Who is the “Decision Maker”? 3 common sales mistakes and how to solve them

George Brontén

Most salespeople don’t really know what a buying decision maker is, even though they think they do. This fact is an often unidentified cause of painful late-game losses. These salespeople may think the decision maker is the executive, or the budget holder, or whoever is in charge of procurement.

But those are dangerous misconceptions, fueled by one big mistake: Thinking that there is a single or even primary decision maker. Unless you’re selling chewing gum, the reality is that no matter what the buyer says, there are always multiple people whose attitude toward the sale will have an impact on whether you can close. I would argue that this is the #1 problem that b2b salespeople do, and if you fix this, you will massively improve your win rates and profitability .

Let’s take a look at the key decision maker mistakes most salespeople make, and then I’ll show you a solution.

Mistake #1: Thinking budget owner = decision maker

Very often, salespeople get into a sales conversation with someone who states that they have control over the budget and will therefore be making the decision alone. Many salespeople accept this statement at face value and charge forward, happy and excited that they have a single person to deal with and that they’ve already connected with them.

Unfortunately, most of the time, this ends in a familiar outcome. Sometime near the end of the sale (as perceived by the salesperson), the “decision maker” realizes that the decision will impact others in the organization, who needs to be brought up to speed. Sometimes this is a user or two, sometimes it’s someone in another department or even a vendor or partner. Whoever it is, the one or two people often becomes six or seven or even thirty people, and before long, the sale loses momentum and often loses altogether.

Communicating with all these new people in an effective manner is a bit like watching a movie and when you get about halfway through, someone new comes in and demands that you now explain everything. Sure, you can probably hit the high points, but it won’t have the same impact on them as if they had watched it themselves.

Mistake #2: Thinking there’s a clear-cut “buying process”, or “buying journey”

Quite often, salespeople ask their prospects about their buying process, expecting to get a clear answer to how to proceed. This is even taught in many sales training courses. Unfortunately, the reality is that in complex sales, oftentimes even the buyer usually doesn’t understand their own decision-making process from the get-go.

Adding stakeholders late  is like having to explain a movie to someone joining halfway through... Not great for anyone.
George Brontén

On the rare occasion that there is a formal buying process, what your salesperson is dealing with is an RFP or procurement scenario, which is always bad news for win rates and profit margins, because the decision criteria has been set by someone else - usually the competition. Much better for salespeople to go into the deal expecting to uncover, or even guide, the decision-making process.

The more intrusive the product or service, and the more it will impact the operations of the buyer, the more complex the buying journey becomes, and the more critical that the salesperson become both an advisor and a discoverer of the journey with the buyer.

Mistake #3: Equating organizational hierarchy with buying influence

Many CRMs and other sales technologies provide tools for recording the organizational structure within the prospect’s company. In the absence of technology for this, sales teams may maintain an “org chart” on a whiteboard in a conference room.

These are important visuals to have, but they can lead to the mistaken assumption that the goal of the salesperson is to get as high up the org chart as they can, on the belief that the person “at the top” is the primary “decision maker.”

In most organizations, this is not the case all the time, or even most of the time. Anyone at any point on the org chart can have make-or-break power or influence in a decision. In fact, people outside the org chart can have dramatic influence, depending on the situation. Vendors, partners, and even spouses and other family members outside the company can have an impact.

How to identify all the buying decision makers and get to the close faster

Salespeople who are skilled in identifying, assessing, and aligning all of the relevant decision makers and influencers early in the sales process will always outperform those who don’t have those skills.

The first thing for salespeople to do is simply to acknowledge and accept that the three mistakes above are mistakes. Then they must learn to access all of the people influencing the decision early.

Different methodologies teach different ways of doing this, but one very simple approach is for the salesperson to tell the truth.

A statement like this can work: “I understand you are the primary decision maker for this purchase. In our experience, even when there’s a single budget holder, there are many people who will be impacted by and may have opinions about the decision. When these people are brought in late in the decision, it can cause confusion and distraction, just like someone coming in late to a movie. Instead, why don’t we bring everyone in now, and get everyone on the same page, so we avoid wasting anyone’s time.” Depending on the type of decision, it may also be a good idea to engage with each one individually before bringing them into the same meeting, to ensure that they are already somewhat aligned.

The salesperson can then use questioning techniques to begin building a decision team map that is separate from the org chart. This chart should identify anyone who will influence the decision, as well as their role in the decision and their attitude toward it. A decision team map may include may include roles like:

  • The budget owner
  • A champion
  • Executives
  • Users
  • Managers
  • Vendors, partners, consultants

Ideally, this chart will live inside the salesperson’s CRM much the way the org chart does. Where most CRMs provide an org chart tool, Membrain also provides a visual tool for charting and understanding the entire decision making network. Our tool can display everyone who is involved in the decision, as well as their role in the company, their role in the decision, and their attitude toward the purchase.

Salespeople can build their influencer map as they go, and use it to tailor messaging and communications with everyone involved, early in the process. Working with all decision makers and influencers early in the process helps to ensure their buy-in, and avoid late-game stalling.

I’d love to show you how our tool makes it easy for salespeople to align the sales process to each buyer’s individual journey. Contact us for a demo today.

George Brontén
Published August 15, 2018, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

New Call-to-action