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Everybody and Nobody…
The Decision Maker

It isn’t unusual that by the time salespeople get as far along in the sales process to learn how decisions are made, who are the players who make those decision and what is the timing of the decision, that they are so excited to have made it this far that they quickly skim over it and rush to the exciting part, which is the presentation. Or, if they do happen to superficially inquire about the decision process, they generally default to the “who” question. The “who” question alone will generally get you the wrong information. If you ask the non-decision maker if they are the decision maker and they answer yes, what they really heard, or better yet what their ego heard was, “Are you the decision maker to bring this to the final decision maker?” The flip side is when you ask the real decision maker who the decision maker is, that individual, feeling pressure, palms you off on a fictitious committee that allegedly makes a group decision letting them off the hook.

Sometimes salespeople are reluctant to find out how decisions are made because they tend to be overly optimistic, lack objectivity and loathe doing anything that might ruin a perfectly rosy forecast.

The decision process usually includes a linked group of tasks, steps and a series of events with a timetable. Knowing the chain of command and chain of events is critical in timing your information. Once you understand the “cast of characters” you can now strategize your entry points within the organization. A general rule is to try to cover your bases by going broad and deep within a company when it is appropriate and always start at the top when possible.

Since prospects don’t always have a well defined decision making process, you are going to have to map out your strategy in advance and share your own process with them. Keep in mind that the prospect will default to an information gathering process when they don’t have a defined process. That leverages their time and always puts you at a severe disadvantage.

Salespeople too often don’t have a firm grip on how long their selling cycle is and when it starts or finishes. They don’t gather this information early on and they misallocate their leverage and control. “Your sales cycle commences when your prospect shares an end date, a time frame or a serious intent. The time span of your initial contact, the time and the number of your meetings it takes to qualify your prospect and build trust does not factor into your formal sales cycle. The sales cycle begins when you start to have serious meetings and conversations about their requirements and your solutions and when it corresponds with a definitive timeline to make a final decision. The reason this is important to be aware of is because you now no longer confuse your sales cycle when you exchange information with the time you spend building trust,” says Christine Gould.

Once you understand all the factors and variables involved in the change process from the initial contact, through the interest building stage to the steps necessary to the implementation of your solution, you can begin to effectively craft your sales strategy. Selling cycles are abbreviated when you go through a process of elimination of all the doubts, fears, insecurities, hurdles and delays that your prospect has to go through to make a final decision. Selling cycles and the decision process is locked down when you know the things that could happen positively and negatively with the implementation of your solution. As you become better acquainted with your prospect’s culture, timing and philosophy, you have a better sense as to the practicality, convenience and reality of how your solution will be accepted and potentially implemented.

“The length of your sales cycle will be determined by the time it takes your prospect to pose questions to themselves internally that deal with all the variables in their business that will effect their decision making process, such as: timing, political clout and will, ease of change and execution, ease of evaluation, ability to get consensus, ability to juggle competing projects and tolerance for the status quo. The time it takes to address these issues, and hopefully with your assistance, input and facilitation, will determine the length of your selling cycle,” says William Brooks.

The following are some ideas on how to gain access to the elusive final decision maker:

  • Don’t fight gravity. Start at the top and if necessary, work your way down. Starting at the bottom of the food chain will inevitably stall your deals.
  • Don’t fall victim to the trap of selling and pursuing a prospect just because of their title even if they are the top dog.
  • In today’s environment, prospects that are buying value are located higher and higher up the food chain.
  • The higher up the ladder one goes in an organization, the more the prospect wants to know what the salesperson knows about their industry, company and business.
  • To get high in an organization, trade something they want for access. Ask tough operational questions that they don’t have answers to so that you can get access to higher-level executives who can answer directly for you.

Here are some verbiage and scripts to locate the decision maker and better understand the decision process:

  • “Who needs to be brought into the loop on this?”
  • “What is your process to issue a purchase order?”
  • “If you became convinced that this service will achieve the results you need and you decide you want to move forward with a purchase, specifically what has to happen?”
  • “What are the most important political considerations that I should know about in this process?”
  • “Who or what are the potential wildcards that could veto this decision?”
  • “When is the latest you’d like to make a decision? Why is that date important?”
  • “There are two types of decision makers that I typically run into. 1) On their time, at their convenience, not a moment before; or 2) They don’t have the time, predisposition or patience to drag things out. They are decisive and take the bull by its horns. Which one fits for you?”
  • “So you can sign off on $30,000 yourself?”
  • “95% of all companies I deal with have multiple layers for making a decision like this. Is your company like that?”
  • “For what reasons would you choose to work with me and for what reasons would you choose not to work with me?”
  • “In order for me to get the necessary resources to do a thorough proposal, I need to set up a meeting of both of our CEOs. Unfortunately, this is a company policy that I have no control over.”
  • Negotiate for access. “If I can set you up with an existing client where a demo can be given to you, would you in turn be willing to set up a meeting with your CEO, assuming the demo meets all your needs?”

The following are very important elements to ascertain in the decision step:

  • Who has the ear of senior management?
  • Who can shoot your proposal down?
  • Specifically who needs to be on board?
  • Who are the financial stakeholders, champions, technical evaluators, cost evaluators and end users?
  • What will you need to win support of others?
  • Who signs the check?
  • Does the CEO rubber-stamp this or are they intimately involved?
  • What are the dotted line responsibilities of the individuals and departments that really pull weight?

If you are going to be an absentee salesperson at the final event. Here are questions you want to ask to increase your odds:

  • “When presenting to the committee, do you recommend one choice that you are backing or a couple of alternatives that don’t matter one way or another to you?”
  • “What is your hit rate when you go to the committee?”
  • “What criteria will be important to them?”
  • “What objections do you think they could possibly raise?”

If you are locked out of the decision process and you believe your competition has the inside track, you may need to reevaluate your commitment. You always have the choice of backing out and not playing by their rules if they don’t favor your cause. This decision will rest heavily on many variables including the health of your existing pipeline and how busy you are.

Once you have a prospect who has problems they can’t live with, has the time and means to allocate to get rid of those problems, and they are in a position to make a decision to spend the money to get rid of their problems, then you have a qualified prospect. This prospect is now qualified for your time, your information, your company resources, your relationship and your self-esteem and passion that you’ll now be putting into this deal. However, if they are not in a position to make a decision or you don’t have the right access, then more than likely, you are just whistling in the wind. If you have really done your due diligence and properly qualified them for pain, investment and decision process, then I believe you have a certifiable, qualified prospect. They will definitely buy from someone. What we don’t know for sure is who they will buy from. However, if you take the time and have the expertise to do the following I believe you will be very well positioned to be rewarded the deal:

  • You helped them identify their problem in a way that they never thought of before hand, therefore differentiating yourself from your competition.
  • You helped them do a cost/benefit analysis of their problem so they understand the costs of moving forward and the consequences of inaction.
  • You took the position of a business strategist and built a business case, not a product-centric case.

Since you took the time to understand their problem better than your competition, it is perceived that you will now be in a better position to give the best solution. Remember the salesperson who does the best job of identifying and understanding their problems will consistently outsell the salesperson who has the best product or solution.

Since you did the preceding, you are in the best position to have the strongest relationship with your prospect and relationships are ultimately what prospects put their trust and confidence in.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com