Truth or Myth: Focus on a Single Decision-Maker to Build Stronger Relationships

It’s natural for salespeople to build strong one-on-one connections with buyers. But is this the best approach in our modern selling environment?

September 6, 2017

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There is something to be said for focusing your time and efforts.

Conventional thinking in sales tells us you are better off cultivating an airtight relationship with one key decision-maker in an organization, rather than spreading your attention at the risk of loosely maintaining a number of tenuous connections. In the past, we’ve seen many reps funnel in business from a particular client for years and years on the strength of that one enduring link. The one-on-one dynamic has become legend in the world of sales.

But as the mist clears, we’re seeing this matter in a new light. Given the realities of today’s B2B landscape this is no more than an outdated myth.

Too Many Players, Too Much Churn

If you could affix yourself to one influential stakeholder, and count on them sticking around for the long haul, then it might make sense to commit the extent of your energy to maintaining that lone secure bond. There’s a reason this approach has become ingrained in sales strategy lore.

But now, the evidence tells us there is a need to ensure we’re engaging multiple individuals across an organization. Here’s why:

1. Numerous People are Involved with B2B Purchasing Decisions

… And the number is rising. In 2015, research found that an average of 5.4 people must formally sign off on each purchase. This year that figure was reported at 6.8 people. You can see the trend. Buying committees are growing more diverse and complex. Today, even a rock-solid relationship with one top decision-maker most often isn’t enough. Despite being on board with your solution, they might be overruled or outflanked. Knowing this, you want to be in front of their associates, so as to influence committees from all sides.

2. Decision-Makers are on the Move

Our data shows that decision-makers typically change roles at a rate of 20 percent annually. What happens when the seemingly entrenched purchasing officer, with whom you’ve developed an excellent rapport, changes departments or receives an offer elsewhere she can’t refuse? If you have channeled all of your effort toward that singular relationship, then it’s back to square one. However, if you’ve planted seeds across the company, you then have a solid base for making inroads with others -- perhaps even the individual who steps into her position.

3. Buyers are Researching on Their Own

It’s critical for salespeople to take control, because studies show that 94 percent of B2B buyers are conducting their own research online. Buyers also lean heavily on peer recommendations, meaning there is great value in gaining sway with colleagues and professional networks. You’ll want to make yourself a trusted source within that autonomous research journey by widening your reach and establishing credibility throughout an organization.

How Should the Modern Pro Build Relationships for Sales?

The ethos-shattering data points above may come as grim revelations at first glance, but here’s the good news: it’s now easier than ever to identify and connect with other stakeholders in a company.

In the past, it was enough of a hassle to simply figure out the other key players in an organization’s purchase decision process, let alone make warm intros and gain influence. Social selling removes much of the friction. Mapping the buying committee is far easier with LinkedIn at your fingertips, enabling you to get a high-level picture of organizational structure through a few quick searches. Not only that, but you can peruse content being shared by employees, and the company itself, to learn about priorities and pertinent topics for their business.

Expanding your visibility within a company on LinkedIn is a self-perpetuating practice because buyers are five times more likely to engage someone with mutual connections on the platform. So as your familiarity grows throughout the ranks, outreach should become smoother and smoother.

Looping back to our original point, there still IS something to be said for focusing your time and efforts, only not on one person. Focus instead on one daily habit: using social networks to stay in touch with multiple decision-makers layered throughout a target organization. It won’t consume too much of your time but the potential payoff is huge. 

Learn more about slaying misperceptions that are holding back your sales ROI by downloading "Proof Positive: How to Easily Measure and Maximize Sales ROI."