Sales leadership & the art of relationship building in sales

BY:  Rebecca Herson
July 1, 2021
Updated on January 15, 2023

Table of Contents

When it comes to B2B sales, the deal doesn’t happen overnight. It’s highly unlikely that sales employees will connect immediately with a decision-maker and they’ll choose your solution unilaterally. Effective executives consult with colleagues, employees, and often middle managers to see how your product could affect the company, so it’s never enough to focus on simply winning over the final decision-maker.

It’s a lot more likely that you’ll get your foot in the door of the organization through a connection with an employee or manager who likes the sound of your product/service and becomes your main champion, but sellers have to work through a lot more stakeholders to close the deal. Some of them might be easy to win over, but others could need a lot more convincing before they agree that your solution is a good match for the company’s needs.

Sales leadership sharing the art of relationship building

The art of making a sale means building a relationship with the different stakeholders you might encounter along the way, and that requires anticipating their primary concerns and needs and knowing how to speak their language. The sales leadership of many top performing companies have invested time in their careers to build and hone these skills.

Here are some of the stakeholders whose opinion could make a difference to your chances of sales success, and what sales representatives need to know to be ready to connect with them and drive the deal.

1. Influencers

In the world of B2B sales, influencers have nothing to do with social media. Instead, these are people who don’t make the final decision, but whose opinion does have an impact on it. They’re sometimes also referred to as advisors, because that’s what they do: give advice.

Influencers could be stakeholders inside the company, like an HR manager who points out that their employees have been complaining about how difficult the official time-tracker is to use. But they could also be someone outside the company, like a trusted review site or thought leader who recommends your solution.

2. End users

End users are the people who’ll be using your product. In most situations, they have very little to do with the actual purchase decision, but good executives will bear their needs and preferences in mind. A product that’s hated by employees isn’t likely to get very far, even if no employee has a voice in the matter, because executives want to keep employees happy, and more importantly, want their employees to USE the selected solution.

Sellers need to refer to ease of use and benefits for end users, even as they focus the majority of their sales conversations on the overall value the solution brings to the business.

3. Decision makers

Decision makers are the most important members of the purchase process. It could be the CEO or other executive, but in large, digitally-transformed companies, sometimes department heads and VPs make the decisions about new tools. It’s a mistake for sellers to assume that someone who isn’t c-level isn’t a decision maker, so do your research with care.

Bear in mind that the decision maker isn’t always the economic buyer. Pricing is often a secondary concern to the decision maker; instead, they want to know about the strategic business benefit your solution will bring to their organization, or how it will make their job easier. Sometimes the most important factor is how it will raise their profile within the organization, or position them well for their next role.

4. Blockers

Sadly, most sales encounter blockers at some point, who place obstacles in the way of the purchase. Blockers can pop up from anywhere and at any point in the sale: it could be someone from the IT team concerned about integrating a new tool or its security ramifications, a finance officer worried about budget and ROI, or procurement holding up a sale over contractual negotiations.

But blockers are never the end of the road. Sales employees need to identify their underlying concerns – whether those are financial, legal, interoperability, etc. – and address them overtly to reassure blockers and convert them into champions. As they say, when someone closes the door in your face, just climb in the window. 🙂

5. Technical/researchers

Researchers, or technical stakeholders, are the ones who evaluate and test your solution. They are often both verifying that it addresses the company’s pain points, and checking that it’s a good fit for their company.

They might be IT personnel who check if it integrates with the rest of their tools; in-house legal eagles who make sure it meets regulations; or cybersecurity teams looking to see if it creates vulnerabilities within their infrastructure. Any information they gather will reach the decision makers and be taken into account. Beware – these people can become blockers if not taken seriously!

6. Champions

Champions are our favorite stakeholders! These are people who love your product and support it throughout the evaluation process. They might also be end users, influencers, or technical researchers; what matters is that they promote your solution to the rest of the stakeholders.

The champion is often the person who first introduces the solution to the organization. You’ll want to use them as much as possible to help connect your sales employees to the decision makers they need to convince. Champions also play a key role in sharing positive information with other stakeholders in the company.

Motivators for champions may be that your solution makes their job easier, or bringing innovative solutions into the company may make their daily job more meaningful. Like the decision maker, they may also be looking for ways to make themselves stand out positively in the organization, either for this role or their next one.

Relationships with multiple stakeholders: the key to successful sales

Successful sales relies heavily on the ability of your sales employees to build a relationship with each of the stakeholders involved in making the purchase, from influencers and champions through blockers and on to decision-makers. Your sellers need the right sales coaching to help them distinguish between different personas, practice the different types of conversations they’ll need, and equip them to connect effectively with the individuals who’ll drive the sale forwards.

Second Nature’s customized AI-powered coaching simulation gives sales employees the opportunity to practice each type of conversation until they feel confident that they can manage the entire purchase journey through every stakeholder. Try Second Nature now.

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About the author

Rebecca Herson

Rebecca is head of marketing at Second Nature.

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