Your Guide to Relationship Mapping in B2B Sales
How to Make Relationship Mapping a Permanent Part of Your Sales Strategy.
B2B sales isn’t easy. The growth in competition consistently outpaces the growth of the market for new and recurring business. This places a strain on B2B sales teams who often lack the processes and systems to enable consistent success.
One such process that is an indispensable part of effective sales strategies is relationship mapping: the systematic practice of building deeper sales relationships with the right buyers in an account.
The purpose of this guide is to explain what relationship mapping is, highlight why it’s important, and offer a simple and concise way to put it into practice in your sales motion.
What Does Relationship Mapping Mean?
Relationship mapping, put simply, is the process of figuring out who’s who inside your target account and creating a visual representation of relationships.
The goal is to explore and identify the right contacts who can drive deals forward from first contact to close, based on:
The process – part of what can be broadly described as relationship management or relationship intelligence – helps answer crucial questions every B2B sales team has when it comes to formulating a key account sales strategy, questions like:
- Who are the decision-makers who can say yes or no?
- What roles and responsibilities do these DMs have?
- What are the competing priorities you’ll have to navigate?
- Who is going to help you reach these DMs and influence them in your favor?
- Where are gaps in your network that you’ll need to bridge?
- Who influences who?
Relationship mapping is more than just building an org chart. It’s more than understanding hierarchy. Relationship mapping is about using networks of people to overcome challenges, build consensus, and create a clear path to close – and knowing how people relate to one another beyond simple lines on an org chart is the key.
Why Relationship Mapping Is a Crucial Sales Process
Relationship mapping is a sales process that’s key to any effort, and one that grows in importance as the target account increases in size and complexity.
Across all B2B sales opportunities, there are three specific challenges that sales reps encounter:
- Decision-making groups are more diverse and complicated today than they were yesterday
- Key stakeholders have priorities that often differ from and conflict with each other
- The most lucrative key accounts have more sellers competing for their attention, which increases the difficulty of breaking through to contacts besieged by outsiders
According to Gartner, sellers have precious little time with buyers, who spend as little as 17% of their time talking with vendors when considering a B2B purchase. (If the buyer is talking with multiple providers, that number drops to roughly 5%.)
Gartner also found that today’s buying journey isn’t linear, but more complex and recursive, as shown by their diagram:
Finally, 77% of buyers today said that their latest B2B purchase was “very complex” or “difficult.”
Put bluntly, there’s no way a B2B sales team can consistently close enough sales opportunities to meet quarterly quotas without having a more structured and intentional way to address and overcome these challenges.
Since selling is all about relationships, it makes sense that understanding relationships – and knowing which ones to build – is integral to success. That’s the entire point of relationship mapping, and why it’s indispensable.
The Top Benefits of Relationship Mapping:
- Shorter sales cycles
- More efficient account discovery
- Increased customer retention rates
- Higher customer lifetime value (CTV)
- Improved coordination among sales team members
- More personalized customer interactions
To gain these benefits, sales teams need a relationship mapping strategy – and it starts with knowing who to know.
The Three Types of Contacts to Find
(and One to Avoid)
Finding the right contacts within an account is the key to success in any B2B sales process. But sales teams have a tough road: who, exactly, is a “right” contact? And how can you find these people, let alone reach and influence them?
In general, sales reps want to have conversations with contacts who fall into one of the 3 following groups, or relationship types:
- Those who have final purchasing authority
- Those who inform and influence the first group
- Those who can connect you with the first two groups
These groups have names. The first group are decision-makers, or DMs. They’re the often-diverse cabal of contacts in an account who can not only provide crucial input in the sales cycle process, but also veto part (or all) of the deal.
In one study, CEB found that your typical B2B deal requires approval from 5.4 people, before it closes. But it’s not just the number of contacts that complicates a sales cycle:
“Complicating matters, the variety of jobs, functions, and geographies that these individuals represent is much wider than it used to be. Whereas an IT supplier might have once sold directly to a CIO and his or her team, today that same firm may also need buy-in from the chief marketing officer, the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, legal counsel, procurement executives, and others.” [Note: this should be a callout quote]
These key stakeholders are the ultimate goal, but to find and converse with them usually takes navigating through other contacts.
Buyers Who Are On Your Side
The second group constitutes your champions. Champions are the insiders who support your solution – either because they benefit directly from it, or they believe in the positive impact it can bring – and have the right amounts of influence with DMs to drive favorable conversations.
As with the decision-maker group, champions come in a lot of different flavors. They’re not necessarily in positions of power (although they can be). They may not be in the chain of command, or even in the same division or business unit you’re targeting.
That’s because influence cuts across all lines. Sales is a people process, after all, and for a variety of reasons – personal and professional – certain people have the right amount of pull with DMs to sway their minds.
What’s more is that DMs often won’t open their doors to an outsider, like a sales rep, without a trusted referral. Trust is the key, and champions provide it.
The Sales Process Enablers
The third group of contacts you want to reach consists of supporters: the people in an account who are willing to help you learn more about the company, develop a better solution, and identify the next people to reach.
Supporters are frequently (but not always) your first contacts in the sales cycle. They are typically at lower levels of seniority. They’re also easier to ID and reach. What’s more is that they will usually be the ones who provide the meat of intelligence about the company’s needs, priorities, and current operating environment.
Additionally, supporters are the rep’s typical ins to champions. Their intro emails, calls, and texts are vital to getting deeper inside an organization.
In short, a healthy sales process in an account, especially an enterprise account, depends on supporters. They form the building blocks of a successful approach.
To recap, the three groups of key players who drive deals forward are (in order of importance):
There is one group of contacts who should be avoided whenever possible, though. They represent roadblocks in the sales process; appropriately, they’re called blockers.
Buyers Who Don't Help Sellers
Blockers represent resistance and delay. They aren’t helpful on balance, either with learning about the company, formulating a solution, or finding supporters and champions.
Sometimes this is by design. Gatekeepers are tasked with protecting the company’s time. They want to limit access to prevent DMs from being overwhelmed by external requests (and they get a lot of those on a daily basis).
Sometimes, though, blockers range from indifferent to hostile (relatively speaking). It’s important to note that blockers aren’t necessarily sales antagonists. They may just not have any useful information or connections, and don’t want to waste their own time when they have nothing to offer.
It’s important to note that companies with entrenched partnerships with your competitors tend to have more blockers than companies who represent unclaimed territory. That’s part of the challenge of gaining market share in a competitive environment and can’t be avoided.
If you know who blockers are and how to quickly identify and circumvent them, though, you can mitigate wasted time and effort and find productive pathways of communication.
In summary, relationship mapping helps you find the members of these groups and communicate with them accordingly, with the goal of constantly moving the opportunity forward.
How to Create and Use Relationship Maps
At its core, relationship mapping is a simple process.
Take the company’s organizational chart. Every sales rep starts with looking at the org chart, whether it’s clearly represented or something that has to be pieced together from various sources.
Roles are easy to see. Lines of responsibility are clearly marked. There’s an assumption that the higher up the hierarchy you go, the more “important” the contact becomes – and generally, the more important people you talk to, the more likely you are to succeed. (Or so the theory goes.)
Relationship mapping doesn’t ignore the org chart. Rather, it uses a company’s on-paper structure and brings it to life, in a manner of speaking, by incorporating the key, hidden elements of support and influence.
It also provides more clarity and context to the simple, cut-and-dry roles in the hierarchy. As discussed, the “most important” contacts in a company aren’t always in the same chain of command or business unit. Influence also cuts across these boundaries. And a contact’s title and position in the company reveals nothing about which group (DM, champion, supporter, blocker) they fall into.
Creating Your Relationship Maps
To create a relationship map, a salesperson must first outline what they know about the company and what they know about who is in it.
An org chart is a good starting place. As you gather account data, you can fill in this hierarchy with context clues. Maybe you spoke with Person A and learned a couple of useful nuggets. Maybe Person B was a dead-end, and Person C couldn’t help you – but they could refer you to Person D.
If your company has had previous relationships with the target account, this part of the process is a lot easier. In any case, fleshing out the org chart means uploading data gleaned from account research and building relationships with contact conversations.
You’ll eventually want to add at least two critical pieces of info for every contact:
- The buyer group they’re a part of (as outlined above)
- The amount of influence they have on the process as a whole
How do you measure influence? Influence is represented by some or all of the following:
- Purchasing authority
- Official approval power
- Seniority in the company
- Membership in any formal or informal committee or internal organization
- Personal or professional connections to key stakeholders beyond basic working relationships (for example, if they’re on a first-name basis or socialize outside of work)
You can use low, medium, and high to denote how much influence you think the contact has over the process. Don’t worry about being overly precise; you just need to develop a clearer picture of the account.
Relationship mapping can be as rudimentary as sketching on scrap paper or creating something in Excel/Google Sheets. It can also be incorporated into your customer relationship management (CRM) platform. The process can even be automated and updated as you input data from your sales efforts.
(Prolifiq offers an app called – appropriately – Relationship Map, designed for 100% native interaction within Salesforce. Relationship Map lets reps drag and drop customer contact data so that the app can update the org chart dynamically, which saves time and streamlines the process.)
Regardless of how you create the map, the next important part is how to use it effectively.
Leveraging Your Relationship Maps
Simply put, your relationship map should inform who you talk to next.
Each entry on your map will help guide you to a contact who can take the process further, either by providing more information to inform the solution, or giving informal (or formal) approval.
As you uncover contact information, such as email addresses and phone numbers, you can add it to the contact profile. You can also add notes about the contact’s priorities, concerns, and wants.
From these notes, you can plan out the conversation you want to have with the contact, so you can go into the approach with clear intent and purpose. In this way, relationship mapping can help sales reps avoid improvisation and being caught unaware and unprepared.
Relationship maps can also enable better team-based selling, since they provide one source of truth for who’s who in an account that all sales reps can see and follow. Maybe one of your senior executives has a connection with a potential champion. Perhaps a colleague has established rapport with a supporter. Or, maybe you can divide and conquer and accelerate the sales cycle by working multiple relationships at once across your team.
At the end of the day, the best way to leverage a relationship map is to make it an active and constant part of the sales process, which – at its most basic – is talking with people.
How Relationship Mapping Helps Grow Account Revenue
Relationship mapping isn’t just for earning new business; it’s also highly beneficial when it comes to growing revenue in existing accounts.
Part of account-based selling is understanding where to go after the initial sale. In key accounts, there’s always more opportunity beyond the first deal. By using relationship mapping, you can more easily find the buyers who are the keys to those additional opportunities.
For example, during the course of a previous deal, you may have come into contact with someone who mentioned a purchasing decision that will be coming six or 12 months down the road. Or, you may have built such a good rapport with a key stakeholder that they come to you when another need arises.
This process grows in importance when you consider turnover and how it impacts a company’s buying decisions in the long-term. People come and go. What was once a reliable and trusted source of info inside an account one day may be replaced by a total stranger the next, creating a gaping hole in your network.
By keeping your map current, you’re able to identify these gaps and keep critical continuity that drives retention and recurring revenue.
Deals only happen when the stars of need, budget, and solution knowledge align. Relationship mapping helps you plan for those moments and identify potential for additional revenue, which increases your organization’s bottom line.
Conclusion: Relationship Mapping
as a Key Sales Process
B2B sales is hard enough without having a system in place to know and grow relationships within a target account.
Sales teams that develop processes to collect and leverage data about internal relationships – including lines of influence and buyer roles – have more success than those who use traditional ways of understanding key accounts.
Using relationship mapping to know who to approach and how to establish communication with them – and build rapport – is a fundamental process that should be a part of any B2B sales strategy.
As relationships go, so go your team’s deals. Leverage relationship maps to build stronger connections for the next opportunity and each opportunity thereafter.