Article (May-2021)


Pointers for building consensus

K.S. Ahluwalia

Designation : -   Executive Coach and Mentor

Organization : -  Excalibre, Noida


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There is no decision maker

In days long past, one was instructed to find "the authority", that individual invested with the power to bind their organisation to a deal. It was believed, and was often true, that this high-level executive, if properly pursued, was all that was necessary to win a deal. The person at the top of the organisational chart would force his will on the rest of the organisation, over any protestations to the contrary.

This person, "the authority" no longer exists. Instead, there are "decision-makers", each of whom is invested with some power-and some amount of influence-when it comes to any decision to change.

Leaders are rarely willing to force their decision on the people in their charge, believing that they hired smart people to make decisions and execute those decisions. These leaders now know that without the support of the people in their charge, execution will be difficult-if it is even possible.

If you are looking for a single decision-maker in a B2B sales or B 2 C sales, you are unlikely to find one. Instead, you must now seek out all who are going to participate in any decision to change.

Influence is stronger than authority

Authority isn't what it used to be. Influence, on the other hand, is what it has always been: quiet, invisible, and powerful beyond belief. Influence is even more powerful than authority, something that has been true throughout human history.

In a room full of people, influence can be very hard to discern with the naked eye.

The quiet person who sits without saying a word, but who is the subject matter expert the rest of the team relies on to interpret what they are hearing, may seem like someone with little concern-and no real impact on the course of the meeting. That person, however, may be the linchpin, the person who whispers yay or nay quietly into the ear of those who will cast votes to move forward or choose your competitor.

The most powerful forces in the universe are invisible, like gravity and radiation. If you are not looking for and working towards uncovering influence, you will struggle to win a consensus.
Your client doesn't know who is deciding

When your prospective client lets an RFP, they have a well-defined process-even if it doesn't serve them nearly as well as they might believe, and that process invariably includes the stakeholders that have been assembled to review proposals and presentations. There are many deals that look like this, but there as many or more without a formal process.

When there is no defined process, ad hoc teams are brought together to decide. Your client doesn't often know who is going to be part of that team. In fact, you may work with one department inside your dream client and get all the way to the end of the sales conversation only to find that another department has torpedoed your deal. The department that kills your deal does so because they have competing interests-and sometimes because they were left out of the process.

The responsibility to identify the people who are going to be affected by any decision to change and build consensus now falls to you. This is true even when your dream client tells you consensus is unnecessary, and even when they believe bringing in other stakeholders is a risk to your initiative. As always, it is your responsibility to control the process.

You still need executive leadership

In many of the companies you are pursuing, there is a competition over priorities. We often believe that the only displacement we need to make is the one where our competitor is removed. I would this were true, but it isn't. The truth of the matter is that as often as not, we are not only displacing a competitor, we are also displacing other priorities.

Without executive support, consensus is difficult.

The stakeholders who support you are going to have to make the case that you should displace your competitor-or be chosen over them in any contest. They are going to have to make a case to their executive leadership team as to why they are choosing you.

If executive leadership is part of the process, you have a greater likelihood of gaining their support, support you may also need when your deal runs into trouble throughout the process of building consensus. Executive leadership is often the tie-breaker or final arbiter on important decisions.

K S Ahluwalia - Executive Coach and Mentor- Excalibre, Noida

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