For purposes of this discussion there are three types of contacts at top account prospects:
- Pioneers on the outer periphery of the opportunity and
- Referrers who know the prospect well enough to point you in the right direction and to validate your assumptions about pioneers & patrons and
- Patrons meaning contacts that speak with authority within the prospect and wield matching authority to sponsor and expand programs (for example, your complex sale).
With regard to patrons, it should be understood that patrons also have the authority to champion the builders of the programs that they choose to sponsor, which will include your company should your efforts to close the complex sale succeed.
But understand that patrons also have the authority to stop programs and banish program builders. Patrons usually exist in a realm (akin to a “round table”) that includes other patrons (“knights”). Top management benefits from the “healthy conflict” that transpires between these powerful individuals within the prospect business as changes to programs, policies & procedures and the makeup of teams are debated amongst the division heads, officers and other powerful influencers.
As I mentioned in the previous post, depending on the stage of evolution of your product brand within the marketplace (specifically, whether you are still operating under the radar, or not) and (if your complex product or solution is now visible) whether your overt market forays have been successful, then interact very carefully with patrons and at your sole peril. In addition, make absolutely certain that your sales team understands loud and clear the role that you need them to play with regard to the prospect and, specifically, how they handle healthy conflicts between patrons.
As a rule of thumb, I advise clients to prohibit their sales teams from taking sides in healthy conflicts between patrons. Rather, I use the image of a happy merchant who sells to everyone. I recommend that clients instruct their sales teams to set proper expectations about loyalty right up front when the complex sale is finally made to a patron.
Under no circumstances should a patron assume blind allegiance; rather, the sale should be presented as a first opportunity to partner with a stakeholder in the business for mutual benefit. Further, it should be understood by all that your sales team retains the right to partner with other stakeholders where follow-on opportunities emerge that promise mutual benefit. Retaining this perspective requires a high degree of maturity within the sales team as well as a mature understanding of the complex sale.
I regret to say that I have worked with a client who opted to commence sales with a powerful patron via an inept sales team that did end up taking sides. The end result was that the client lost out on considerable follow-on business. Worst of all, when the specific patron lost favor within the organization, the client’s sales team went down with that ship. Pity.
© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved