Enterprise sales: How to deal with "lazy" stakeholders

by Steli Efti

Your software product is up for renewal. You know it’s a great fit for the company, but the administrator responsible for your software seems uninspired.

She’s slow to answer emails or doesn’t answer them at all. She’s unfamiliar with the most basic features of your software and simply doesn’t care.

You go crazy, imagining the administrator lying around all day, picking the lint out of her belly, while she should be working. She becomes the target for all your frustrated hopes and ambitions. You’re itching to run to her boss with a laundry list of complaints.

Take a step back and breathe.

If you’ve reached the renewal point of a software sales and are only now trying to remediate issues with the administrator, you’ve already screwed up. It's too late to salvage the situation.

The most likely reason an administrator seems “lazy” or “disinterested” is that you’ve been lazy—you never put in the work to make the relationship work.

Your approach is fundamentally flawed, and it’s time revamp your entire sales process.

What you need to understand is that nobody’s obligated to be on your side—having an amazing product doesn’t automatically guarantee you a software renewal.

Nurture these 3 relationships to foster long-term success

It feels great to close deals and get checks in the mail—these are easy indicators of success. But SaaS sales are built on more than just closing. They require an iron bedrock of solid relationships and good communication that is built over time.

Especially with subscription based software sales, closing with the CEO is just the first step. If you think he’s the only one involved in the decision-making process, you’re deluded.

To succeed at SaaS sales, there are 3 other critical relationships you have to nurture.

Let’s run through the key players:

  • The administrator: the person at the company responsible for the implementation of your software.
  • The boss: the person with the budget, the ultimate decision-maker.
  • Everyone else: all the other stakeholders involved in the deal.

enterprise_sales_stakeholders_keyplayers

You <-> admin

The day-to-day application of your product will almost certainly be delegated down in the organization to an administrator or project manager, and it’s critical that you secure this person’s backing.

You want to turn her into an internal champion of your product at the company by doing the following:

  • Provide the admin with training materials.
  • Present her with KPIs to evaluate your product.
  • Allow her to understand how this can advance her career.
  • Take a genuine interest in her as a person.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to renew, the administrator of your software is the first one approached, and you need to take the time to sell her on your product.

Admin <-> boss

The most powerful way to get the admin on your side is to make her look good in front of her boss. You achieve this by aligning her success with the success of your product. Find out what her needs and motivations are.

From the start of the relationship, ask the boss about the administrator:

  • “What’s your relationship like with the admin?”
  • “What are her responsibilities in relation to mine?”
  • “What’s the best way for me to work with her?”
  • “What are her deliverables?”

The Law of Reciprocity in sales applies. Make the administrator look good in front of her boss, and she’ll make you look good when it comes time for renewal.

You <-> everyone else

Enterprise sales is a complex process that requires the effective collaboration of multiple stakeholders across the board—legal, procurement, technical team, and so on. Identify these key stakeholders and reach out to them immediately.

You can’t always know who has influence on the deal, which means that nobody’s too unimportant to sell to. Sell to the intern. Sell to everybody in the room. You want to integrate your product across all levels of the company, from the bottom up.

How to navigate interpersonal issues

Going the extra mile to build relationships with all stakeholders preempts a lot of problems. You develop a base of internal support within the company that’s actively enthusiastic about your product.

If you’ve taken the time to invest in the administrator and she remains uncooperative, reach out to the boss.

Here’s how you should proceed and what your options, based upon his response.

Test the waters …

Start with the facts.

“Hey, we’ve been working together for a month or two. This is what’s been working.” Slip in a nice promotional detail on how well your product works for the company.

Then, tread into grayer territory, doing your best to remain objective.

  • “Here’s some questions I have on how to proceed going forwards due to issues x, y and z.”
  • “Here are my internal communications with the administrator.”
  • “What do we need to do to make sure this issue gets resolved? Should I take on more responsibility? How can we reconfigure expectations to everyone’s benefit? ”

Instead of assigning blame, describe the situation, and outline the problem as factually as possible. Demarcate the parameters within which you’re working.

And close the renewal

The response you receive from the boss will likely fall along two lines, which will determine how you proceed.

1. The administrator is acknowledged as a weak-link or struck down by an exotic avian-borne virus.

You find someone else in the company who is aligned with you and on your side. In this scenario, it’s appropriate to be more open about the issue and your problems with the administrator.

You’ve put in the time and built relationships with stakeholders—try to get them and the boss towards renewal.

2. Your concerns about the administrator are brushed off, and you’re told to resolve the problem on your own. (“That admin is perfect. I think you should find a way to fix it.”)

You can let the matter lie with your fingers crossed, and hope for the best come renewal time, or take your issues more directly to the stakeholder and confront them—it’s a coin toss.

You’ve tried your best to invest in the administrator, demonstrated interest in their success, and you’ve reached out to other stakeholders as well.

Even if the deal collapses, you’ve done everything you can. Investing in people is just good business practice, and will facilitate your future success.

Stack the deck

There are no guarantees in sales, particularly when the deal involves diverse interests and multiple stakeholders. But it’s not a crapshoot either.

You can position yourself for the most favorable outcome by shifting your sales mentality from short term transaction-based thinking to focusing on long-term relationships, which is really where you build the most value for your customers, your company, and yourself.

Always keep in mind that the growth of your SaaS businesses is built on enabling the success of others. By incorporating this framework into your sales approach, you open yourself to near infinite upside.