Are the right persons at your customer organization promoting your business case?
In my previous blog post I introduced the idea that your customer is just as important a promoter for your business case as you are – as a B2B sales person. You need the right promoters on board to push your sale forward, and the more complex the business case, the larger the crowd you have to convince.
But who are these promoters then? How do you find them, and why do they actually matter to your business case? There are 5 promoter types you need to identify, and in this blog post I will explain why and how to do that.
Promoter types your sales case needs
Following Hans-Georg Gemünden’s notion of promoters, you can group the persons that you need supporting your business case into power (decision-making), expert (technical), relationship (network), process (intra-organizational know-how), and technological gate-keeper (technological information holder) individuals.
Power promoters can actively support the business case creation process through hierarchical power. This person is most easily identified based on their position in the organization. Depending on the industry you’re in, you will want to get in touch with the person who is next in line to top management or with the one who will decide whether or not the case is good enough to be taken to top management for review.
The so-called Expert promoter is a person who can actively encourage the innovative development of the business case through identifying potential problems/weaknesses and finding solutions to them. This will be a crucial person to identify at an early stage, since they will be able to validate or reject any detailed assumptions or ideas that you have. With this person you can iterate your analysis, using their adjusted assumptions and ideas. You’ll notice that this person really is a promoter because their judgement is taken seriously by the power promoter. Depending on the complexity of the case, there might be more than one expert promoter who you should keep an eye on.
Relationship promoters can actively encourage the business case creation process through important business relationships both inside the organization and between the organization and external actors. The defining characteristic of relationship promoters is their extensive network competence, i.e., powerful relationships with other parties. This person doesn’t necessarily need to have a high position in the hierarchy and therefore it isn’t always easy to identify them. However, they do possess a lot of social capital and have a strong informal position. Perhaps they have been in the organization for a very long time or have done a lot of job rotation and developed an extensive network this way.
Process promoters actively mediate between the technical and economic world using their organizational knowledge. The process promoter is characterized by their role of interacting with many levels of their organization, e.g., as a project leader. Sometimes it may be that a power promoter or an expert promoter is also a process promoter, but this depends on their persona; are they easily drawn into technical discussions or do they actively pursue to keep a strict economic and high level stance on the case. Nonetheless, this person will often end up being your primary source and contact at the customer side. You should leverage their ability to navigate their own organization. They can also give you factual insight into who the other promoters are for your case, and any potential barriers that need to be overcome.
Lastly, the technological gatekeeper actively supports cross-organizational knowledge transfer. The defining characteristics of the gatekeepers are technological competence and their cross-organizational relationships with other technological experts. If you are in the business of selling complex investments, this promoter will be increasingly important because you will most likely need interdisciplinary technical expertise on the application of what you are selling. They can also help spread the word to other experts, in order to build a panel of collective expert support for your case (which may sometimes be needed in order to convince the power promoter). You should leverage their ability to speak to other technical experts in their organization that you may not have access to.
Putting promoter theory into practice in sales
You need to get the 5 promoter types onboard, meaning that they need to know about, understand and believe in your business case. Your co-created business case can be sold only through their buy-in. A good starting point is that if and when you organize a customer meeting and they invite several persons, try to analyze what their role is from a promoter perspective, map them out, find out what their stance is (=will they promote or demote your case?), and get their contact information.
In retrospect, if you think of a proactive sale you have made recently, it may very well be that you had the promoters on board (within the types above) but you just didn’t think about it in those terms. As such, you should consider the theory of promoters as very down to earth common sense, a way of making sense of what’s actually going on when successful B2B sales happens.