The Future of Sales: The Death of the Economic Buyer

Ralph Grimse

Bill, a rep for a software firm, was on track to sell a large deal to a manufacturing company. He had known the CEO for more than 10 years, and in fact considered him a friend. He even attended his daughter’s wedding last year.

But the deal had recently stalled. Bill had gone through the normal process, educating the stakeholders about the technical merits and ROI. That list of stakeholders, however, seemed to grow every day. Beyond the executive leadership and IT teams, Bill was now expected to meet with plant managers, HR, and, most recently, a team that would be using the software.

Ten years ago, this would have been a simple deal; Bill would have presented to the CEO, and if he liked his proposal he would have signed the contract. While that still might happen in select cases, the trend has moved away from single buyers, even at the CEO level. All complex solutions are scrutinized heavily for adoption, on-going use and ultimately the return of value for the investment. End-users -- and their manager and their manager – are increasingly driving the decision process, in addition to any other function that may be peripherally impacted. It’s become the job of the rep to round up support for not only the solution, but the need for change in the first place.

In the world of complex sales, the concept of one, absolute decision maker buyer – the economic buyer – is dead. Yes, the budget will come from somewhere. But, as in Bill's deal, even the CEO won’t move forward without the support of his team. Every company has seen too many bad projects, bad decisions, and bad implementations, to justify a purchase without full support. Today, every decision is seen through the lens of fear and risk. Prudence and personal risk management have become a central goal. This means getting the buy-in of a host of people across the organization.

Welcome to the Future of Sales.

The rise of the consensus sale has brought four critical challenges to sales organizations:

  1. Late deals are vaporizing. Deals that were projected to close this quarter, not only didn’t close this quarter, but there was never a deal to make. The consensus environment has illuminated the “deal mirage”: the champion wasn’t really a champion. The problem wasn’t really a problem. The solution wasn’t really a solution. And on and on … until the deal wasn’t really a deal.
  1. Forecasts are way off. Forecasting has always been a delicate art form despite being masked in science. Today too many forecast calls are “random walks” through the pipeline. Reps lack the situational awareness of the deal. Both reps and managers are focused on factors that have no bearing on being able to predict the outcome of an opportunity.
  1. Deals are smaller, involving narrower solutions. Reps are starting the conversation too narrow and are ill-equipped to navigate upstream to expand the opportunity. This is leaving reps with a perilous decision – take the smaller deal now or risk losing a more expanded, longer sales cycle deal. It’s no surprise that we see a lot of small deals and failed land-and-expand selling strategies.
  1. Pricing suppression. All stakeholders can agree that they don’t want to pay too much. (In fact, often it’s the only thing they can agree on.) It’s the easiest lever for reps to pull, and it’s a crutch when they can’t build consensus. Translating a solution’s value differently to align with the needs of different stakeholders is hard.

In the next few weeks we'll go deeper into how consensus buying impacts sales organizations – the sales leaders, field reps, and sales enablement teams who are trying to make the number. We believe reps need to be armed with a new toolset, skillset, and mindset to effectively align all the buyers on the problems AND the solutions.

To get ahead of this 2019 trend and gain access to our findings, contact us today. 

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.