Sales to big companies involving large amounts of money are never simple.  In almost every case, they require you to get consensus from a group of decision-makers.

Unless you can get that group to reach consensus that they're going to buy, and buy from you, there's no way the deal is going to close.

The key to getting consensus is first to identify the decision-makers, influencers and stakeholders–and then get each of them to make some kind of a public commitment to approving the purchase.

This doesn't mean "signing on the dotted line"–far from it. Public commitment can be something seemingly trivial, like an email where the decision-maker agrees to attend a meeting where your project will be discussed.

Get Them to Go Public

What's important is not the size of the commitment, but that it be as public as possible.  This is important because a series of these small commitments creates momentum, so that more and more people become gradually convinced that the company is going to buy from you.

How do you get these commitments? Easy.  You have conversations with the decision-makers, influencers and stakeholders that reassure them that you've got a solution that addresses their problem.  And you craft each conversation to match the issues, interests and vocabulary of the individual with whom you're speaking.

For example: Let's suppose you're selling a gravel crusher to mining company.  (I though it would be fun to use a low-tech example for a change.) Here are the kinds of conversation that you'd have with four different decision-makers, each with a different view of the problem that you're trying to solve.

1. With the Director of Auxiliary Products

  • Director of Auxiliary Products: Hello, please sit down.
  • You: I think I may have found a way to increase the revenue of your division by 25 percent.
  • DAP: How so?
  • You: Right now you're discarding about 200 tons of stone waste a day. If you added a gravel crusher 100 feet from the mine entrance, you would not only reduce your drayage cost, but would also have a new product that could be sold at $100 a ton.
  • DAP: We did a feasibility study of this a few years back.
  • You: Because our crusher is more efficient than older models, that study might be usable as a baseline for estimating cost savings. Would it be possible for you send me a copy of that study, with copies to other people on the team?
  • DAP: Of course.

Where's the commitment? It's the email, once it's sent.

2. With the VP of Mining Operations

  • VP of Mining Operations: Greetings. I have heard good things about you and so have agreed to meet with you.
  • You: I'm very conscious that you are a busy man and truly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.
  • VPMO: Please proceed.
  • You: I recently had a conversation with your Director of Auxiliary Products. We estimate that your firm could save $2 million a year in drayage costs and make an additional $30 million in revenue by opening up a line of gravel products. My company makes a gravel-crushing machine that can handle that load and we are willing to handle the details of setting up the buyers for your products.
  • VPMO: This is very interesting but I'd need to know more.
  • You: We're scheduling an hour-long meeting to discuss how this might be implemented.  Is there some way we can coordinate with your calendar so that you can attend?
  • VPMO: I'll tell my assistant to set something up.

Where's the commitment? His actual appearance at the meeting.

3. With the Chief Financial Officer

  • Chief Financial Officer: I'm very busy. I've heard you want us to buy some equipment?
  • You: I've been working with your VP of Mining Operations and your Director of Auxiliary Products to define a spin-off business that will achieve an ROI within six months. Here's a spreadsheet showing the initial expense and the expected incremental revenue.
  • CFO: I'll be happy to look this over, but if what you say is true, it sounds like a no-brainer.
  • You: Assuming the numbers work for you, what's the next step?
  • CFO: We'll need to discuss it at the next executive council meeting.
  • You: Is there any way to make sure it gets on the agenda?
  • CFO: I'll make sure it gets discussed.

Where's the commitment? When he puts it on the agenda.

4. With the Chief Mining Engineer

  • Chief Mining Engineer: What's this I hear about you planning to put one of those gravel crushers on our line?
  • You: Actually, I was hoping that you would be able to tell me whether it's possible to introduce a machine like that without disturbing the rest of the operation.
  • CME: Well, it might be tricky. Do you have the specs?
  • You: Certainly. I can bring in one of our design engineers to answer any questions you might have.  Who should be at that meeting?
  • CME: My senior staff and the VP of Mining Operations.
  • You: The VP has already told me he's willing to attend a meeting.  Can you set it up internally?
  • CME: I'd be happy to.

Where's the commitment? When he schedules the meeting.

Do see what's happening here? Each of these conversations moves the sale slightly forward while building up a sense of the inevitability of the purchase.  The more time and mental energy that everyone spends on the deal, the more likely it is that a positive decision will result.

The above is based upon a conversation with G. Richard Shell (professor of legal studies, business ethics and management at the Wharton School) and Mario Moussa (a faculty member at Wharton and a principal of CFAR Inc., a management consulting firm.)  Very smart guys, both of them.

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