How to enable your sales team when selling to a complex DMUs

By Tobias Pasma

How to enable your sales team when selling to a complex DMUs

In B2B, you often don’t sell to just a single person. Usually, you’ll sell your solution to a decision-making unit (DMU). This can be a diverse group of individuals with different roles, tasks, responsibilities, and personalities. The more, the merrier, right? Well, not when it comes to deciding.

A study done by CEB shows that the likeliness of a purchase drops significantly when more than one person is involved. When six or more people were involved in a purchase decision, the likeliness of purchase went down to 31%. When this was measured (2014), the average buying group size was 5.4; in 2018, it climbed to 10.2. That’s a problem, not just for the selling party – also for the buyer. So how to solve this problem?

1. Rally the stakeholders around a shared cause

As said before, the members of the DMU you’re trying to sell to might have very different objectives. Say you’re selling to a DMU; two stakeholders are the head of production and a safety manager. They might feel their objectives are conflicting: the head of production might even feel like the safety manager is boycotting his goals. But there is common ground there, too: both do not want a stable environment without disruption in the production process. It is your job to find overlapping interests and showcase common goals.


Some time ago, I did a fun exercise for this with one of the top global Microsoft partners to find this common ground in the DMUs they were selling to. Based on extensive market research, we sat down and mapped the goals & hot topics for each job function that often had a seat in the DMU. We divided this into three levels: strategic, tactical & operational. The outcome was that the topics were the most fractured on an operational level, while there was a lot more alignment on a strategic level. This was an eye-opener for their sales reps since most conversations highlighted their solutions' operational and tactical aspects.

The next step was to find the topics that had a significant overlap and hit each member of the DMU. These topics became the main talking points in marketing messaging and sales meetings with customers.

You can download a template if you want to do this exercise yourself.

2. Be early

If you make sure you are talking about the right topics, you’re already quite far along with improving the way you sell to complex DMUs. However, there is another problem. Sales are often late to the party – too late to impact the topic described above seriously. On average, buyers are 57% halfway through the process before engaging with supplier sales reps (HBR 03/2015). Please note that this is a pre-pandemic stat; I would be surprised if this number didn’t grow over the past years. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend of buyers doing the research by themselves.

The sales reps step very late into the picture (if all, because the DMU might have fallen apart due to a lack of consensus). The sales rep’s role then diminishes to making the buyer choose them; aligning stakeholders around a shared case is a station long passed.

So, what is the solution if sales are too late for the party? Well, it asks for a different sales methodology (i.e., provocative selling, inbound selling, conceptual selling) or a heavier reliance on the marketing department. Marketing typically focuses on the earlier stage of the buying process: creating awareness around the problem and starting the conversation around possible solutions. We’ve also seen that consensus-building is a crucial area that marketing should focus on when selling to complex DMUs.

3. Personalise, but with limits

Often in ABM-tactics, the idea is to service the members of the DMU with highly specific and personalised content. This might backfire and work against the goal of building consensus in the DMU. Do not deliver messages to individual DMU members that solve just their needs or problems, but highlight the shared cause defined in step 1.

Indeed, an IT manager might have different information needs than the CMO, and you should provide the IT manager with the information that he needs, but do not change the message around the facts away from the shared cause.

4. High-quality & trustworthy content

And lastly, maybe a bit of a no-brainer – but make sure that when you share information as a supplier, this information is of good quality and makes sense. A somewhat funny but sad statistic: Gartner found that 44% of customers found the information from suppliers was trustworthy and simultaneously contradictory. If marketers all over the world would do their job correctly, contradictions in the information provided would not exist.

Sell better

If in your business you are often selling to (large) DMUs, with sometimes conflicting interests, reconsider your sales methodology and the role of marketing. Do the mapping exercise provided and find the shared causes. Make those the cornerstones in your approaches.

PS: There are quite some stats used in this article; if you happen to come across more recent numbers, please send an email, and I will gladly update this article.

Tobias Pasma
An experienced HubSpot specialist with many HubSpot certifications under his belt. Born in the Netherlands and moved to Sweden in 2019.
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