this change important to your business?”

“How will this change affect you personally?”

“How did you hear about us?”

Whereas the Go-Getter is more likely to respond with very specific answers – they have really read through the solution, whereas a Climber looking for kudos is less likely to have done the research – this isn’t true in all cases and conclusions are never crystal clear. The point is, if you ask questions you will pick up snippets that will help form a picture.

Use LinkedIn and Trade Press

LinkedIn profiles and other trade press give a good insight into who the most powerful people in an organisation are.  Look for well curated LinkedIn profiles with detailed lists of accomplishments and references – of course, these can be window dressed but it’s hard to make up great results and an endorsement from a big hitter. In trade press look for people who appear regularly and are asked to comment on industry news.

Understand the Decision-Making Process

Having defined the key stakeholders in the buying process, you need to map out the decision-making process of your target business. This obviously depends on what you’re selling; let’s look at some broad categories and how strategies change for each one.

For these four broad buckets there will be different decision-making processes. For offerings that are of high strategic importance and high spend there are likely to be more stakeholders and the buying process will be more involved. So for your product you should define the following details and make sure your strategy is appropriate.

1.      Level of Strategic Importance

2.      Level of Spend

3.      Number of Stakeholders

4.      Type of Stakeholders

5.      The Most Important Factors Considered in the Purchase

Reaching Out to Decision-Makers

So we’ve identified the decision-makers and thought about the possible decision-making process – that’s great, but now the really hard grinding work begins. We need to get the value proposition across to the right person.

Content Marketing

Before we look at how to find decision-makers, let’s quickly look at how buying processes are evolving. There is a good article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that looks at how ‘digital natives’ are changing the buying process.

It cites some research by Merit that says 73% of 20 to 35-year-olds are involved in a buying decision and 33% are the sole decision-makers. A Google survey says that 70% of buying decisions start with a generic search long before companies are engaged.

HBR use these examples to suggest that decision-makers have often formed an opinion of a company through their online presence. Salespeople need to be aware that buyers are unlikely to be coming to them with no information, so they need to be prepared to deal with more informed decision-makers.

Outbound Marketing

The right data is crucial – you need to be reaching out to the right decision-makers. Once you have a profile then the research can begin; there are a number of good tactics to unearth the right people.

1.      Call the Company

2.      LinkedIn

3.      A B2B Business Intelligence Database like Red Flag Alert

4.      Business Websites

There are a few tools to expedite this process. Using a virtual assistant from Upwork to scour LinkedIn or websites to collect contact names is a huge time saver.

Using a tool like ContactOut, RocketReach or Hunter is a great way to get viable email addresses to reach out to people. Beware of GDPR here and make sure you’re comfortable that your approaches are compliant.

The Next Step

A successful approach will boil down to targeting the right people and the research tells us:

  • Your publicly available content matters – make it good and ensure it aligns with your sales messaging in meetings.
  • Target people that have influence and can block your sale.
  • Outsource the development of target lists.
  • Map the decision-making process typical of your industry.

Our business intelligence database has detailed information on 20 million key decision-makers. To understand how this can transform your B2B sales operation start a free trial today.

Published by Red Flag Alert October 16, 2018

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