Those of us who’ve been in business-to-business sales for a long time can easily recall being asked by our manager or coach about the ever-elusive decision maker.
“Are you the decision maker?” We were even trained to ask this of our potential clients. Invariably, the answer we got back affirmed that they were and, if we were really unlucky, would be told there was no need to talk to anyone else. Coaching was focused on the premise that getting to the decision maker would result in winning the deal.
It’s amazing to me how prevalent this form of coaching is—even today—in major, complex sales situations. Unfortunately, the concept of a single decision maker is part of the past. Today, understanding how multi-person decision-making works allows for more deals to be won.
In major, complex sales there are multiple individuals who play a part in the buying decision. Whenever there are multiple people involved in any form of decision-making, there are different levels of influence and politics at play. Ultimately though, how you figure out the decision-making playing field and the way it’s leveraged is the key to sales success. If you want to win, forget the idea of a single decision maker and focus on influencing the most powerful individuals within the context of the decision making process.
Concentrate on these three steps:
- Identify all the players in the decision-making process:
The formal decision-making process is usually more closely aligned to the organizational structure and the authority that individuals hold. Many types of decision-makers can be involved; from users, to technical experts, and those with political and financial affiliation. It is important to remember that some individuals may have an informal influence on the decision from an external perspective. They don’t necessarily form part of the formal process but exert influence from the outside. They may be consultants, external experts, previous mentors, or even a regular golfing partner.
- Identify how the team works together and what is important to each player:
The decision-makers may have different levels of influencers. Some have more clout and power than others. While one might feel as though they need the complete buy-in from one individual, they may go out of their way to ignore or even go against the counsel from another. These influence connections are created by a reasonably small number of observable patterns. It is important to learn what criteria are important to each individual. Some may base their decision on the current political landscape, while others make decisions based on cost, performance, or service.
- Develop a decision-making play book:
Leaders typically have a small number of critical business goals on which their performance is judged. Yet, everyone in a professional role has a compelling desire to achieve something for a sense of fulfillment. It’s the desire to be something, to achieve something, or to be recognized by someone that matters. This emotional driver is the personal agenda. Studies show that decisions tend to be made first on emotion and then retrospectively support the emotional decision with a stream of logical reasoning. Therefore, if salespeople only focus on the logical reasons to persuade in their direction, then the primary driver for change is missed—the emotional one.
The importance of sales teams to invest time in researching the personal agendas of the most powerful players in a sales cycle cannot be overstated. Yet, it is one of the most commonly overlooked elements when deals are lost. With social media and the internet providing quick access to knowledge, it is easy to go the extra mile to find what makes clients tick. So stop focusing on a single decision maker and commit to uncovering who all the players are. Build relationships with them and figure out how to read between the lines of the data you uncover, to identify their personal agenda. Knowing what is important to whom and why is critical to your success. The way to win deals is to learn about all the individuals that are going to formally and informally influence the decision. Then, learn to use what you researched to create business and emotional momentum through leveraging the political influences and personal agendas that are present in every sales situation.
Personal Challenge: Thinking of a specific client, list all known decision makers. Explore potential additional decision makers; from influencers who are users, technical experts, and those with political and financial affiliation. Also, consider other influencers who may provide an external perspective. Create a list with their level of importance in the decision-making process and what criteria are most important to them (i.e. cost, performance, service). As you continue to make calls, uncover information to fill in any missing information.