Reaching the Decision Makers

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who had zero power to make a decision, you understand how frustrating it can be. So today we’ll talk about how to get to the decision makers.

David:                   Hi and welcome to the podcast!  Today co-host Chris Templeton and I will be talking about decision makers. Who are they, where are they and how do we get to them? Welcome Chris.

Chris:                   Hi David. Well, it seems that most sales people understand the importance of getting to a decision maker, but many really haven’t ever been trained to, have they?

David:                   It seems that way. Yeah.

Chris:                     Where do they start? Because it really is something that I think a lot of people don’t get. As obvious as it is, like how do I actually do it? It’s a whole different thing.

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David:                   Right. Well I think a lot of it starts with identifying who the decision maker is to the best of their ability.  A lot of times we think just because someone's agreed to an appointment or just because we've gotten someone on the phone that they are in fact the decision maker and that is not always the case. So we want to start out by doing whatever we can to only make presentations to decision makers, which means we need to find out upfront as well as we can as much as possible whether or not the person that we're talking to has the ability to make the decision.

Chris:                     Talk a little bit about how you have that conversation, because my sense is that one of the biggest issues a sales person has with getting to a decision maker is their fear of asking. What do you suggest that they say to somebody who they're not sure if they're the decision maker?

David:                   Okay. Well first thing I would say is never assume that the person that you're talking to is the decision maker. It's really easy to do this but don't!  Because we feel like I've got a live wire on the phone or I've got a live wire that I'm talking to and it's sometimes more fun to just sort of plow ahead and see what happens. But you could be shooting yourself in the foot if you do that. So the best way to do it is simply to ask and to get comfortable with the idea, you know, “Will you be making the decision on this or is anyone else involved?” It's really pretty straightforward. Now before you even get to a question like that, you want to determine whether or not they have any sort of interest. You want to get clear on what it is that you do and all that sort of thing. But once they've expressed interest in what you're talking about, it's a good question to get answered upfront.

Chris:                     And I think that typically you've got to that place where they seem to be expressing interest. And now as a sales guy, I'm really excited to keep this movement.

David:                   Right!

Chris:                     And then to kind of throw a wrench in the works and ask if they're, the decision maker is tough, but the payoff is huge, isn't it? In other words, in terms of not having wasted time and also being sure that I'm getting to the right person who can make the decision.

David:                   Exactly. Because the biggest wrench you can really throw into it, is making a beautiful presentation to someone who has absolutely no ability to buy from you. It's a much bigger wrench than simply asking the person if they are in fact the decision maker or if there are other people involved.

Chris:                     Let's say that I've gone through the process of having the call, this person's expressed interest, for some reason I haven't got to the question about who the decision maker is and they want me to give a presentation. What do I do to make sure that the decision maker is actually there?

David:                   Okay, well again, the first thing you want to do is ask, you know, “Are you the decision maker or are there other people involved in that?” and if there are other people involved in that, then you can say, “Hey listen, I don't want you to have to do my job for me. So it would, it makes sense for all of us to get together on the same call or at the same presentation?”. Some will say yes, some will say no. If there are some people who are control freaks, they are just very much into controlling the situation. They'll say, “No, you will make your very best presentation to me and then I will determine how much of that I pass onto the person who will actually be making the buying decision.” and when that happens we get to decide whether or not we want to move forward, right? We can decide, okay, well that doesn't really make sense for me to be able to put this together for someone who has no ability to buy and we may choose to say, “Okay, well you know, I'm sorry, we just don't do business that way.” and you can step away from it. On the other hand, if they have been delegated with this task, they're supposed to be gathering all the information and they're supposed to be bringing it back to the decision maker and they're sort of in the same boat where you are essentially, they're sort of forced to gather this information and present it. Then we want to do everything we can to empower that person to be able to deliver that information in as compelling a manner as possible.

Chris:                     And I really think that goes back to this whole idea of asking what the process is, who's involved in the process and really getting from this person, assuming that they are tasked with this job of distilling information and getting to somebody of really asking for their standpoint, what's the best way as a salesperson, I can help you to deliver that message.

David:                   Yeah. You know, another thing that I've noticed is sometimes you'll ask someone if they're the decision maker and they'll indicate that they are or they'll imply that they are, but they won't overtly state it. So one of the things that I've found helpful is repeating back what they've said and trying to get confirmation on it. So if they say, “Oh yes, I'm involved in the decision making.” And you say, “Oh, okay, so you're, you're involved in the decision making. Does that mean that you're actually making the decision or are there other people involved?” And then if they say, “No, it's me, I'm the one who makes a decision.”, then you say, “Oh, okay, just want to confirm. You are in fact the decision maker.”  “Yes.”  “Okay, good.” And the reason you want to do that is that a week or so later after you've put together all the information, you've delivered it exactly as they wanted and they're stalling; you don't want them to be able to go back to “Well, I have to get permission from my boss.” And if they do, you can at least say, “Oh, well when we spoke, you had indicated that you are the decision maker on this.” And they can say, “Oh yeah, well I was, but then it turns out something else happened and I needed to get confirmation from my boss on anything that's over a certain dollar amount,” or whatever. They'll say whatever it is they're going to say. But at least if you prefaced it with that, you've got a lot better likelihood of being able to be talking to the decision maker.

Chris:                     And it also shows that you hold people accountable in a nice way. Right? And Oh, I thought you were, is a nice way to say, Hey, what's going on here? Let me make sure I understand it and then honor that. And in so many ways, don't you think it's better to just kind of stick with face value? While we're really asking the tough questions about what's changed.

David:                   Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes people will imply that they’re the decision maker even when they know they're not, but they don't want to admit it. So sometimes it's an ego thing, so they'll pretend that they're the decision maker until it becomes time to actually pull the trigger on the order. And then they'll let you know that either they can't do it or some people they just won't even tell you. They'll never tell you that they're not the decision maker. They'll just say, “Well, we decided to go in a different direction”, or something like that. You may never even find out

Chris:                     And some of that is going to happen. But there's so much confusion about who it is, and taking the time to understand that and to have these conversations is really critical, isn't it?

David:                   Yeah. And I think when someone is deliberately misleading you, that's one thing. But there are other situations where the person you're talking to actually believes that they are the decision maker. They think that they're going to have the ability to pull the trigger on this order. And then they find out later that their boss says something like, well, I think I want to do this or I want to do that. And all of a sudden the decision has been taken from them. So even if they're being completely truthful with you and they think they're the decision maker, in some cases it turns out that they're not. So in a B2B situation, it could be a boss that's asking the subordinate to gather the details without telling them that it's not their decision. In a business to consumer scenario, this often happens with spouses. You know, some spouses have confusion about this. The guy might think he actually has the authority to make the decision.

Chris:                     Oh, he hasn't been married long enough has he David?

David:                   Yeah, we could go with that. But you know, sometimes you do think that you're, you've been authorized to make a decision and then you're not, and they get push-back from the other spouse who wants to be involved in the decision. So a lot of times it's about the person themselves getting clarity on whether or not they are in fact the decision maker. And people don't always do that.

Chris:                     And I think it's really important again, for the salesperson to be okay with that and not feel, you know, I've seen sales guys who've said, “Oh I can't believe it now the husband wants to be involved” or whatever. That does not serve you in any way in terms of making a sale. If you want to make this sale, you've got to be able to roll with those punches in a nice and easy way.

David:                   Absolutely. And I recently had a situation where I was considering a pretty large purchase for our business and it's the kind of thing that I would certainly have my business partner involved in as far as the decision itself. When I had the sales person on the line who was talking to me about the thing that we were looking to buy. He did ask me up front. He said, “Is there anybody else who would be involved in this decision?” And I said, “Well, my business partner would be involved in it.” He said, “It would really be better if he were on this call so that he has an understanding of what we're talking about.” I'm like, “Okay, well I'm not sure if he's available right now.” And in my mind I was just sort of thinking, well, I don't know that he's going to want to have to listen to all this, and I didn't want him to have to listen to all that, but I realized that, okay, well this isn't a terrible idea, so I put the guy on hold.  It turns out my business partner was available, so I was able to get him on and listening to the whole thing. It actually ended up working out better because he got to hear a lot of what this person was saying. He got to ask questions about some of the concerns that he had. He got to hear the questions that I had. So we really both had an opportunity to express any questions or concerns that we had. And so when we got to the end of that call, he and I were able to get together and say, okay, what do we think here? You know, does it make sense to do this or not? And if I had just taken the information, it will be me trying to communicate that to him. And that doesn't work well.  You know, similarly, we had a situation in my home life and my personal life where my wife and I were getting our tree trimmed. We've got this huge Pin Oak in our front yard and it is a mess, you know, to, when it requires stuff and it requires cleaning, it's a big deal. And so the guy there was also smart enough to make sure that both of us were present so that there wouldn't be any, Oh well, you know, I have to see what she says or she has to see what I say or whatever. So like we're both there. He's explaining what's involved and all three of us were very clear on exactly what needed to happen. You know, it generally just works better that way.

Chris:                     You know, one of the things that I think of when somebody is willing to like the guy that talked to you on the phone about the business decision or the guy with the tree trimming company to have the courage to ask for that. I think it's really, really important and something that, you know, really what we're suggesting is at least initially this does require some courage to say that.  It's so easy to say, well I'll just keep going, ‘cause boy that feels better in the moment. But asking that question is really important and really something that's hard to do. But man oh man, the payoff is so much better in the end isn't it?

David:                   Yes it can be. Now it can also derail a sale. I remember having a situation where we were looking at buying some windows and I told the people what I was interested in. I wanted to get a quote and all that sort of thing. And they said, “Okay, well, are you married, do you have a spouse?” And I'm like, “Yes.” And they said, “Okay, well we're going to need her on the call.” I'm like, “Well, she's not around today.” And they're like, “Well, we have to have her on the call or we can't move forward on this.” And I'm like, “Okay, well here's the deal. I need to get these windows done so if you can’t help me with this, then I'm going to have to go somewhere else.” And they had the courage to say, “Okay, well then you're going to have to go somewhere else.”

Chris:                     No kidding? Wow.

David:                   And we did.  We did end up going somewhere else because I thought that was just annoying in my mind. They just, they pushed it a little too far and so they never even had a shot at the business because they didn't give us a quote. So I could see after the quotes together if they would want both of us involved. But anyway, so there are two sides to this. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't. But generally I would say in most situations you are far better off if you can get all the decision makers involved in the conversation at the same time.

Chris:                     And just having the ability to ask the question and to say what's the process? Who else is there are ways to ask the question that you can do it comfortably. I almost think that it's worth practicing, don't you? I mean, I remember being in sales situations when I was younger and just feeling the angst at just the question itself. Right? And a little practice would go a long way in this wouldn't have.

David:                   Yeah, absolutely. And you just come up with something that makes sense for you. I mean, I think something as simple as, “Are you the one who's going to be making the decision on this or is anyone else involved?” I feel that's very straight forward. Some other people might feel like they need to reword it and that's absolutely fine. Put it in your own words, but even, you know, just saying it over and over again, if I were to say that five times in a row fast, you get used to programming it into your muscle memory, it flows off the tongue and you don't think as much about it, you're just able to say it in a way that comes across as very authentic and the next step in the process.

Chris:                     That's why I think it's so important for the practice because you do get to that place where it's more authentic. People can hear it if you're feeling strained asking the question and that can derail it just as quickly too, can’t it?

David:                   Yeah, and I mean, what's the harm in asking the question? I mean, some people might take offense to it because people can be offended at anything. They literally can be offended for any reason or no reason at all. So you can ask the questions. Somebody might be offended, but that's information that you're going to need at some point. And the earlier in the process, you find out the answer to that, the better off you're both going to be.

Chris:                     You bet, much tougher conversation than people expect it to be, but the payoffs are tremendous. So let's do this. Let's review the action steps that our listeners should take if they want to reach and impact more decision makers.

Action Steps to Reaching Decision Makers

  1. Identify the decision maker to the best of your ability.
  2. Find Out if anyone else is involved (and if so, who?)
  3. Offer to present to all decision makers instead of just one.
  4. Decide if you're willing to present to non decision makers (delegates, recommenders, individual committee members, etc.)
  5. Deliver everything a non-decision maker would need to present your information effectively.

PLUS: Ask non-decision makers to recommend you (as opposed to just conveying information.)

David:                   Okay, so the first thing we're going to want to do is to identify the decision maker to the best of our ability. Recognizing that they might not always tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but at least getting the question out there. We're asking them, are you the decision maker or is there anyone else involved? And whatever they say, you want to repeat it back to them and have them confirm it. So you're asking it, you're getting an answer, you confirming it and you're getting confirmation on it. That's really helpful.  When other people are involved, also, you want to find out if you can present to everyone. If you can do that, you absolutely want to do that. If you can't do that, then you have to decide whether or not you want to make the presentation. Recognizing that it could be the difference between getting the deal or losing the deal and that can be uncomfortable, so you have to know your tolerance for pain.  You have to know your threshold of comfort on that and if you feel comfortable enough to ask for all the decision makers to be present, then you can certainly do that. If you get the feeling that they have been delegated this task however, and that they're actually going to do a reasonable job of conveying what you convey to them, then you want to make it as easy as possible for them to be able to do that. You want to provide this person with everything they're going to need to recommend you over every other option they have available to them. So if you can bullet point out the main things that you want them to communicate, that will be really helpful. If you want to make sure that it's in order so that they can convey it in the way that would convey it, that's going to be very helpful.  Now, if you write out an entire pages of scripts for them, then they're probably not going to do that. But if you can bullet point it in a way where they feel comfortable enough with it, where they'll deliver it for you, that's going to get you a lot more results than if you do it the other way. So if you can get in front of all of them, do that. If you can't, then you want to essentially train the delegate. You don't want to get this person trained on how you want it done.

Chris:                     It is a really, really big piece of the sales equation, isn't it, David? And having this in order and having the ability to ask these questions in a way that feels good and feels straightforward can make a huge difference in your sales can’t it?

David:                   It really can. And I would say one final point is that when someone says they have to convey it to someone else, one of the things that I found helpful is asking them, okay, well how do you plan to present this?  Are you going to recommend this to them? Are you going to say, “Hey, listen, this is what I think we should do, or are you simply going to say, okay, here are the different options you pick.” Because if you can get them to recommend you as the solution, that's going to be a lot better. So if you can get them to say, “Yes, I think we should really go with (what you're suggesting)”, then you ask them, “Okay, well do you need any help? You want any coaching on how to present that?” And if they say yes, then by all means provide them as much as you can. And if they're able to convey that this is something that they really believe their companies should do, or if it's a personal decision that they should do as a family, then they need to be able to convey that. And the better you can help them to do that, the better results you're going to get.

Chris:                     And a great way to frame that up is, “Look, I want to help you to be as comfortable and as up front and in a place to be able to deliver this message in a way that suits you. How can I help?”

David:                   Exactly.

Chris:                     Okay. David, what is coming up in our next podcast?

David:                   Okay, Chris, in our next podcast we'll talk about getting clear on our basic messaging, who you serve and how you serve them.

Chris:                     I like it. Hey, thank you for being here and we will see you on the next podcast.

David:                   Thanks, Chris.

If you're tired of flat or declining sales and losing business to your competitors, be sure to check out my latest web presentation entitled Programming Clients to Choose You. Who are your very best prospects currently programmed to buy from? Is it you or someone else? If you want it to be, you, visit and register for the free presentation now. That's

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