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How to Cope with Fake Decision-Makers

SCENARIO: You're in that happy place where you've gotten into a customer account but not yet ready to close. As you work with your customer contact, it gradually dawns on your that he doesn't have the the authority to make a final decision. The real decision-makers are somewhere else up the management chain but your contact seems reluctant to introduce you upwards. How do you cope?

Here's a five step process:

  • STEP #1: Understand the psychology. Assuming that your contact is not actually delusional about his decision-making power (don't laugh; it happens), your contact probably has cold feet about bring the idea to the bigwig's attention. Unlike yourself, he's not trained to overcome the fear of selling and, if he screws up, he can't just move on to the next account. He's got to live with the results. So cut the guy a little slack, eh?
  • STEP #2: Take a dose of reality. If your sales activity remains at this level, and with this person, it may add days, weeks and even months to your sales cycle. And it will waste time that you could be spending developing other opportunities. What's more, there's a good chance that the opportunity could drag on and on and then end in a "no decision" simply because a decision maker isn't involved. So you MUST take action.
  • STEP #3: Research the power structure. Find out the name(s) of the real decision-makers. It probably won't help just to ask outright, because your contact is pretending, remember? So ask indirect questions like: "how have offerings like this been purchased in the past?" or "who else in the management influences your final decision?" Worse case, develop some more contacts and ask around.
  • STEP #4: Request appropriate access. If you don't ask, you don't get. Say something like: "We've made a lot of good progress here we are at the point of this process we need to speak to John Smith, the senior VP. This is a something that will help us both, so shall we do that meeting together or shall I contact her myself?" Note that you're giving a choice, but that each choice moves the sale forward.
  • STEP #5: Determine what's missing. If the contact refuses either choice -- he won't sponsor you and tells you not to talk to the decision maker -- you have one (1) fallback position. Say something like: "I apologize for not articulating the situation very well. We're working together on a deal for x amount of money and made a good start. What needs to happen before we get John Smith involved?" Listen carefully to the answer.
The above is loosely based on information in an interview (conducted by Gerhard Gschwandtner) with Eric Shaver, director of sales at Basho Technologies, a vendor of sales analytics software.
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