Closing Time

Making the Consensus Sale: Overcoming Dysfunction in a Consensus-Driven Buying Environment

Sales professionals – are you struggling to build consensus?

Today’s B2B sales cycles are complex and include more decision-makers than ever before. According to recent data from the CEB, 11.2 stakeholders take part in every deal.

What this means for sellers: unless you can convince the entire group of stakeholders to buy from you, there’s no way the deal will close.

Wondering how can you receive a resounding “yes!” from all parties involved?

In this episode of Closing Time, Jen Allen shares powerful tips for facilitating group meetings, overcoming dysfunction, handling objections, and, ultimately, making the consensus sale like a pro. 

Watch the video:
Key Moments:
Gaining Consensus Starts with Agreeing on the Problem

Dealing with complex organizations and multiple buyers has become the new norm for today’s B2B salespeople. The number of stakeholders involved in a deal has surged from 5.4 in 2015 to 11.2 in 2020 (data from the CEB). That’s more than double the number of stakeholders in just five years.

So, what does this mean for salespeople who now have to secure approval from twice as many decision-makers? They must adapt, shift their mindset, and build new strategies to succeed. 

The challenge is no longer just selling to a few stakeholders; it’s dealing with what’s described as “buyer dysfunction” within larger committees.

Group Buying Dysfunction: Adding more stakeholders to the purchasing decision raises conflict and makes it harder to reach an agreement.

Building a new muscle - quote from Jen

When presenting a solution to a group of stakeholders, it’s common for each individual to have different views on whether the problem should be solved, what type of solution is needed, or even if there’s a different problem to address first.

Think trying to get everyone to agree on two or three pizza toppings – some like pineapple, some are vegetarian, others are meat-lovers. Before you can get them to agree on pizza toppings, you have to gain a consensus on ordering pizza instead of wings. Similarly, sellers need to first “sell” the problem to the buying group and gain consensus on it before diving into their solution, or else they’ll be fighting a losing battle. 

Sellers also need to recognize the dynamics within these buyer committees, as some individuals may not voice their opinions unless they are convinced. Convincing the group to agree on the problem is a critical step, and it requires skill and mindfulness on the part of the salesperson.

Avoid This Common Mistake

When trying to build consensus, sellers often make the mistake of pushing their solution too hard on the buying group. This creates a confrontational dynamic where the seller comes across as biased and agenda-driven. Instead, a more effective approach is to act as a facilitator during meetings with the buying group.

The goal is not to sell a solution, but to help the group recognize any issues with their current situation or processes. By taking this approach, the seller’s role changes to that of a guide, helping the group understand if there is a problem worth solving, if it’s the right time to address it, and if the proposed solution aligns with their needs.

Jen recommends asking thoughtful questions, encouraging group discussion, and welcoming objections. You want to foster a collaborative environment where everyone can contribute to the conversation and add value. By doing so, the likelihood of being invited back for further discussions increases.

A Seller's Secret Weapon: Social Proof

One of the most effective secret tools in a salesperson’s toolbox when trying to build consensus? If you guessed social proof, you’re right!

As a salesperson, there is so much value in drawing on past experiences with companies facing similar problems. By sharing these experiences, you can hold a mirror up to your prospective buyers, helping them recognize that the problem you’re addressing aligns with their own.

However, it’s crucial to approach this tactic strategically. Instead of simply introducing yourself as a salesperson from a particular company, encourage your champion to send a well-crafted message to the rest of the buying group. In this message, your champion should mention that they recently met with you to discuss the challenges they’ve been experiencing. Include links to your social profile to highlight your expertise and thought leadership.

In the email, emphasize that you shared unique insights into the problem rather than pushing a sales pitch. When your champion opens the meeting, use specific wording to communicate that you’ve assisted companies in thinking through similar problems, not just solving them. The choice of words matters because the group’s initial impression of you is irreversible.

The goal is to create a compelling story that your champion can share with others within the buying group, and ideally, expand the conversation beyond a single point of contact. Remember: just because one person is enthusiastic about your solution, you haven’t won the deal.

Tips for Building Consensus and Dealing With Dysfunction

Confidence is power in B2B sales and is even more important when building consensus. Recognize that your expertise as a salesperson is valuable – don’t shy away from having an opinion or point of view.

However, don’t come across as arrogant or as if you know more about the client’s business than the client themselves. Instead, carefully express what you’ve learned from your interactions and observations with the team. Acknowledge your perspective as an outsider looking in and then seek the client’s input to ensure a comprehensive understanding. 

In conversations, especially with senior executives who have limited time, brevity is key. Craft concise problem statements, potential solutions, and sets of questions. Use visuals, such as slides, to present this information clearly during meetings.

You should also encourage disagreement within the buying group rather than expecting unanimous agreement. It is essential to prompt questions and foster an environment where clients feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Salespeople should aim to avoid falling into the trap of wanting everyone to agree with their viewpoint. Healthy disagreement and diverse perspectives will lead to more communication and information sharing.

Navigating the Complexities of Consensus Sales

Jen shares a few more strategies and considerations to keep in mind when working on consensus sales:

Understanding Interpersonal Dynamics: In addition to basic preparation, it’s crucial to grasp the interpersonal dynamics among stakeholders. Sometimes, tensions or preexisting issues exist between different functions within the client’s organization. Failure to recognize these dynamics can lead to misinterpretations and objections that are unrelated to the proposed solution. Salespeople should proactively discuss these dynamics with their champions to gain a deeper understanding.

Identifying Key Players: Sales professionals should identify the stakeholders with the power to say “no” to the proposed solution. Full consensus from every stakeholder may not always be necessary, but sellers should know there is one single influential individual who opposes it.

Asking Critical Questions: At the end of consensus-building meetings, two critical questions should be posed:

Is this a problem worth solving? This question helps gauge the importance of the issue at hand.

Is this a problem worth solving right now? This question assesses whether the problem should be prioritized over other challenges. Sometimes, what’s worth solving may not be the most urgent concern.

Documenting and Dealing with Discomfort: Salespeople should incorporate these questions into their presentations, even if it feels uncomfortable. It’s a way to learn and gain insights into the group’s perspective, whether positive or negative.


B2B purchases today
involve selling to more people inside of an organization than ever before.
Learn how to overcome dysfunction and build consensus
in this episode of Closing Time.
Hi everyone.
My name is Chip House.
I’m CMO at Insightly.
Welcome to Closing Time, the show for go-to-market leaders.
I’m joined today by Jen Allen, Jen is co-founder of the Social Social community.
Sales keynote speaker and currently heads
community growth at welcome, Jen.
Thank you so much for having me.
Yeah, it’s super great to have you.
Super excited to have you here today, Jen.
And so what did you think about my opening teaser there about trying
to sell into a complex organization with multiple buyers?
Does that feel pretty true?
I mean, I’m
not even sure you need me on this episode because you nailed that, right?
If we look at what’s been happening, so in the past,
if you just look at 2015 to 2020
CEB, Gartner,
whatever you want to call it, studied how many stakeholders
on the customer side on average were getting involved in a deal
and that number from 2015 to 2020
went from 5.4 up to 11.2.. In five years,
the number of people required to get on board the bus in a deal more than doubled.
If we think about the implications on our time as sellers,
I now have to get twice as many people to say yes and not say no.
That is a wild rate of change and that’s not even taking consideration
a pretty big event that happened in 2020,
which we can probably assume continued to make that trend worse.
Yeah, that is a huge shift, right?
I mean like double, more than double actually if you do the math.
But you know, when I think about,
you know, we come from the CRM space, obviously when I think about what
a typical salesperson has loaded into the CRM for some account
that they’re going to try to win, it’s probably not 11 people, right?
They probably don’t have a relationship with 11 people.
They might have three to five I guess.
And so this is about building a new muscle to think this way, right?
So what first comes to mind for you, Jen,
when you think about helping sellers do better here?
So I love what you said around building a new muscle I,
I think it is essential that we do not hold on to the things that worked
when we sold to one single stakeholder or two or three people because now
what we’re up against is, as you described it, buyer dysfunction, right?
So I don’t care if you get ten people together to agree on ordering a pizza,
you’re going to have people fighting with each other.
Now, you magnify that and say, we need to spend money
and we need to disrupt things and how they’ve always been done.
The stakes are even higher.
So the number one thing. I think was a lesson I wish I had
learned sooner was when you were trying to get people to agree.
First and foremost, you have to get them to disagree
and you have to do it with you in the room.
So to be specific, when you bring any sort of solution to a group of 11
people or nine people, the exact number doesn’t matter that much.
What you are going to find is every individual in that group comes
to that conversation
with a different point of view on should we even be solving this problem?
Or if we are, is this the right type of solution to be looking at it,
or do I see a different problem altogether that I think we should be prioritizing?
So when I as a seller show up to that mishmash of people
and I’m trying to convince them that we have the best whatever
in the world, it’s actually a losing battle because they haven’t first
and foremost even aligned that this is the right problem to be solved.
So very long way of saying, in this world we actually have to sell the problem
to that buying group and get consensus on the problem well before we ever start
showing up and talking about our solution and why they should buy our solution.
Yeah, that’s a really, an astute concept actually
I think, Jen, is just ensuring that the whole group
and this weird group dynamics because some people show up to the meeting
that you’re in as a salesperson not expecting to say anything.
But they might just keep their opinions to themselves, right?
So if you haven’t convinced them, they may not even tell you,
but at least you need to be
super mindful about trying to establish and agree on the problem.
And so, I mean, that takes some skill as a salesperson, I would assume.
Tell me, like,. I guess this will be my first question.
What’s the number one thing to think about and what’s the number one
mistake that sellers make here?
The number one mistake.
I think, is that we sellers go in
and try to convince people to do something.
And why I think that’s a mistake is because then it creates
this dynamic where you’re on this side and the customer is on this side.
Maybe you get lucky and your stakeholder is on this,
you’re champions on the side with you, but everybody else is against you
because you’re showing up with an agenda and with a bias.
What I would recommend people do instead is when we show up to a meeting
with that buying group, which, yes, we’ve worked long and hard to get,
and I get the temptation to say,. I want to just show up and tell you
why you need to buy our solution.. Table that, sit on that, and instead
think about our
role as less of trying to get someone to buy something
and more of trying to help the group understand
why current state, why whatever we’re doing today, is actually problematic.
And so our motions change dramatically as salespeople
when we do that, like one of the best terms I’ve heard for it is
I show up as a facilitator, not as a salesperson.
So my job is, is to get the group to decide,
is this even a problem worth solving?. Is this a problem worth solving right now?
And is this in fact the right way to think about solving the problem?
If I come in and I’m just trying to convince you of all of those things,
it is very unlikely. I’ll be invited back after that.
But if I’m asking smart questions, if I’m prompting the group to respond
to one another, if I’m making it OK to disagree,
and raise objections as opposed to trying to overcome them,
all of a sudden I’m adding
value to the conversation instead of just trying to steer it to my agenda.
So Jen makes a ton of sense, and so one of the things that I would
assume would be helpful at this stage is some social proof.
Like as a salesperson, you’ve worked with a similar company
like theirs that had this kind of problem and kind of hold up the mirror to them.
And is this the problem you have?
Is that kind of a helpful tactic? Yes.
And so this is
I love that you asked that because I think this is an under leveraged tactic.
One of the missteps we make is when we arm our champion
to even get the meeting, we typically say, Hey,
I want to bring in Jen from so-and-so to talk to us about their solution.
And what is everybody else in that buying group hear?
They hear dollar signs and they hear sales pitch.
And so they show up and nobody wants to go to that meeting.
I’m sorry, they don’t.
So to your point, what I think is really important
is that we as sellers help our champions actually increase
the likelihood that they get that meeting by drafting the note for them to say,
I met with Jen at Acme Company last week to talk about the problems
we’ve been facing with X, whatever they’re trying to solve.
I would link my social profile in there so that they see
that I have points of view and I’m talking about it.
And then in the body of email,. I would say, I spent some time with her
and she had some really unique points of view on why we’re facing the problem.
Any opposition to us setting up this meeting?
And when I’m getting, when I’m then arming my champion to open the meeting,
that’s where I’m then saying, you know,. Jen has worked with companies like X, Y
and Z that are relevant to help them think through this problem as well.
Not to say to help them solve it, but to help them think through it.
And I think word choice is so important because what they’re evaluating
in that first 3 minutes of that meeting is should I pay attention
to anything that Jen says or is she just a coin operated machine?
Yeah, that’s great.
So, Jen, we had Jay Baer on who wrote Talk. Triggers, and he talks about, hey,
if you want somebody to share your story, you have to give them a compelling story
to share, right?
So as a sales person, you’re starting
creating that story for the person inside that’s the champion.
So they can actually bring in some other people into the discussion.
So that’s one of the things I’m wondering about because I feel like that’s
another muscle to build as a salesperson is actually broadening the conversation
from the person, you know, a single person and single point of contact.
And then getting happy ears that, wow,. I’ve almost won.
I’m winning this deal, when in fact, there’s ten
other people that you have to convince and you just haven’t figured that out.
So I mean, what tools to use, what words do you use?
How do you expand it to the right set of decision makers?
Yes, this is where I think sellers, sometimes we sell ourselves so short that
because we might be selling to a very senior buying group
that we don’t have the right to have an opinion or a point of view.
And I think that’s absolute nonsense.
Nobody knows as much as we do about the problem that we solve as us,
and I think is very important for us as sellers to feel very confident
bringing that to the equation.
So when you talk about tools I use or you talk about,
you know, how I position that I never want to come in
and position myself as like, I know more about your business than you do.
I think that sounds arrogant and it’s off putting and it creates an offense
defense relationship, where then they just try to prove me wrong.
What I do want to do is be very intentional about saying,
Here is what I’ve seen, heard, understood, from this single point of contact
I’ve been working with and what I’ve learned
as an observer of your business, studying your business from the outside.
Now, help me understand what is it that I’m missing?
Now my tendency is that I’m very wordy, right?
Like especially when I’m writing, I just. I want to write the whole problem
thesis statement, and that becomes a problem for me.
This is actually one of the reasons. I joined Lavender is because I needed
to reduce my word count in recognition of the fact that the audience
I’m typically selling into is a C level executive audience.
They ain’t got time for it.
So I’m very intentional about making sure I can succinctly
craft a clear problem statement, a clear alternative to solve the problem
statement, a clear set of questions, and that helps me do that.
But in terms of just
what I’m using in that meeting,. I’m literally putting it on a slide.
If it’s a Google slide, a PowerPoint slide,
I’m condensing it into one side and saying, Here’s the problem statement.
Now let’s agree, disagree, react to it,
and don’t feel like yall got to nod your heads because I’m in the room.
I want you to disagree.
So I’m asking these prompting questions.
Joe, you’re over, you know, client success
how important is new logo acquisition to you?
I would imagine this is actually a little bit more important.
So I think a lot of it is just how we maintain control over
our position of allowing them to disagree
as opposed to falling back into those patterns
that we have as sellers to hope that they agree with our view of the world.
Yeah, makes good sense.
So talk to me
about some other kinds of dysfunction that might exist that you’ve encountered.
So this comes down to how we prepare with our champion, too.
So what I mean by that is. I would always do
the basic preparation, like what are the roles in the room?
How long have they been there?. What do they oversee?
What I failed to do and where a lot of the dysfunction
I’ve observed comes from is the interpersonal dynamics.
So to be specific,
there would be instances where I’d walk in
and I would interpret that the customer just did not, like the stakeholders in the room,
just did not like me or did not like our solution.
What I didn’t realize is there was preexisting tension
between the function my champion represented
and then the function that they represented.
So they could have said,. We’ve got the cure for cancer.
And they would’ve been like,. I still don’t like it because of
that was preexisting.
And I failed to understand that in advance.
And so I was putting
a lot of weight into so-and-so thinks this is a great problem to solve,
which was making them just want to object to it.
So now, as an example, before I do any group meeting,
I sit down with my champion.
I say, All right, I’m going to ask you all these uncomfortable questions
about the icky dynamics,
the tensions, who aligns with who, who are the allies, who are the enemies?
Because if I don’t know that going in, I’m going to misread that
and assume everything is skepticism about my problem or my product.
And so I think it’s taking that preparation a step deeper.
One of my favorite things
I learned from a customer actually on this note is ask who are the Mr.
Rogers of the conversation?
I’d never heard this term, but apparently Mr.
Rogers are those stakeholders who will sit there and they’ll nod
and they’ll, you know, give you that encouraging look the whole time.
And you think, I won them over.. And it turns out
they’re just nice to salespeople.
And so they’re not on your side.
They’re not vying for you when you hang up.
So ask your stakeholder, who is that guy or gal in the room that always does that.
These are great ways to just read cues more effectively.
Yeah, that’s super interesting.
I mean, who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers anyway, but
you know, I love him but he’s misled me on a few deals.
For sure.
OK, so now you’ve done a good set of work here
and you’ve identified the problem and you had some agreement around it.
So how do you go about building true consensus?
And is even that the goal?
Do you actually need to have full consensus with all 11.2?
Yeah, that’s a really, really good question.
I don’t think you always need to have like hell yeah
consensus from 11.2.
I think you just have to have no one with enough power to say no to it.
So part of it is just reading who are those people that have the power
to say no to it?
There’s two questions I ask
at the end of any consensus building group meeting,
I learned this actually from Amour Assulean, so I don’t want to take credit for this.
The first question is, now that we’ve had this discussion,
is this a problem worth solving?. Get your answers.
Then the second question is, is this a problem solving worth solving right now?
And what I found
when I started using that is often those are two different answers.
Yes, it’s a problem we’re solving.
But no, it’s not a problem worth solving right now
because this other thing is bigger.
And I think that is another place where we sellers fall down.
We interpret a great group discussion as meaning this must be top priority
and we fail to stack it against other priorities.
Do you actually ask those questions
every time?
I put it in my deck so I don’t chicken out.
Like I don’t use big decks for group meetings,
but I know myself and I’m like ahh,
It’s like an icky question, but it is one of the most fun questions.
Once you start doing it, it becomes addictive
because you’re just like, Oh, I just. I can’t wait to see what the answers are.
And then it also gives me confidence of,
if it’s not right now, then I know what I need to do.
I need to go back and build up that problem better.
I need to understand what else it’s competing against.
So I’ll trade off the awkwardness for what it means
in terms of my productivity and how I’m able to spend my time.
That is super amazing.
I can really see the effectiveness of that and how scary
it can be to actually ask those questions.
But if you’re going to learn either positive or negative on the other side.
Yes, the goal is to learn, just like you said.
It was another great discussion.
Jen, thanks so much.
Thank you for having me. Loved being here.
Yeah, absolutely.
And we’ll find a time in the future.
We enjoyed it, too.
And thanks to all who joined us today for Closing Time.
And we’ll see you next time.

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