By Anne Zink
Nov. 1, 2012
Sitting in the airport lounge on my weekly layover between Amelia Island and Haiti, I found myself eavesdropping on a group of men bemoaning the loss of a several hundred million dollar deal they had been chasing for two years. Over copious drinks they lamented the fact that they would have won if there hadn’t been a last minute stakeholder change. I’m sorry but that is a lame excuse no sales manager should accept.
My team and I recently closed an opportunity valued at more than $90 million in Haiti. It took us just about two years. To secure the win, we had to contend with two presidents, three prime ministers, six ministers of justice and two agency head changes. With the exception of the presidential change, each was a shock. Worse, each replacement was a political appointee with little to no experience related to his new role.
Changing decision makers should be expected in large opportunities, simply because they take so long. While it isn’t always possible to predict management changes, it is possible to prepare for them. The key is taking the time early in the opportunity development cycle to create an Opportunity Network. Similar to your professional network, an Opportunity Network is a set of stakeholders and influencers who make up the underlying power structure of a deal. It includes not only the obvious decision makers, but also the informal power brokers that have their hands on the pulse of the project. Identifying those players is a critical success factor. It’s also a task our group of sad sellers probably completed.
However, our sad sellers likely failed to identify the role of each member in the Opportunity Network. Just as all members of your professional network are not created equal, nor are those in an Opportunity Network. There are three main roles in an Opportunity Network: Facilitators, Counselors and Mentors. The key to predicting, or at minimum, effectively responding to management changes in a sales cycle is having access and influence with the mentors in the Opportunity Network.
Relationships with mentors are critical
Mentors are the top-tier of the Opportunity Network. They have long-standing personal histories with decision makers and, very often, the entire chain of command. Mentors have contributed to the company’s success more than once. They are deeply trusted advisers. Mentors are often described as the "power behind the power." They can be informal decision makers even if they sit outside the corporate or government structure. Securing their support is challenging. But gaining the support of mentors dramatically increases the probability of success, reduces competition and shortens the sales cycle.