When one plus two becomes a baker’s dozen, it’s time to get better at group selling

Mary was clearly out of breath. Her voice shook: “Look at this Tom. This is an RFP written just for us”

Tom took a quick look at the print out:

We are a global consulting company headquartered in USA.  We specialize in helping identified startups in emerging markets across the globe to accelerate to full-scale viability through our 20 offices in EMA and APC regions. Our services include consulting and support over a range of industries and activities.

As part of our ongoing efforts to align our digital presence to our increasing brand visibility, we invite proposals to work on refurbishing our web presence. Applicants’ strengths should include demonstrated creativity in crafting world class digital experiences. We are looking for a compact, preferably small team of web design professionals who can customize an offering to match our unique needs.

Please share your proposal with all relevant details.

“This is us Tom” said Mary. “We are small, we are creative and we are affordable. We were rated the best upcoming web developer in our geography. I don’t see anyone else better suited for this RFP.”

Tom smiled. “You know what Mary, I really wish I could also get excited like you. My experience with big, global companies has sobered me. To pitch with them, you have meet their people in groups. And that always spells disaster. You will have hawkish procurement guys and tight-fisted bean counters sitting in. They steamroll the digital team that wants to work with us. One on one selling, as happens with mid to small companies is great for us. The biggies give me the creeps, as we have to sell to groups within those companies.”

Would you agree with Tom or are his fears exaggerated?

Why group selling?

What is the one thing many fear more than death? According to many psychological studies, it is fear of public speaking. Topping the list of primal fears is Glossophobia or stage fear. A sales equivalent of Glossophobia is the ‘multilogue’ that a salesperson is forced to get into in complex purchase situations. As the multilogue replaces the familiar one-on-one dialogue, it creates rising discomfort and apprehension in salespeople as with Tom in our story.  However, when a large, complex sale involving multiple stakeholders within a company comes up, meeting the prospect’s stakeholders one by one may not achieve the desired result. Selling to the entire group of interested stakeholders or ‘group selling’ is the only answer.

What drives group selling phobia?

A root cause analysis will help the salesperson understand what drives the discomfort in meeting Customer’s people in a group. In turn this will support action to eliminate the negative elements of group selling.

The source of discomfort typically stems from these 3 challenges:

  1. A sense of isolation – as the single salesperson is pitted against several in one go
  2. Lack of feedback people in a group, tend to respond little or may respond ways which may be non-genuine
  3. Constant risk of losing the initiative the group may dominate the direction and flow of conversation

Some tips to overcome the group selling challenge

  • Plan ahead extensively but be flexible in the meeting
  • Work towards transforming the formal setting of meetings – including the seating, controlled discussions and one-way speeches – into something more informal, free and open
  • Isolation can be combated by mixing with the group before and during the meeting
  • A ‘problem solving’ rather than a ’sales meeting’ approach. This helps an ‘outsider’ get accepted as an ‘insider’
  • Try and unobtrusively lead the discussion
  • Plan and marshal support of possible allies within the stakeholder groups

Two is company, it is said, and three a crowd. In a group selling situation, when 1 stakeholder comes together with 2 more, for the salesperson it feels like dealing with not 3 but 13 (baker’s dozen) stakeholders! The key to the conundrum is in understanding how to overcome the challenges of group selling.

Would you now be able to pep-talk Tom into applying for the RFP? What would you tell him?

For more on mastering the art and science of group selling, access the Mercuri Insight Document on How to overcome the 3 challenges of group selling?