Nothing is more frustrating -- or time-wasting -- than to find out that you have been selling to the wrong person! Influencers can not buy, they can only recommend. A decision-maker is the only person that can say yes. Hint: If your proposal needs approval, you are working with an influencer. Decision-makers write cheques, approve POs, and sign cheques - or tell someone else to. Generally, decision-makers own their budgets. They are likely VP level or higher, including positions such as General Managers, Directors, and "C-Suite" officers.
A decision influencer has no authority to commit the company to spend, sign a contract, write a cheque, or cut a PO. Influencers either don't have any money in the budget allocated for their own spending, or they don't have enough money allocated to make a meaningful purchase. Generally influencers are non-managerial employees but in some cases, they may be managers or directors. As a sales director for a large, publicly traded software company I had a $250.00 spending limit. This made it difficult for me to be the decision-maker on almost any purchase (except lunch) that I wanted to make for my team.
Yes, it seems easier to deal with influencers rather than decision-makers. Generally, influencers are easier to find, easier to access, and on the surface seem more keen to move a project forward. Here is another hint. The more enthusiastic your contact is to move forward, the more they state that they "love your product", and the more excited they are to buy, the less likely they are to be a decision-maker. Influencers seem to want to engage with you… and perhaps they even return your calls. Don't kid yourself though. Decision influencers are just that… influencers, not buyers. And although many influencers seem like helpful allies, in reality they're unwitting enemies. It's not that they want to string you along and block access to the people who can make the purchase. In fact, they may sincerely want to take the deal forward. But chances are they don't have the power or influence to make it happen. To get a derailed deal back on track, you need to gain access to the real buyer by turning your influencer into a coach who can help get the deal done.
Establishing the Right Relationships with New Prospects
First a reminder: To sell effectively, call the highest level of decision maker in your target prospect's office that is relevant to your product or service offering. What do I mean by relevant? For example, don't call the CEO if you are selling a $100 solution. Do call the CEO if you are offering an enterprise-wide information management system, or do call the VP of HR if you are offering a retained search service for executives at a $50,000 per placement investment. Make sure you are calling the highest relevant decision-maker, not just the highest decision-maker. Worst case scenario result? Your high level contact will refer you to someone else, lower down in the organization. Best case scenario result? You engage with them and start a sales conversation.
Let's examine what to do if your decision-maker refers you to speak to someone else, (lower than them) in the organization.
Decision-maker: "You need to speak to Joe in Accounting about that. It's his responsibility"
You: Thanks for referring me to Joe. I'll be sure to call him today.
Decision Maker: Thanks. Joe is your man!
You: I can appreciate that Joe will have a lot of influence on this project. In my experience working with (companies like your prospect) on projects of this scope and investment ultimately the final decision will be made by the VP (use the same title you are calling into.). Is that going to be the case with you?
Decision-maker: Yes, of course I will make the final decision.
You: Super. Thanks for letting me know. How about, that you and I agree to touch base every so often then to ensure that Joe and I are meeting your expectations.
Decision-maker: Sounds great.
You now have an open invitation to call your decision maker at any time during the process without going over anyone's "head". The above approach works so well you can use it on all new decision making level prospects you are going to call after reading this article!
Dealing With Your Current Prospects
I know you have opportunities in your pipeline today where you are not dealing with the decision maker. You probably know it too… whether you want to admit it or not is a different issue! So, what can you do with all these current deals where you know, or sense, that you are not working with the decision maker? You have three options:
- Let it ride, cross your fingers and hope it will eventually go your way
- Go over the influencer's head to jumpstart the deal
- Use your influencer to get the deal moving
Hoping and wishing and praying are never the best sales strategies, so forget about the first option. Option B risks sacrificing the trust and rapport you have built with your contact and their colleagues, which could cause the deal to fail. What you need are the choices and the strong relationship provided by Option C.
That means turning your influencer into a coach. Try the following plan to bring the true decision-maker to the table:
You: "I have enjoyed working with you on this project, and I think you have a great vision. My concern is that no one on your management team knows the work you have done, and is not committed to getting the project completed. If this project fails, will any one other than you notice?"
Influencer: "Oh, yes, there are many."
Influencer (after a long and uncomfortable silence): "I guess, really, there's no one."
You: "I'm sorry to hear that, but if it's reality, we need to deal with it. What should we do?"
At this point your influencer has two options:
You're right and there's no genuine interest in investigating the deal, in which case you should politely close the file and move onto other prospects; or,
The supporter realizes they must take you to those interested in the deal and able to push it along, e.g.,"I guess I need to take you in to see my boss!"
Knowing how to transform influencers into coaches is critical to winning the business. Only decision-makers can buy. Using your coach to get to the decision makers will ensure the sales cycle stays rolling. Now it's up to you and the coach to win over the boss.
About the Author:
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.