Fun fact: despite its old Latin roots, the word consensus only became a commonly used noun in English less than 200 years ago. It became a new way to describe and solve an old problem: how do we gather people and get agreement on something important?
That’s why in sales today, consensus gathering is a powerful discovery tool for top performers. It’s one more idea—among many that I’ve talked about before—on how to get all your customer stakeholders in one place before you propose a solution: creating a multi-threaded environment in which you, the seller, generate more value across your customer’s organization and close bigger deals faster.
CONSENSUS TACKLES THE TOUGHEST BUSINESS PROBLEMS
This is a complex problem to solve: not only because the solution must adapt to an infinite number of client organizational charts and unique business challenges, but also because it must take into account that human behavior isn’t predictable! While there’s no master key to unlock all those doors, a consensus gathering is sometimes the right tool at the right time.
Here’s an example to illustrate. Recently a prospect of mine called me in to help solve a vexing sales problem they had. They clearly understood the severity of their situation. When I arrived at my first meeting with them, I was greeted by the CEO, three GMs and the company President. One by one at the meeting table, they unloaded on what was broken within their business. Where they needed help was in figuring out the right order of steps to solve those problems. “You must first get clear on your goals for the next year and then break that down by department,” I explained. With that advice, a plan started to take form. You could feel the confidence growing in the room that day.
Here, consensus was instrumental: it gave each decision maker permission to speak frankly about the problem at hand. Just as important, it gave them permission to focus and act decisively. There were much happier faces at the end of that meeting, with one of them declaring: “whoa…this felt like good therapy!”
GET CONSENSUS GATHERING WORKING FOR YOU
There’s a process you must implement to activate a consensus-focused gathering in a multi-threaded environment so that it can produce repeatable results for you and for your customer.
KNOW YOUR MOBILIZERS. You must draft up a list of your strongest advocates within your customer’s organization. These are people with whom your rapport is on a first-name basis. They understand your solution and want to see you succeed. Moreover, they will help broaden your understanding of who all the stakeholders are more broadly within the business. Every consensus journey map must start here.
SHOW YOUR AGENDA. When you reach out to your mobilizers with an invitation to gather in a room, define that meeting purposefully and clearly in terms that matter to them. Make it clear that this is NOT a sales meeting. Call it a workshop or a planning day or a strategic session (my prospect in the example above called it a crowd-sourcing session) with the end goal of defining how the group can move forward with consensus in implementing a solution to a well-defined problem.
DEFINE EXPECTATIONS. People respond better to meeting requests when they know exactly what they can count on happening at a session and what you expect of them. Your invitation must clearly explain the purpose of the meeting, the order in which issues will be talked about, and what you will be asking them to do (or pre-meeting assignments they’re expected to complete). You must show them how the outcomes of the meeting will help better position them for success.
DON’T MAKE IT FEEL LIKE WORK. You’re seeking to find 100% alignment within that group on defining a problem and developing a solution. You don’t get there by making the task seem difficult or unrelated to their work at an individual level. Instead, every bit of pre-meeting (or post-meeting) homework you assign—well-written articles on industry trends or analyst studies, for example—needs to be in service to the individual needs of each participant at that consensus gathering.
SEE THIS AS AN INTERIM QUALIFICATIONS CHECK. When you have participants come to your consensus gathering, you gain a powerful qualification check to see who is dedicated to the ongoing success of the organization. You also get to see who can provide new and previously unconsidered strategies for solving the business problem at hand.
DELEGATE. You have a lot of observational work to do at your consensus gathering. And it’s crucial that this meeting not be misconstrued as a sales focused one. So delegate meeting facilitation to someone who is familiar and trusted by participants. For instance, it can be someone from the client’s customers success group or from their implementation team.
START WIDE AND ZOOM IN. A common mistake that salespeople make is they apply out-in-the-field closing strategies to these kinds of back-in-the-office gatherings. In other words, they try to manage a purchase order rather than ask broader questions about the challenges faced by that customer. Instead, make your consensus gathering the place where you start looking at the bigger picture of the problem(s) faced by the organization. What does their landscape look like? For example: are there supply chain or tax compliance issues? What about a labor shortage? The more you define these wider issues, the more operational value you bring to the table.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH DISAMBIGUATION. As your consensus gathering participants narrow down the dimension of the business problem at hand, there’s a whittling away that happens as focus gets tighter. That’s when you can begin, as group, to ask tough questions like: “what’s the shortlist of problems that we can actually solve here today?” The answer comes from correctly defining the root problems, knowing which ones are worthy of the group’s attention and finding effective tactics to implement right away. This also entails looking at solutions the group may have tried before and asking whether it warrants another try. If the answer is YES, then more work needs to be done. If the answer is NO, then there’s one fewer solution to implement on the group’s action list.
MEASURE FOR RESULTS. All processes need to be measured later to determine whether they’ve been effective and to see where improvements are warranted. Commit your consensus gathering participants to follow-up on their action items. Define your metrics for success, the frequency with which you will gather data and have a plan for what you will do next with the knowledge you gain from all that information.
CONSENSUS IS ONE TOOL IN A BOX OF POWER TOOLS
As I pointed out at the start of this article, you must think of consensus gathering as one of several valuable tools at your disposal as sales professional. Working with groups of people to solve a wide range of sophisticated business problems—and working in a marketplace where no one ever has a complete picture of the entire sales landscape—is a difficult job. If it were easy, everyone would be a high-performance seller. Be selective, but recognize how incredibly powerful consensus gatherings can be in help your boost your value and sell more deals in less time.