If you think your client is the only person affected by his or her pain, think again. Whatever the issue is, you can bet that its effects are rippling throughout the organization. And so will the solution you bring to the table. So, wouldn’t it be helpful to consider the radius of this problem from the beginning?
Of course, it would. The last thing you want is to have other people unexpectedly come knocking with their opinions and foil your progress. The more people involved in making decisions, the longer the sale is going to take and the less likely it will be to succeed.
Here’s the good news: There is a simple question you can ask to avoid this.
Today we’ll be diving into the 5th episode for the #SalesQuestions Series in Modern Sales. “Who else is this affecting?”
We should be asking this question to understand:
- The depth and breadth of the client’s pain
Without understanding the reach of the problem within the organization, we can’t make a decision about the types of solutions we can provide — or, whether we’re even the right fit. If your client can’t answer this question, you’ll know that your next step is to help them figure out who else is involved. If they’re reluctant to answer this question, you’ll need to explain why it’s critical to have this conversation.
- The organization’s hierarchy in its decision-making process
Learning about the organization’s structure, decision-makers, and influencers can help you and your client identify who will need to be involved in implementing the solution and at what point in the process. By the way, helping your client think through this is one way to deepen their pain, and therefore, establish value and desire for working with you.
- How to make the problem less complicated for your client
The larger the scope of the problem and the more people it affects, the less likely you’ll succeed with the sale. We can help our clients narrow and more tightly define the problem so that fewer people are involved and there is a lower risk. This is a great way for the client to become a stronger advocate for the sale within the organization.
Mentioned in this episode:
Why doesn’t Portland salt its roads?
#SalesQuestions – What’s going on?
#SalesQuestions – How long has this been happening?
#SalesQuestions – When did you notice this was a problem?
#SalesQuestions – What have you done to fix it?
For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.
#SalesQuestions – Who else is this affecting?:
It snows here in Portland, Oregon, but the city doesn’t use salt to treat the roads. Why not? Most other cities use rock salt to clear snow from the roads. I wondered this the second year I lived here in Portland, Oregon when we had record snowfall, 12 inches in just a 24 hour period. The roads were covered with a thick sheet of ice. I kept thinking, “Where’s the salt?” The city doesn’t do much to service the roads once the snow falls, but they do proactively treat the roads not with rock salt, but with magnesium chloride applied as a liquid solution. This alternative to rock salt is safer for the environment and less damaging to the roadways. In fact, the road repair bill after using rock salt is much higher than using the liquid alternative, and there’s another hidden cost of using rock salt. Storage. Sure, rock salt is cheaper to buy, but it’s big and bulky and it has to be stored somewhere.
What appears to be a simple purchase, rock salt for the roads, actually affects a whole lot of people. Oregon’s Department of Transportation, maintenance crews, city facilities, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and of course all of the people and things who live here. Even though it may not appear that way from the outset, the larger the purchase, the more people it affects, even for a bag of salt. And the same is true in every B2B sale. All of those people who the purchase affects, they’re going to have an opinion about it, and some of them will have influence or even authority over the decision. In today’s episode, I’ll cover the one question you can ask to find out who else is involved in a purchase, how it affects them now and in the future, and how you can start asking it today.
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host. Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.
This is the Sales Question Series here on Modern Sales, where we’re talking about the six questions to ask early in every sale. In today’s episode we’ll be covering the question, “Who else is this affecting?” Each of the episodes will have #salesquestions at the beginning of the title in your podcast feed so you can quickly find them. This is episode number five of six, and if you’d like to start from the beginning, just scroll backwards in your feed. The question I cover in this episode along with all of the other questions in the series should be asked at an early stage of the sale.
Before we dig in, this episode is brought to you by Serve Don’t Sell, my sales training and consulting firm. If you or your team would like help digging deeper, selling business outcomes and real value, and get rid of costly lost deals or price negotiations, I can help you with remote and onsite training options. Just head over to liston.io to learn more about how it works.
And now today’s question. Whatever you’re selling, you might be surprised by the involvement of other people later in the sales process. This is maybe an unpleasant surprise. They might have different or even unforeseen needs. They may spring big new requirements on you that you weren’t aware of. They may have requests that you can’t meet. On the plus side, they might be operating with budgets that you could have access to, but wouldn’t you need to know that? And you could be underleveraged if you don’t know how nasty and how deep the problem is for your client. That is to say there could be more people within an organization that you could help who have tons of pain right now, but you just don’t know it yet, and wouldn’t it be useful if you knew?
Now, the reason you don’t have the complete picture yet about who all this is affecting in a deal is maybe very simply the person you’re talking to hasn’t even thought through the ramifications of the problem, and everyone who it affects. Maybe your client’s guarded and they’re not forthcoming about who else is involved in the sale. That is, there’s not enough trust built up yet. Or maybe it’s as simple as this. You didn’t ask who else is involved and your client didn’t think to tell you. The good news is, there’s a fix for all of these situations, especially that last one. It’s an easy fix, my friend.
So here’s the solution, and of course it’s to start asking your client, “Who else is affected by this?” We want to know who else is affected by the pain that they’re facing and who else would be affected by the solution as well. Almost nothing is neutral in this life of ours, including, yes, I’m going to say it, including your solution. There will be positives, there will be negatives. In my view, solving every problem begets another problem, so we know that we’ll have positive and negative effects and you better anticipate both to increase the likelihood that you’ll be in a position to truly help your client, and of course, win the opportunity in front of you and help your clients win as well.
And the best way to do all of this is to ask this one question: “Who else is this affecting?” In my experience, most people will just answer you without hesitation, but if you ask and your client hesitates or is guarded in their answer, take a second to explain why it’s so important that you both understand the full implications of the problem and what a solution could do for them and others within the organization.
Now, the goal of this question is pretty simple. Let’s take a mundane example. If you got a cut on your arm, it would hurt at the site of the cut. Yes, we know that, but the pain would also emanate outward, affecting surrounding areas that haven’t been damaged at all. Your client’s pain works the same way. So the goal of our question is to understand the reach of the problem within the organization. How deep is that cut, and therefore how much pain is felt by others, and how far away are they? How far is this emanating outward? Of course, the bigger the cut, the larger the radius of pain. I will stop, I promise, with this analogy. It’s dead. I promise.
What this will tell you is something about the organizational structure. How is this company organized? You may get different answers from different clients about who else is affected. Of course, that will be a direct reflection of how each company is organized and structured, and how the decision making process works. This question is also going to give you clues about that decision making process and the particular decision makers and influencers involved in the decision, and don’t you want to know that too? Yes, you do. Of course you do. The more people the problem touches, the more difficult the sales process will be, because you’re likely to have more decision makers involved, and gosh, this is an awful truth. The more decision makers you have involved, we know that on average two things are true: Your sale is going to take a lot longer, and your sale is a lot less likely to succeed. It’s unclear which is the cause and which is the effect here, but we know that there’s an inverse relationship between the number of decision makers involved and the likelihood of winning an opportunity. So it goes. But it sure would be useful to understand this upfront, wouldn’t it?
Now, I want to give you a quick note here. I’m not arguing for you to expand the scope of the pain within the organization. In fact, there’s a little bit of a paradox here. Yes, I’ve given you the advice all throughout the course of this podcast, and I don’t mean this episode, I mean all across the Modern Sales podcast, I’ve given you the advice that one of the core things you need to do to establish value and drive desire for your client is to really understand and deepen the pain. One of the ways that you can deepen that pain is by helping your client understand all the people affected by it, which brings us to the current moment. The more people affected, somewhat paradoxically, the less likely it is for you to succeed with that sale.
I’ll give you an example. If I were selling software or services that needed to be used by every single person within an organization, boy, will that be complicated. In fact, the likelihood of success of a sale like that is just by definition pretty low, and the reason is, it’s equally complicated to implement, it’s riddled with risk, and there are all kinds of people, priorities, and internal imperatives that can change or get in the way of that sale. And so I want you to take this away before I move on to the psychology of what’s happening when we ask this question. I want you to take away this key point: We want to identify all of the different people who are affected by the pain, but we may also, after we identify them, want to help our client narrow the scope of this particular opportunity so that the nature of the sale is slightly less complicated. Even though we identify more decision makers or more people who are affected by this pain, we can help our client define and strategize on how to sell it internally, and we should do that.
Now, let’s move on to the psychology of what happens when we ask this question. When you ask, “Who else is this affecting?” There’s quite a bit happening in your client’s head as they ponder the question. The first thing they’re going to do is start scanning for the involvement of other people. They’re going to be thinking about it. “Yeah, great question. Who else is this affecting?” They’re going to be thinking about the people they interact with on a daily basis. They may start to think about different departments. They may start to think about the nature of the problem in front of them and who else might want to be involved in that. They’re going to start scanning all across the organization, which is what we want them to do, and as they think about the ramifications of the problem and the other people involved, they’ll also think about the likelihood that those other people will help or hinder the progress of the project you’re looking to help them with. You want to help them solve their pain, get rid of their pain. They also want to do that.
As they’re doing their scan, they’re going to be thinking about the different personalities, the different stakeholders, the different decision makers, maybe even some influencers who might be involved. No, they are not Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, capable of complex computing at a moment’s notice, but they will start thinking about it, and that’s kind of the point here, because your client may start to grasp the complexity of the problem along with the complexity of the sale, if the problem isn’t narrowed or tightly defined.
So back to this idea of getting too many people involved, if we look at the pain as a gigantic problem, it’s going to affect more people by default. We know that’s the case. And so by tightening the definition of what the pain is, it’ll also reduce the number of people involved, which can be extremely helpful. Of course, it’s going to reduce the value that you can deliver, but again, there’s that double edged sword. We don’t want the sale to take forever, and especially the first time you’re working with a client, it can be a very good idea to tighten up that problem statement so that we have less people involved and there’s lower risk, let’s be honest, on the side of your client to go forward with you. This is a great way to both deliver insight and value to your client and get them to become a stronger advocate for the sale, and it’s pretty simple, right? We’re just going to ask that one question. “Who else is this affecting?”
Now there’s a few different avenues that your client may go down when you ask that question. The first is, they know exactly who’s involved. They’re totally open with you. They have all of the information that you need to proceed. Their answer is thorough, exhaustive, and accurate, and wow, that would be amazing, but that doesn’t happen very often, does it? No, it doesn’t. They’re going to need some help, right? So on the flip side of that, maybe they don’t know who’s involved. Maybe their answer is incomplete, and you know that you have some work to do on this front to create forward movement in the sale.
If it’s the case that your client can’t answer the question, “Who else is this affecting?” Then we know that your next step is to help your client figure out who else is involved. Help them out by suggesting job titles of other people who might be involved in the sale. Here’s how that might sound. “In our experience, we typically see people from IT and marketing also involved in these deals. Does that sound right for your organization too?” Now, your client can go any direction they want with this, but the key idea here is that you want to share your experience in solving pains like these and working on opportunities like these with your client to help them navigate how best to get this thing done.
So the first potential answer you may hear is they know exactly who’s involved. The second one is maybe they don’t know who’s involved, and they’re going to need your help, and the third potential answer is what I would term incomplete. They’re holding back, and it’s maybe not clear why. And so they may be thinking a few things. One is, “Wow, this is going to be hard and a lot of work.” And that’s a realistic thought, because we know that all of those things could be true. They might also be thinking, “Gosh, I don’t want to bother so many other people in this process.” Or, “I don’t want to get them involved so early in this process. I’m just not ready to do this yet. I just want some basic information.”
Whatever is the cause of the resistance that you’re hearing, what I would do is take a step back and explain to your client why it’s so critical to have the conversation in the first place. Tell them the advantage of involving others early on, who needs to be involved, and when this is critical. They don’t need to be involved right now, and how best to approach it.
So when you ask, “Who else is this affecting?” And you get a little bit of pushback, you might just ask your client, “Is it all right if I explain to you why it’s so important to figure this out now?” And whenever you ask for permission, almost always people will say yes, and then I would go on to say, “What I’m trying to do is understand the depth and the breadth of this problem within your organization right now. Once we understand that, I’ll have a better sense of the different types of solutions we can provide, or even if we’re the right fit. Maybe we’ll both decide that we’re not the right fit right now and you can go elsewhere, but I really can’t make that decision until I get a little better sense of who else might be involved in this. Now is it okay if I ask you a few more questions about that?”
Again, almost everybody will say yes to that, and now you have permission to start asking more questions and clarifying questions, which I’ll get to in a second, about who else this is affecting. Now, if your client begins to open up, now you’re a team working together. You’re both collaborating to solve this problem. If they don’t open up, no big deal. This is probably not the best time to move forward because they’re guarded.
Now at this point, you’re probably wondering when you know you’ve heard enough, and the answer is you know who else is feeling the pain, why, and how acutely they’re feeling it. You can say who’s involved. You can say why they’re involved. You understand at least a bit about the decision making process and hierarchy, and you have a rough plan and agreement from your client about who, if anyone, needs to be involved and at what point in the sales process.
Now to take action on this question, I recommend you start implementing it right away, and all you have to ask is, “Who else is this affecting?” Some followup questions you might ask include, “Is this felt department-wide, across regions? Across different cross-functional departments? Are there adjacent business or functional units that are also feeling it? Are they involved in the selection process for this? If so, is this a priority for them too? Why or why not, and when should we involve them?” All of these questions are there at your disposal. Again, as I emphasize throughout all of these podcast episodes, you really want to ask as many followup questions as you can, of course, without being annoying. Hopefully I haven’t become too annoying too soon here.
So that wraps up the episode on the sales question, “who else is this affecting?” That’s it for this episode of the Sales Question Series. In next week’s episode, I’ll be covering the final question in the series, which will turn the tables and have your client explain to you why you’re so important to their organization and why they should hire you immediately. Yes, one question can help you do all of that.
Until then, if you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button in iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info as well as other exclusive sales content I put out by signing up for my email newsletter at liston.io/newsletter. It’s totally free and it’s linked here in the show notes.
And finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more of your big, hairy, complicated products and services to big companies, I can help both teams and individuals with remote and onsite training options. Just head over to liston.io, click the contact button, and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.
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