How sales teams think about our stakeholders

Stakeholders. If it wasn’t for them, buying would be easy. Divergent views, different and sometimes opposing needs, wilful, unavailable, supportive, enthusiastic, expert, and less so.
They are all there, and Category Management asks us to consider who they are, so we can both help them through the process and understand their needs.

On the other side of the fence sits the sales team, who also want to interact with our stakeholders, to influence them. Here’s the big question: why does the sales team target the people they do?

There’s an absolutely seminal text and approach to sales called ‘Strategic Selling’ by Miller and Heiman, which should be required reading in all purchasing courses.One of the critical concepts outlined is the concept of different buyer roles. Not ‘buyer’ in the sense of the professional purchasing person, but ‘buyer’ in the sense of the people making key decisions about the purchase – our stakeholders.

Three main roles are identified. The economic buyer is the final decision maker, the person with the authority and budget, the eventual yes / no decision. For the sales team, this is an absolutely critical person to have on board to get a sale through. We understand this as the ‘Accountable’ person in a particular area. The technical buyer is a gatekeeper on the technical / specification aspects of the purchase and can also provide a go / no-go input. Manage the technical buyer to say yes and the sales team have one less barrier. The third buyer is the ‘user buyer’ – the people who will actually use the product or service and think about the effect it has on a day to day basis.

The critical insight here is the active management of each of these people or groups by a good sales team for an individual sale; and also the recognition that for any particular sale the people playing these roles may change.

What does this mean for us? Firstly, in the development of a category plan, we are contemplating stakeholders who will be in these roles for a number of different sales: this provides an immediate disconnect from a category plan ( if one exists) to the immediate experience of a particular sale. This suggests that we really need to explain the distinction here to our stakeholders, and for them to understand the role that the sales team has them playing.

Secondly, in the category plan, we need to map the individual sales ( or blocks of sales) which are likely to be an outcome of that category plan, looking at how they will need to be managed over time. The discontinuity from category plan to actual commercial activity can be significant if this is not done well.

Thirdly, it means that when we move from category plan into negotiation, that emphasis on stakeholder increases in significance: we really need to think of the stakeholders which the sales team may be targeting, and less about the usual contacts internally.

Thats just as a start; once you start contemplating the real meaning of this as an insight into stakeholders, there is much more to come.

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