In large, complex sales environments it's easy to forget the old adage "people buy from people they like." In this age of Facebook and Twitter it seems that many of the sales executives I encounter believe 140 character updates and Skype calls is enough to manage their relationships with prospects, influencers and customers. It's certainly a lot less expensive way to do business, but something important is lost.
I was reminded of this on a recent project. I was asked to assess the performance of senior sales executives working on opportunities ranging in value from $50-100M. Each opportunity involved a complex network of decision makers, influencers and partners. These executives were charged with developing new opportunities. The executives were vice presidents with at least 15 years sales experience.
The detailed findings will appear in an upcoming white paper, but the short answer is that the executives who spent the most face time with the entire relationship map were closing larger sales more quickly and had the most robust pipeline. I know - DUH! But, the critical difference was the most successful executives paid equal attention to influencers and partners. These executives understood that a tremendous amount of activity during a sales cycle is hidden from view. The only way to gain insight and access to that activity is by building deep personal relationships with a broad spectrum of players.
Four opportunities create an interesting control group that proves the point. All were just over $100M and had been in the works for at least 14 months, but none over 24 months. A combination of deal fatigue and budget pressures resulted a cut back on travel. All four deals were either stalled or seemed to be losing ground. Two of the four executives agreed to secure an increase in travel budgets for 90 days. Within 60 days those two executives were able to push the opportunity into the contract phase.
The key in both instances was reigniting the relationships with influencers and partners. It ended up in both cases that agencies and divisions that would be impacted by the project were throwing up roadblocks. The decision maker was struggling to reassure these groups. By reestablishing relationships with the full network of players, the executives were able to indirectly communicate with and dissolve the barriers being set up by these groups. But the most interesting finding is that they didn't run around pressuring anyone to act or point fingers. All they did was rebuild the relationships they'd established with seemingly unimportant people.
In strategic deals, no one is unimportant!