There comes a moment in every sale when you need to understand how buying decisions are made. If you’re selling directly to business owners, it’s pretty easy because decisions are made by them alone. If you’re selling into larger organizations with multiple decision-makers, things get a bit trickier.
One thing is absolutely clear: without the decision maker’s involvement and buy-in, there’s no sale.
How and when you bring the decision-maker into the fold is an art, and I’ll give you some ideas of how to do it in this article.
Definition: What Is a Decision Maker?
A decision-maker is a person with significant or full power to say yes or no to your proposed initiative. They’ll almost always have a senior title – director or above – and are often in charge of a department or whole sections of the org chart.
Whenever a decision made, they’ll make it independently or in the company of other decision-makers.
How Decisions Work at Companies
Before we get into the how and when of bringing decision-makers into the fold – the answer is always “sooner,” btw – it’s important to understand how decisions are made in the first place.
The first thing to know is that decision making has become a more complicated and disaggregated process. Plenty of data shows that it takes more calls, more meetings, and more decision-makers to bring a sale to conclusion. It’s also clear that your likelihood of closing a deal is inversely related to the number of decision-makers involved. Translation: more decisions make for a more difficult sale.
By now you’ve heard people like me shouting that buyers are more informed and more mature than they have been in the past. That’s true. Depending on who you believe, the average buyer has done 50% or more of their research before engaging with a vendor. This means the research phase is accounting for more and more of the buying process (which is why all sellers have to become marketers).
We don’t have to get too complicated on the buying process. In practice, a company’s buying process isn’t all that different from how you’d make a major purchase yourself:
- Research (and referrals)
- Internal discussion
This is a simpler version of IBM’s buying process detailed in my podcast interview with Ariel Yoffe. The only thing different about the process described above compared to how I’d buy a new laptop is that I don’t discuss it with anyone else. But I still research, evaluate, and decide. While buying processes can seem esoteric and complicated, they have a lot in common, even as they get more complicated.
The narrative often starts with someone at the company beginning with research. Someone decides the company has a weak spot, or perhaps they heard about some cool new idea or tool that could help. This first researcher could be the person responsible for the initiative, or an assistant or someone on their team. Typically research will start with a referral from a friend or colleague, or a Google search, perhaps both.
Once research is collected, decisions will be made about who to eliminate from the process and who to further investigate. The better your positioning strategy, the more likely you’ll survive this round. This has the effect of narrowing the field to make it more manageable for the buyer. (Note: if you market effectively and develop long-term relationships, your prospects are far less likely to go shopping in this manner.)
It’s likely that all of this happens without your involvement.
You’ll finally be involved once evaluation begins. And that’s where we can pick up the story of how and when to involve decision-makers.
When to Involve Decision Makers
As I mentioned above, decision-makers should be involved as soon as possible. The more you take a value-based selling approach, the more critical it is to have decision-makers involved early in the process. You may feel that you need to be delicate in how you ask for their involvement – but why?
If your goal is to satisfy a concrete emotional or rational pain your client is experiencing – as it should be if you plan to sell ethically – and the only way to do that is by involving a decision maker, just say so. You can do it with care, and tact, and you should. Be confident in your approach and, as always, be prepared to explain why you need a decision maker to be involved.
Typically a good sales process will involve an initial Fit call, followed by Discovery. The purpose of the first call is to eliminate anyone who doesn’t belong in your pipeline by asking qualifying questions, while the Discovery stage is designed to uncover and deepen your client’s motivation to make a change. This is the time to involve a decision-maker. If you’re in a more complicated sale, you may have a Discovery meeting without a decision-maker there to start. But faster sales cycle should favor faster involvement of the decision-maker.
My recommendation is to bring decision-makers in during Discovery and no later. If you wait to bring them in during your Offer stage, it’s likely that you’ll miss the mark in your short proposal or deck.
How to Involve Decision Makers
Whenever the decision-maker shows up, you’re on track. It demonstrates increased commitment on the part of your client, and you know the likelihood of closing is higher if a decision-maker is dedicating time to it.
When you do bring them in, come prepared. Show up with a tightly planned meeting, catch them up on the previous conversations you’ve had, learn as much as you can about their emotional and rational pains, and the business outcomes they want.
It’s wise at this point to ask them two important questions:
- How involved will they be in the buying process moving forward?
- How, specifically, will the decision be made to work with you, or not?
This can feel tricky in a remote selling environment, but it’s only in your head. You may already have this information from conversations prior to the decision maker’s involvement, but that’s okay. Get the answers directly from them, because there may be nuance or new information worth having.
If your sales involve multiple people, bring the decision-maker in as soon as possible. It’s important to understand that you may have to manage your time with them, since it can limited.
Bring them in during the Discovery stage, so you can influence the internal discussions. And as always – stay confident in your ability to help your client. Don’t hesitate to ask for access to a decision-maker. If you don’t get it, you’ll probably lose the deal anyway.