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by Alice Alessandri

When a bride-to-be goes through the “ritual” of choosing her wedding dress, her mother, mother-in-law, the bride’s best friend, the father (who is usually expected to pay for the dress) and other guests such as her grandmother, a wise aunt and so on are usually all present. How will our salesperson have to behave to convince the entire “purchasing team”? Who should their attention focus on in order to seal the deal? How can they manage potential conflicting opinions? This is just one example of a common type of negotiation – both in the consumer and business market – where the salesperson faces multiple purchasing decision-makers. This article is dedicated to those who have experienced, or who think they will face, this complex situation.

Pre-negotiation phase

There are a few situations where facing multiple stakeholders is bound to happen, but in others, it might be useful to pre-emptively come up with ways of containing risks or at least to adequately prepare for the negotiation. For example, you could find out who will be involved in the purchase in advance, in addition to learning their role and when they will be involved in the process.

Acting pre-emptively will allow you to prepare and gather information on the individuals you will meet.

This is vital because even if the stakeholders’ goals are apparently similar, they will each be guided in their choices by a different motivation and will consequently influence others and have a different decision-making power that will all affect the success of the negotiation. Nevertheless, if you find yourself “ambushed” by a purchasing committee that you hadn’t prepared for, I suggest you avoid the “cross-examination effect” of being surrounded by a semicircle of your customers, which puts you in a position of clear opposition to them. Instead, relax and join the group. Having said that, let’s see what can be done in terms of negotiation.

venditore multitasking

Serial or parallel decision-makers

There are two diametrically opposed situations, both attributable to multi-stakeholder negotiation: when you are facing many parties (in parallel) or when you are forced into switching interlocutor in the various phases of the negotiation (in series). In the first case, the biggest challenge is managing to build a relationship based on empathy and active listening with each of those present. If, from your initial analysis, you have discovered that you will have to meet more than one person, you might want to have an “ally” who can help you face all of them and keep them engaged. On the other hand, if you are alone, you need to broaden your “peripheral vision” and keep moving from one to the other without neglecting anyone.

Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring the ones who aren’t actively talking to you or those who you feel are less influential: they are still watching and judging you! In the end, their opinion will count, and it will probably be affected by the fact you left them aside.

Instead, if you are faced by “serial decision-makers”, remember that meeting someone new means starting a new relationship from scratch. Here, the challenge is to understand the relationship between the first stakeholder and the second: if they get along, this will facilitate things and you can refer to previously arranged agreements. If they don’t, it will be tougher, and you will have to start building trust from square one again. 

Multi-channel trust

When we talked about the circle of trust, we stated two main principles: you can’t cut corners on the way to gaining someone else’s trust, and even when we meet a customer that we already know, you will need to spend some time catching up and reconnecting to them. This is even tougher when you are facing a group people! The trust we built with one of them does not automatically imply gaining the trust of another, in fact, it could be the exact opposite. Let’s consider a boss who has little respect for their assistant: if they join the negotiation after you have already discussed with the assistant, the boss might want to demolish or oppose all the previously made decisions regardless of whether they agree or not.

The bad news is that trust isn’t as multitasking as we believe listening, attention, and focus are. So, what are we to do?

Think of trust as a martial art where the master can face more than one opponent at a time. What seems like a 1 vs N fight, is actually a 1 vs 1 fight where the first unit stays the same while the second changes rapidly and with a precise pattern. You should therefore focus your attention onto the person in front of you as if they were alone and of utter importance, but then change target and dedicate your time to another just enough not to allow any of the others to feel neglected. If your decision-makers have interacted with you at separate instances, when you speak to the next one, don’t make the mistake of considering the previous one as a hurdle you have overcome or a successful battle you can forget. Instead, always keep them informed and involved, which will also fuel their trust in you.

Securing a deal with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers is truly one of the most demanding things that a salesperson can encounter. You need relational skills, awareness, and self-control to avoid falling into the traps that such situations can generate. However, don’t forget that although great speakers, actors, and writers address an audience, they seem to speak to each of us individually. How do they achieve that? They adapt and vary their communication style, sowing interest and novelty in everything they say or write. Enjoy giving away a piece of yourself, in the form of questions, glances, or smiles to whoever you find yourself facing. Happy sales!

| partem claram semper aspice |

The photos used - where not owned by the editorial team or our guests - are purchased on Adobe Stock and IStockPhoto or downloaded from platforms such as UnSplash or Pexels.

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Passodue research on issues related to salesmarketing, ethics and the centrality of human beings within the market logic, officially started in 2012. The results derived from our work are described in the publications and in the books you can find in this section.

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Passodue is a consulting and training firm founded in 2011 by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo, who decided to combine their experience and make a change in their personal and professional lives. The aim of their project is to change the mindset of the market with regards to the concepts of “sale”, “marketing” and “leadership”, and to prove that doing business ethically is possible and totally effective.

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