Written by Kevin Jones, Principal – Ignite Selling

Creating a strategic plan is like painting an oil painting. Artists start with the background, and then add layer upon layer adding more detail and nuances to the picture. In sales, the “picture” we create is the graphical and narrative depiction of how your customer is going to make their decision. Having the background and additional details will allow you to determine the appropriate strategy moving forward.

Part of analyzing the key players is answering the question, who will play a role in the decision. Beginning with the background, you add layer upon layer until you have a clear and detailed picture. You will not include everyone in your analysis, but you should include the following people:
• Who has buying influence
• Who will be affected by the decision
• Who are influential over others

The idea that complex sales involve lots of moving parts is not a new idea, nor a particularly interesting one. And every thinker who’s written about selling agrees that there are likely to be many decision influencers. All of these writers say that an effective strategy must account for each of them. But how?

Step one – Who’s involved?
First, identify all individuals who may potentially play a role. Consider not only those you know by name, but also functional areas. For example, if you do not personally know anyone in Procurement but are certain someone will be involved, list Procurement. Along with the customer’s internal staff, consider whether external resources might be involved, such as consultants or partners. It is important to cast a wide net and not eliminate anyone out of hand.

Step two – How do they feel?
The second step is to stipulate how each of them feels about us and our solution, especially when compared to our competition. What is their temperature? Are they for us? Against us? Somewhere in between?

Advocates are our friends, those we would expect to be in our corner in a fight. Does he have a preference for us over our competitors? Is he a raving fan (tough to find, by the way, and not always a good thing)? Adversaries, on the other hand, are standing in our way. They are not necessarily in the opposite corner; in fact, they might be trying to shut the fight down altogether. These are the people who want to see us lose, and they may also want to see the other guys lose, too. Is she someone who’s spoken openly against us? Is he a raving fan of the competition? Does he have a project or budget which would be hindered by our progress? What about those who are difficult to measure? Are there some “Switzerlands” in your customer’s key player mix, folks who just don’t want to take sides?

Step three – Are they influential?
The third step is to estimate their influence over the decision. How powerful is each of the players? Is she “the” decision maker? The person may not be the one who says “yes,” but can she say “no?” Is he an opinion leader within the organization? Is he known for persuasive skills? These are the sorts of questions you should ask. We can use a similar scale to map a key player’s influence.

The measure of someone’s influence is typically very specific to the opportunity at hand. Their influence may wax or wane, depending on many factors, including, but not limited to, their title and function. Someone who is highly influential may have the final “yes” authority. On the other hand, they may simply be able to veto the decision.

Why so simple?
When you map out your players, you will often find a “picture” that is unique to the situation in which you are working. Decisions are not always made in the same fashion, even inside the same organization. It is important to remember that this picture will be unique for almost every decision, with different players having varying levels of influence and varying “temperatures” about the potential suppliers. To assemble a key player Influencer Map, map each person on an Adversary to Advocate scale and on a High Influence to Low Influence scale.

Creating the Picture – the Assigning Process
Effective sales strategies work thoroughly to build the framework, but it is important to allow for movement. Too much can change over the long course of a complex sale. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s a recipe for failure. Knowing how things stand with key players is always advantageous, if not always comforting. But even if it reveals how poor your situation is, the “assigning process” allows you to understand where you are.

There are two main goals in going through the assigning process. First, the process can give you a reasonably clear and reasonable accurate picture of the key players and their importance in the decision. It is a quick visual of not just who’s who in the zoo, but which of them ought to be let out of their cages. The second goal of the process is to help create a strategy for improving your position. Sometimes the assigning process does not reveal what you know as much it reveals what you don’t know. This too is helpful. There may be key players you are not able to map because you do not know either how influential they are or how they feel about you. These gaps can help establish next steps.

Research, as well as practical experience, tells us that multiple minds considering a problem will yield better solutions. This is true in developing sales strategies, too. On our own, we tend to rely on answers we know. We are too close to the situation to be genuinely creative or insightful. Bringing others into the mix will shake things up, introduce fresh perspective, and yield unexpected and powerful insights. The ease of use provided by a visual tool, then, will allow you to bring others up to speed quickly. They can challenge your thinking, poke holes in your assumptions, and raise new questions about your approach. In the end, your picture will be richer and more complete.

For more details and graphics of the Mapping Process, see Premeditated Selling: Tools for Developing the Right Strategy for Every Opportunity. Order here.