Back in the good old days of sales (days that probably never really existed), buyers were forthright and decisive. If you reached out to the right person and offered the right solution at the right moment, you’d make a sale.

Sure, that can still happen, but it’s becoming rare – especially in complex sales involving serious money. Everyone from the board of directors on down is more risk averse. Structured buying processes and a team approach seem to minimize the risk of error (or at least spread the blame).

Frustrating for salespeople? Sure. Now you have not only one buyer to persuade but many – and often a single “no” is enough to kill the deal.

Not a roadblock, but a lever
But rather than see multiple decision makers as frustrating roadblocks, top performers are finding ways to use them to create powerful competitive advantages.

Advocating a collaborative team approach between you and the buyer from the get-go directly addresses the risk aversion around changing “the way we’ve always done things around here.”

In a collaborative sales process, you create a “buying team” between the people in your organization and the buyers’ organization who will be responsible for implementing the solution you provide.

Your role as the salesperson is to bring everyone together and manage the conversations.

Among the benefits:

  • Broader buy-in. Answers to questions arrived at together are much more compelling.
  • Deeper relationships. Working together on a problem foreshadows how your organizations will partner together post-sale.
  • Faster implementation, and a quicker payoff for the customer, since more key players “own” your solution.

How to make it happen
Think in terms of organizing collaborative events that bring the team together, whether it’s around a conference table or via a remote videoconference.

Here’s where to start:

  • Have the outcome in mind. The objective of the meeting probably won’t be to close the sale. It might be to gain insight into a problem the customer faces, to complete a needs analysis or diagram a business process before you present a solution.
  • Make sure the right people are present. Identify who needs to be on the team for maximum buy-in. Keep the number manageable. Six or seven people is optimal for collaboration.
  • Have a methodology for inviting people, preparing them in advance and confirming they are going to be attending. E-mail with telephone confirmation is a good approach.
  • Prepare to host and facilitate. During the event, you want to manage the agenda, promote interaction and transition from one topic to another.
  • Have an end point. Given everyone’s short attention span, plan on 35- to 45-minute sessions, distribute documentation to participants and then follow up.

How to increase impact
One person talking while others listen is instruction, not collaboration.

To boost participation:

  • Ask people to play different, clearly defined roles. Joe might serve as devil’s advocate, while Sam represents the strategic perspective. Come back to them in those roles throughout the event.
  • Call on people to respond. “Sue, how would that play out for you?”or “Bill, can you summarize what we just covered?”
  • Manage the clock. You may need to postpone further discussion of a topic to keep things moving. The pace needs to be fast, and on point.
  • Be sure to lock down outcomes. Who is going to do what as a result of this meeting? Are we confident we have all the information we need?

If you are using GoToMeeting or another remote online venue, record the event and distribute a link to it so others, outside of the team, can witness the process.

Visit your best customers
Chances are this is a new way to approach the sales process, and like anything new, it will take practice to get comfortable with.

A good place to start is to identify one or two existing customers where you already have a solid relationship.

Pick those that have problems that have surfaced in the past, but remain unaddressed.

It’s likely they’ll be open to experimenting with an interactive and collaborative approach.

Source: Adapted from an ebook by Tom Searcy. For more, visit

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