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Crime Doesn’t Pay, But Relationships Do

There’s a reason that the “murder board” offers such a strong visual representation of a case and is seen in some of our most favorite crime-shows. When a detective puts photos of all the suspects and their associates on a wall with strings mapping out details and relationships, it’s a great way to visualize how the characters relate to each other as part of a more extensive investigation. It allows the audience to follow along to analyze the connections on the board to try to decode the pattern and solve the case.

It makes for compelling TV, but this kind of relationship mapping is also a powerful tool in B2B sales — particularly when you start selling to larger accounts.

When you are a business selling to other businesses, you need more than a winning product or service. According to Gartner, an average of seven people weigh in on the buying decision at firms with 100-500 employees, and larger companies are even more complicated, as there are additional layers of people who can scuttle your sale. One truism in big-account selling is that it’s the people you don’t know who will kill your deal. So it would help if you had a keen eye for understanding the mix of people who will be involved. To maximize your chances for success, you will need to discern who is influential, who is friendly to your proposition, who is a detractor, and competing for the same budget.

Managing influence, building relationships

The real power lies in understanding the relationships between the cast of characters, allowing you to navigate to and influence decision-makers.

Managing influence and building relationships is increasingly critical for high-growth B2B companies that are moving from selling to the middle market to selling to larger enterprises. Starting with small firms and moving up towards larger organizations, there is an explosion of stakeholders who will impact buying decisions. The stakes and politics tend to be heightened and increasingly complex.

If you don’t get this right, this effect can create a ceiling for the size of the company that will buy your service. It can also limit your team’s deal sizes, especially if they’re not talking to the right level inside the customer.

Growing effectively in this environment requires being more intentional about understanding relationships. Combining highly educated and empowered customers coupled with remote selling means that enterprise sales teams must carefully map their prospect organization and take a systematic approach to understand who they are selling to and how those teams interact with each other.

This approach will help you demystify your sales efforts. And while sales and service to large organizations may look like an art, it really can be approached as a science, where you can map out structures and measure your interactions.

You might think your CRM already does this, but it doesn’t. CRMs are great for tracking contacts, but they don’t tell you anything about which of those people are most important, how they buy, their connections, or how they think.

At best, most organizations are only looking at their number of interactions with a prospect as a measure of health instead of putting criteria around the strength of those relationships and evaluating them using a consistent methodology. A sales rep indicating that they and the prospect have a “strong” relationship during a forecast call does not provide data that helps a sales leader understand their status in a deal or their likelihood of winning. Projections become guesswork.

If you want predictability in sales, you must have a set of criteria to evaluate the strength of relationships and be able to score it based on critical factors. For example, how much contact the team has had with the individual, how influential they are, how they make decisions, and who from the buying group influences their choices. Connecting the dots on influence to navigate to the key players and decision-makers is often the difference between success and failure — between losing the deal and closing the deal.

The difference between power and influence

While salespeople generally like to get as high as they can in an organization to get to senior decision-makers, they often overlook people in the organization who have influence. Often, senior leaders have valuable lieutenants and team members they look to decide the best outcomes, and failure to identify those people and build relationships can be the death of the deal. In new customer pursuits where the sales rep doesn’t understand the politics and the power structure, this is particularly common. While corporate hierarchy and titles are a sign of potential power, they often don’t tell the full story of who is influential and whose voice matters.

To improve chances for success, think about mapping players with color codes for the relationships between them and their relationship with your team. Uncover influence by looking for people or groups working together at their last job, sharing common associations, or having similar backgrounds. That becomes an easy way to inquire with your friendlies to find out more. Get clear about decision criteria and how a deal gets signed, and how many people have to touch it. Especially in large deals, many people can say no, while only a central set of players can say yes. Failure to identify these influencers and their relationships can be costly.

I know this sounds like a lot of work but remember: Relationships don’t stop with sales but flow through your whole organization. ‘All the pieces matter.’ After you win that client, you need to service and retain that account. Those relationships will carry you when there is an opportunity to cross-sell and upsell. Sellers cannot expand revenue in customers through a single thread, but a mesh of relationships between your company and theirs. It comes down to team selling and getting the revenue team involved in ensuring your customers are successful.

Just like the best detectives use a murder board to see the elements of a crime more clearly, a relationship map and influence strategy helps to conceptualize and visualize the people in the account. Not only that, but it becomes a source of truth for reference in the future. ‘All the pieces matter.’ All the people matter in an account. You have to build it from the ground up, but you can crack the case and win the deal when you do.

Want to start mapping your own customers and prospects? Check out our free 21-day Relationship Map trial.

“We’re building something here, detective. We’re building it from scratch. All the pieces matter”

Det. Lester Freamon
The Wire
HBO Crime Drama

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