For the vast majority of those selling consulting services, building consensus is a must. Having a great relationship with a key professional is not enough anymore - you need to gain the approval of many of his peers, partners, or superiors. While we cover this in-depth in our workshops, I want to provide you today with three helpful tips to get it done.
First, figure out who decides, formally and informally.
Ideally, you’ll identify the power sponsors, the people with influence who support your solution. The easiest way to find them is to ask your contact a simple question: “Whom do we need on our team if we want to get the green light for this project?”
There are other stakeholders to consider. These people may not be on the buying committee, but their cooperation is almost always necessary to ensure that your solution produces the promised results. To find them, ask your contact: “Who will be affected when we implement the solution?”
Then there are the invisible influences: those within the company who have no formal or direct connection to your solution but are highly respected or politically powerful and can sway a decision.
You might need to make suggestions to help your contact think of all of the necessary people. You can say: “We normally find that if we bring in the operations staff and the IT people early in the process, we are more likely to understand their needs and receive their buy-in. This makes it a lot easier to get things done. Whom should we get on board early?”
Then, find out what they need.
Carefully consider all the stakeholders and their preferences. Many of these people won’t be expecting you to reach out, and you will be surprised how much you learn and how much it means to them that you want their voice to be heard on the project. As simple as it seems, very few boutique consultancies do that.
Some will be supporters, maybe even power sponsors, who want you to succeed and will do all they can to help you. All you have to do for them is provide the information they need to champion you within the company.
As for those who oppose you, figure out why. Do they have their own horses in the race that will lose if you win? Will their power be diminished by your solution? Are they against change simply because it makes them feel uncomfortable?
Finally, work through conflicts and constraints.
Once you’ve figured out where these conflicts and constraints lie, you can work toward building a solution agreeable to all groups.
Schedule meetings with groups within your client to discuss any issues that you may have to work through. Call it a pre-proposal meeting and let the client build with you the potential solutions. It’s not easy to do this, but if you don’t, the stakeholder with the most power will find a way to impose their own preferences and priorities.
Similarly, leveraging your existing relationships inside the company is not a substitute for building consensus. If you win the project solely because your champion has the most power, your solution will be hobbled down the line by internal resistance - your team will have to deal with aggressiveness or bad faith from those who didn’t want you there. And that's a recipe for trouble, poor results, and reputational damage for your brand.
"It’s difficult to build a consensus around an initiative that isn’t going to make a difference. There isn’t a great enough impact to make it worth the pain that accompanies change.
The more compelling the need underlying your solution, the easier it is to gain consensus. If your idea is the difference between life and death for your client, it will be easier to get people to pay attention and work through consensus building. It’s about your client’s very survival."
Source: Anthony Iannarino
In a typical firm with 100-500 employees, an average of 7 people are involved in most buying decisions.
The B2B sales process is longer and much more complex than ever a few years ago. There are more decision-makers involved with many more touch points along the way. This is also true for most of us in the consulting space.
Source: Gartner Group
Do you sell to a single decision-maker, or are there more stakeholders involved in a decision?
If it's the former, it's worth reflecting about:
If you want to sell 6-figure consulting projects, you will certainly need to invest time and attention into it.