Earlier in my career, I worked for a large logistics company. As a young rep, I quickly learned how to navigate through the complex buying process – adapting to meet the individual needs of multiple stakeholders. Working with each of these influencers was necessary to get the deal done.
But just as quickly, I learned about another set of stakeholders I needed to navigate: folks that worked inside my company. Tucked away in various internal functions, these people were essential to closing deals.
Sales reps today must manage both external customers and internal customers. At my company, nearly every deal meant working with pricing, operations, marketing, IT, and other business process owners. I had to plead my case and partner with each of them to advance a deal. Often, my ask didn’t align with their priorities. In those cases, I had to adapt my approach in “selling” to them. This internal navigation was crucial to my success.
Many sales leaders assume sales people naturally have the personality to get along with anyone. Coordinating with different internal team members during the pursuit should be easy. But navigating internal stakeholders – successfully – requires a high level of skill and savvy.
It starts with situational awareness. Who needs to be involved? What are their goals and objectives? How does my ask impact them? Reps must pivot and adapt to the interests and priorities of the internal stakeholders.
We regularly train reps to manage multiple influencers in the deal. But reps should take the same stance internally. Everything a great rep does externally applies to the internal dimension as well. Our research finds the ability to navigate internally is increasingly a key success factor in complex sales. But surprisingly, this capability isn’t something most companies recruit for, train, or coach.
Below are three skills leaders and sales enablement must develop to improve rep internal selling effectiveness:
1. Speaking multiple languages. The first step in internal selling is having situational awareness. Stakeholders in different functions communicate differently. They care about different things. Reps must translate what they need for the deal into terms that resonate with their internal team members. This translation process requires knowing each stakeholder’s KPIs, decision style, and general personality.
As a rep, my perspective was much different than that of my finance colleague. I’d go into a deal pricing discussion thinking, "Let's get as many packages on the truck as possible." The finance person didn’t want packages that weren’t profitable. In contrast to me, he was goaled on profit, not volume. It also wasn’t helpful that I consistently scheduled our discussions 15 minutes before his weekly department meeting.
2. Negotiating respectfully. Reps must master both internal and external negotiation. Often, the internal negotiation process can be much more challenging. As reps learn to speak the language of others, they must consider their “ask.” What is the range of reason in the negotiation? What is the “good, better, or best” outcome? How can you create a win/win situation for both parties and the company?
Coach reps to do the work upfront to determine what they really need to close the deal. Don’t think of it as, “I need to beat pricing.” Instead ask, “How can I work with pricing to get this deal closed?” Reps must consider their coworker’s goals. They should then position their request (not demand) in a way that aligns with the goals and MBOs of other functions.
3. Following through. In the fast-moving environment of sales, it’s easy to get excited about big deals. But after the thrill of the chase, my solution had to be right or else my customers wouldn’t buy again. In the same way, reps must deliver on their commitments to their colleagues.
There were times when I had to work with operations to alter a standard process to win an opportunity. But every once and awhile, I found myself asking for operational changes for low-probability deals. I hadn’t really thought through what might happen to my internal credibility if those deals failed to materialize. Don’t let your reps waste their internal social capital on poorly qualified opportunities. After a failed effort, internal partners will be much less accommodating to the next request.
Sales Effectiveness Starts at Home
In today's complex business environment, selling is harder than ever. The myth of the solo “lone wolf” contributor is long gone. Reps must be equipped to drive the sales process externally and internally to win deals. Help reps increase their internal situational awareness and multi-lingual skills so they can effectively sell internally.
Activating the teamwork for today’s consensus buying requires thoughtful planning and execution. Reps need a new toolset, skillset, and mindset to effectively align all influencers on the buying side. And they need new strategies for teaming internally.
We’d love to share our latest insights on how sales enablement can drive effectiveness in consensus deals. Contact us to learn more and win more.
About The Author
Senior consultant with significant expertise in sales strategy, training, enablement, and transformations. Peter combines his background as a sales practitioner with practical consulting experience to drive successful client engagements.