B2B Sales: are you sure you’re talking to the decision-maker?


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If there’s one message that gets drummed into the heads of every participant on every sales training course, it’s “make sure you’re talking to the decision-maker”. At face value, this seems like sound advice. But the reality is often rather more complex.

To start with, the very idea that there is a likely to be a single decision-maker in any high value complex B2B buying process is flawed. Sure, it can still occasionally happen in exceptional circumstances where one powerful individual can impose their will over others (assuming they want to).

The drive for consensus

However, all the evidence points to increasingly complex B2B buying decision processes. More stakeholders are actively involved than in years gone by and organisations are inclined to drive for consensus and to take an increasingly risk-averse approach to decision-making

There may, in fact, be no one individual that has the power to say “yes” on their own, but there are likely to a significant number of powerful players that have the ability to say “no” or “not now”. This makes a decision to stick with the status quo and do nothing a very common outcome.

The danger of confusing championship with influence

Traditional sales training methodologies suggest that you need to find a Champion or Coach within your prospect that is prepared to provide you with privileged information and help you build your case. But it’s far too easy (and very dangerous) to confuse championship with influence.

It’s critical that you connect with contacts that are willing and able to influence their colleagues on the decision making team, and who are expert at the politics of making change happen within their organisation. You need to find the people who can walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

You need to identify – and identify with – the people who are capable of leading their colleagues on the difficult journey that may be required to make the right decision, to make the decision stick, and to implement the chosen solution despite potential pitfalls.

Mobilising the decision-shapers

This calls for a particular breed of person. Their power does not just come from their position on an organisation chart – their power comes from the respect they have earned from their colleagues as being a “safe pair of hands”. They are the people their colleagues turn to for advice.

As the authors of The Challenger Sale pointed out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, these people are mobilisers – and in an uncertain and complex world, if your putative champion isn’t a mobiliser, you had better think again about forecasting that deal with any sort of confidence.

Spotting the mobilisers

So how can you spot these mobilisers? They often reveal themselves in their response to some carefully targeted questions. These questions are, by the way, all predicated on the assumption that you have identified an issue that appears to be important. You might, for example, ask your contact:

  • What impact is this issue having on the rest of the organisation?
  • How has the organisation tried to address the issue before?
  • Why is now the right time to deal with the issue?
  • What other projects might compete for the same resources?
  • What would happen if nothing is done about the issue?
  • Who else within the organisation is affected?
  • How is the issue affecting them?
  • How are decisions like this usually made?
  • What was the most recent example? What was the outcome?
  • What role did you play in the decision? Who else played a key part? Who did you have to convince?
  • What usually makes the difference as to whether projects like this go ahead?

I’ve found that questions like this fairly quickly flush out whether your contact is in command of their brief, whether they understand the impact of the issue, whether they appear to really understand how decisions are made in their organisation, and whether they come across as a true mobiliser.

Mastering the politics

If they can’t – for example – tell you who else is affected and why, and won’t help you gain access to them, or if they appear vague about how decision-making politics get played out in their organisation, you can probably safely assume that you are not talking to a mobiliser (or a decision-maker).

In today’s complex B2B buying environment, narrowly focusing on the decision-maker is a losing strategy. Instead, you need to identify all the decision-shapers across the organisation and understand what’s in it for them. And, rather than a champion, you need to find a mobiliser that can help you reach them all.

Final thought: I recommend you reflect on all your current forecast opportunities. Have you identified and reached all the decision-shapers? And have you got a champion who is acting like a proven mobiliser? If not, I suggest you prepare your excuses for the boss.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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