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Who’s carrying your flag inside the customer’s business?

Who’s really making the buying decision?

Have you noticed that it’s becoming more common to have multiple layers of decision makers and decision influencers in the buying process?

Often the salesperson enters this process at a level where he or she is dealing primarily with influencers, information gatherers, or other stakeholders who have considerable influence on the sale — but little or no authority to make the decision.

You must be thorough when working with these folks.  Too often, I see two main problems:

1.    Salespeople spend way too much time negotiating and pricing with non-decision makers.
2.    Salespeople don’t spend enough time understanding the “lay-of-the-land” that many of these influencers will share.  Instead, they rush to get to the decision-maker—disregarding the people on the way up.

Let’s address both of these problems.  First of all, when you spend too much time presenting your offer and pricing to those who cannot make the decision, you are trying to sell to those who cannot buy!

Although there is great value in gaining knowledge from these influencers, too many salespeople see them as another constituent who needs to be sold in order to make progress on the deal.  Sometimes a salesperson has not asked the right questions and/or done the homework to discover that the person in front of him cannot stroke the check.

Other times, the salesperson is aware that he is not talking to a decision-maker but chooses to go through his sales process anyway!

Both situations can lead to a disconnect with the influencer.  “Opening” this person correctly will create a connection of trust with them, and they will help you get to the next step in the customer’s buying process by carrying your flag!  Trying to “close” them will create frustration on your part and a disconnect on theirs.

On the other hand, if you simply attempt to leapfrog these individuals to get to the true decision-maker, you can create substantial problems as well.  Although these people may have little financial authority, they may have substantial influence.  They may be the ones who will be the beneficiaries (or victims) of the decision that will be made to go with you and your company or your competition.

These people need to be handled with kid gloves as they may have much, if not all, of the information and details that you will need to craft your solution.  By carefully taking their opinions and input into consideration (added to the fact that you had the courtesy to ask them AND listen) you can create a very powerful set of internal zealots to champion your name to the decision maker.

Often, the person who is writing the check (your real decision maker) does not have the “front lines” point of view necessary to make the right decision. They will heavily rely upon the opinions of those who do.  You need to win those folks over on the way up so they will sing your praises as the one who has the best solution.

All of this takes a great level of awareness and a keen ear for details.  Pay attention to the titles, the dialogue direction, the tone and tenor of the opinions offered, and more.  Dig, diagnose, and probe for the answers behind the answers.

The true key to any sale is to come from the point of view of the buyer or buyers in every situation.   By NOT rushing to get to your presentation and NOT rushing to get to the “guy who writes the check” you can learn a lot, earn confidence, and truly “dig a moat” around the customer that will keep the other guys (competition) out!

A final note on this topic:  If you are already at the presentation/negotiation stage and are not sure who is in front of you, it will most likely be too late to build those connections and that trust necessary.  Business is not often “won” at the end of the sales process.  Done correctly, business is “won” before you ever present your offer!

Photo: ModernDope, via Creative Commons 2.0