While Trying To Land Big Deals, My Team Is Not Always Adept At Understanding And Managing Politics Within
An Organization (Lesson 8)

I wholeheartedly believe my success as a salesperson was partly due to the fact I was able to understand the politics of a client’s organization, yet I didn’t participate in those politics.

There are politics in every group of people. From a teenage son making maneuvers to borrow his parents’ car on the weekend to who gets the vacant office with a window when somebody leaves, everybody knows there is a level of politics that must be played in life.

In terms of getting to know the players at a potential client company, you’ll need to start by figuring out who are your champions, advisors and people that have positive opinions about doing business with you and who the people are that you haven’t talked to yet or who may be against a deal.

This is when you’ll start to understand the bonds between people in the organization, how they feel about one another and one another’s work.

I have had clients bash others in their organization, but I’ve always tried to passively agree with them while not taking a real stand.

If a person in marketing said to me, “That CFO doesn’t know what he’s doing! I don’t understand how he ever got that job!” then I would say something like, “It must be difficult dealing with people you don’t see eye-to-eye with.”

Or, if one person said, “The President is going to ruin this company with the decisions he’s making!” I would say, “I can certainly understand why that’s concerning to you.”

The reality has often been that I’ll need that CFO or that President to sign-off on the deal at some point, so bashing them behind their back to try and get ahead is not a good idea. I’ve seen it backfire and blow up in the face of some salespeople.

Always Be Looking For Behavioral Cues

Instead of becoming part of the politics of the client organization, consider yourself as a sociologist watching a human experiment. It’s your job to figure out how they interact with one another.

If you’re in a conference room giving a presentation to six or seven people, try to gather information on how their interpersonal relationships and communication are played out. Do they respect one another? Are they combative with each other? Are they looking to out-do one another or looking to get ahead of the other?

If you’re looking for cues, it’s not hard to see what’s going on. If somebody is rolling their eyes every time a specific other person talks, there’s a big message to be gained there. It’s also not too hard to figure out who is motivated to get ahead. I’ve seen people who want to purchase the solution I’m selling because they know it will save their company money and believe if they champion the purchase, they’ll rise up in the ranks.

While some of these situations sound like they are out of a bad 1980s teen movie, these kinds of politics are rampant throughout organizations I’ve dealt with. Despite the fact that there are organizational charts that you would think dictate who makes the decisions and who the advisors are, the reality is that influence can come in all shapes and sizes throughout the organization. Your job is to be a cross between a psychoanalyst and a detective with the emotional intelligence to figure out where everybody fits in.

When Politics Stalls The Deal

There are going to be times when the politics of an organization can hurt you. In the first article we talked about assistants and other gatekeepers who will try to stall you, but once you start dealing with the upper echelon of decision makers, you’ll likely run into people who are trying to stonewall you for their own benefit.

This is where the top salespeople learn to adapt and where the experience of a sales manager can help with counsel. It’s about strategy at this point. If you need to go through that person, you figure out a way to go through. If you need to go around, then go around. You’ve got to be adaptable and then determine how to overcome the obstacle in your way.

You’re also going to deal with companies where different divisions operate in silos and sometimes couldn’t care less what happens to the other guy. If the accounting department loves your solution, but the marketing department has no use for it, those in the marketing department will probably see the acquisition of the solution as company resources that are not going to their department.

When you face these kinds of issues, your job is not to get involved in the inter-departmental politics. They existed long before you got there and will exist long after you’ve left. Your best bet is to bring both sides together and help them understand how your solution will benefit the company, in turn benefiting both of them.