Multiple decision-makers means knowing who can say ‘yes’

Here in Northern Colorado, we see many companies of different sizes selling into companies of every size imaginable. Some of these selling opportunities have simple decision-making hierarchy and process while some are more complex with multiple decision makers, sometimes with different needs.

At Sandler Training we talk about the “stairway to success.”  Step 1 might be an owner who has one employee and can make the decision without anyone else being impacted.  Step 4 might be an owner with anywhere from 10 to 20 employees and at least one manager in place.  Step 8 might be an international company with multiple locations, an executive team, a board and committees. 

Who’s in charge?

A Sandler Rule you might want to consider is this:  Everyone in an organization can tell you “no,” typically only one person in an organization can tell you “yes!” We might call this person the “Star” of the show.

So, the key here is to find out who has the authority to tell you “yes.”  While we definitely want to focus on the “Star” of the show, we also want to cater to the other influencers in the decision-making process.  These individuals are also sometimes called influencers, inside champions of the other “cast of characters” in the decision-making process.  Keep in mind that the person who can say “yes” can also delegate that decision to someone else if they choose.

We once called on a mortgage company and met with the president of the company.  Halfway through our pre-sale process, he hired a new general manager.  Rather than telling the general manager they were going with us, he thought he might empower the general manager by letting him make the decision, which he did, with someone else.

The fact that sales professionals typically have greater challenges managing larger sales opportunities could be due to the following reasons: A more complex decision process, a longer selling cycle or perhaps aggressive and skilled competition.

Most strong sales professionals run a structured “decision step” as part of their sales process. It will typically involve identifying the who, what, when, where, how and why of a prospect’s decision-making process. A good question to start the “who” identification part of the process is to ask “Ms. Prospect, who else besides you get involved in making a decision to purchase something like this?” Or, “Ms. Prospect, when you’ve purchased something like this in the past, who on your team do you bring into that process to help you with that decision?” However, be wary. Never stop probing when the prospect says, “It’s just me.” Or, when they give you one or two other names. Keep going with something like, “You mean, the end user doesn’t get a vote?” Or, “What about your CFO, is her input important too?”

In order to succeed in this type of sales arena, we need to find out what is personally at stake for each of the decision-influencers, with the most important personal reasons being those of the Star. This is where we stop talking and get those individuals to share with us what the impact will personally be to them by adding your product or replacing an incumbent vendor with your product and/or service. Keep in mind that these “pains” for the rest of the cast of characters are often quite different than the Stars pains or motivations.

Another way to look at it is:  How are they personally impacted by doing nothing?  The person who can say “yes” can and will trump the others if they so choose. However, don’t underestimate how an unhappy employee or employees can offset the alleviating of the personal pain of the decision maker.  Oftentimes, the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

Part of your role as the sales professional in the complex sales environment is to coach the Star or Co-Star on how they will handle the push back from their team or other department heads (the supporting cast). Being a trusted advisor to your prospect or to your client is why you get paid the big bucks in the first place.  And it separates professionals from novices.

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Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. Reach him at 303-928-9163 or