Know the Stakeholders, Close the Deal

Freelance consultants,  business owners and sales professionals rise,  fall and are measured on our ability to make sales and form strategic alliances that supply vital revenue to the businesses we represent.  To get those deals done,  we rely on stakeholders within the prospective client’s organization to advocate for us.  While there is but one signature on the proposal contract,  there are always powerful influencers whom the decision-maker is inclined to consult.  To successfully close an important deal,  you must identify the three types of stakeholders who powerfully influence important buying decisions: champions,  decision-makers and blockers.  Learn the motivations of these stakeholders and figure out what is on the line for them if the deal goes through,  or is allowed to fade away.

Step 1 is getting your foot in the door,  the first hurdle of the deal.  Step 1 requires that you enlist a project champion,  for it is s/he who invites you to pursue the deal and helps you achieve Step 2,  learning the identities of whom you must convince or outwit.  Your champion knows the decision-maker for the deal and will facilitate your access.  The champion influences the decision,  but s/he is not the decision-maker.  Some champions have relatively little power within the organization.  What they do have is the respect and the ear of the decision-maker.

Paul Weinstein,  an investor and adviser to technology,  media and entertainment companies,  notes that   “Champions understand the personalities and processes on a granular level and can navigate the culture in an organization.”  Weinstein also points out that the primary motivation of the champion is often status.  Champions want their colleagues and superiors to know that they not only can recognize an innovative opportunity when it appears,  they also have the ingenuity and power to build support and get approval.

The champion is typically at a point in his/her career where risks can be taken.  S/he is deeply invested in getting the deal signed.  The key to working effectively with the champion is to collaborate on a strategy and convince the decision-maker to green-light the proposal.

While champions are comfortable with risk,  decision-makers are invariably risk-averse.  They are C-suite executives who have the power to say yes or no to big deals and they will be held accountable for the final outcome.  Their name would be on the contract and if the deal goes sour,  it would be their reputation  (or possibly their job)  on the line. Because this individual has a lot to lose,  the anxiety level associated with the decision to give thumbs up or down will be in exact proportion to the level of expected scrutiny  (and embarrassment)  should they pass on a deal that subsequently brings big profits to a competitor,   or sign off on a deal that proves to be unfortunate.

Be aware that the decision-maker is unlikely to actually use whatever it is you’re selling,  or even know much about it.  Decision-makers focus on macro issues.  They rely on others to help them reach decisions,  because they don’t have time to immerse themselves in the details of anything other than big picture issues.  They will understand a strategic alliance,  however.

Win over your decision-maker by working with your champion to supply credible evidence that portrays the deal as a winner that will make him/her look good.   Help your champion to help the decision-maker perform due diligence by providing third-party validation,  analyses and other data that refutes all naysayers,  meaning the blockers.

We perceive blockers as haters and sometimes that is true.  Blockers seldom have the power to say yes,  but they do have the power to persuade decision-makers to say no.  Like champions,  blockers are also motivated by status.  They use the power of their relationship with and access to the decision-maker in a negative way and pour on the doubt to undermine and discredit you and your proposal.  Be advised that your blocker may be a sworn enemy of your champion and that s/he may be most willing to play dirty.  Your blocker may have a competing proposal for which s/he is champion,  his/her own bid to impress the higher-ups.

Paul Weinstein urges that you take blockers very seriously and strive to either win them over to your way of thinking or devise with your champion a method to neutralize their complaints.  If there is no personal enmity between your champion and the blocker,  then relevant and credible third-party support should rectify the problem.

In summary,  Weinstein says  “the secret to closing deals lies in mastering this balance.  If you can support your champion,  coax your blocker and  convince your decision-maker,  you’re golden.  Each of the three stakeholders brings a unique set of motivations to the table.  Your job is to understand them in order to align their interests and get the deal done.”

Thanks for reading,