Decision Makers vs. Influencers


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What salesperson has not been disappointed to hear he/she has lost a deal as the result of selling to the wrong person? Despite asking, many salespeople, without knowing it, find themselves pitching to someone other than the decision maker.

Because this can be a fatal error, let's think about how to identify and get to the true economic decision maker.

First, let's identify all the players in the decision-making unit. There is the economic decision maker who pulls the trigger, and influencers who have the ear of the decision maker, such as users, technical advisors, Board of Directors, and consultants.

Once you know the roles to look for, here are some best practices to identify who has the power and to whom to sell:

  • Ask your contact questions/don't make assumptions.
  • Validate information by asking more than one client to double-check the answers you get.
  • Preface your questions in a way to encourage the most complete and accurate answer.

    • “Once you review (or approve) this … who will participate with you in making the decision?” or, “What are all the steps you will take in the decision process?” vs. “Are you the decision maker?”

  • Ask strategic questions to go deeper and get more information:

    • “Who is supporting this initiative?”
    • “What obstacles do you think might exist?”
    • “What has been budgeted?”
    • “What is prompting this initiative?”
    • “Where is it on the priority list?”

  • Recognize decisions that are likely to be made at the executive level.

    • First-time decisions
    • Decisions that cross divisional lines
    • All major, high-price-tag decisions
    • Strategic decisions

  • Observe the patterns of how other decisions were made. Consider the culture of the organization — i. e. , centralized or decentralized.
  • Read signs: power vs. titles.

    • Who speaks first, who waits for whom, who sits where, etc.

  • Ask about the competition.

    • What is the competitor(s) offering? What does the client think about the offering and the competitor(s)? How does the client think you compare?
    • Find out what the competitors’ access has been.

  • Ask directly.

    • “How does X (the CEO/Board, users, technical, marketing …) get involved?”
    • “How do you interface with X on this decision?”

  • Develop an internal coach.

    • Gain critical information, direction, and support. Almost nothing is more valuable than creating an internal coach who wants to see you win. The higher up, the better, but a coach, whether CEO to AA, can help you win a deal.

  • When you get the C-level executive decision maker, be fully prepared for your meeting. You get only one shot! The impression you make is likely to be indelible.
Once you identify the economic decision maker and influencers, get to meet with them. To help yourself uptier, identify a benefit to your current client, as well as the senior, and include your current client. Remember that seniors are more interested in strategic issues and implications vs. technical details. Ideally, get to all decision makers and influencers before you are competing for business so they know your name and your organization and have good things to say about you.

Learn more about Richardson's comprehensive sales training solutions by visting our Web site

Linda Richardson is founder of Richardson ( ), a leading sales training and consulting firm. Ms. Richardson recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Sales Training. Gerhard Gschwandtner, Publisher and Founder of Selling Power magazine, commented, “What makes her stand out is the ability to continually stretch and grow to remain the undisputed industry leader. ”


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