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Decisions, decisions – map out your decision-making unit to sell more effectively

Decisions, decisions – map out your decision-making unit to sell more effectively

Larger, more complex sales are often accompanied by lengthier sales cycles, intense competitive activity and multiple decision makers.  Recent research suggests there are, on average, 6.8 people involved in a major buying decision, up from 5.4 just a couple of years ago.  That’s at least six people, all with different needs, alternate, and possibly conflicting decision criteria and varying degrees of enthusiasm (or apathy).  It’s vitally important you know who is involved and to what extent; and their job titles aren’t always any help.

You may assume the most senior person is the ultimate decision maker but that may not be true – good leaders delegate, and that includes delegating decision-making power. Huthwaite research shows there are three roles within a decision-making unit;

  1. willingness to engage with you (receptivity)
  2. problem ownership (dissatisfaction)
  3. ultimate decision-making authority (power).

When selling to a single individual that person performs all three roles, when selling to multiple decision makers it becomes more complex.  In formal decision-making unit's the roles may be explicitly allocated, but they often evolve organically, with individuals performing one, or any combination of roles and, of course, their role may change between one decision and the next.

The key is identifying who is involved in the decision and the role they play - then addressing them accordingly.  Skilled sales people don’t waste time selling to purely ‘receptive’ buyers, they use them as coaches to guide them through the decision-making process.  Dissatisfied buyers have the problems you can solve, these are the people you should actively sell to, uncovering and developing needs and building value and competitive differentiation.  Finally, you go to the buyers with power to close the deal, often through a period of negotiation.

Mapping out the roles within your particular decision-making unit will ensure you talk to the right people, at the right time, about the right issues.

Just who is on my side?

Everyone in the decision-making unit will have an opinion, ranging from very positive, though neutral, to very negative.  In addition, you will need to consider the two dimensions of a decision; how they feel about the project/solution under consideration, and how they feel about you as a supplier in general.  They also have a view about who they prefer to be the supplier for this project in particular.  The permutations around these elements create what we call the Key Player Matrix, which informs how to most effectively navigate the sale.  Let’s look at the permutations:

Positive about the project; positive about you

Your champion, someone you should nurture at all times.  If this person is the ultimate decision maker, you may seek to close the deal here and now.  However, don’t assume that because this person has a high opinion of you, they necessarily view you as the preferred supplier for this project.  Check it out before making your move.

Positive about the project; negative about you

A threat, and potentially your competitor’s champion.  If they do not have a preferred supplier your task is to sell your competitive differentiation.  Remember you don’t need to build value for going ahead, they already see that, it’s about demonstrating you are the most capable supplier.  If they are supporting your competitor, you need to mitigate their ability to work against you and minimise the influence they have on the final decision.  A lot depends on how much power they hold.  If they don’t have much power, you may be able to marginalise them and use your more powerful supporters to win the day.  If this person is very powerful it may be time to consider withdrawing.

Negative about the project; positive about you

This person is your friend, they simply don’t think the project under discussion is a good idea.  They like you so will be receptive; your job is to build value for the solution with them.

Negative about the project; negative about you

A saboteur, this person will argue for a decision to do nothing and will not be particularly inclined to engage with you at all.  Again, your strategy depends on how much power this person wealds.  If it’s little, use your more powerful supporters to overrule them, if it’s a lot, are you wasting your time?

Neutral about the project, neutral about you

A blank canvass and a great opportunity.  You can turn this person into a strong supporter but with this person you must build value and demonstrate the benefits of the project, and showcase your capabilities and competitive strengths.

By understanding exactly who is involved in the decision, and where they sit in the Key Player Matrix, you can plan an effective and persuasive strategy - personalised to the needs of each individual.

About the Author
Steve Thurlow

Written by Steve Thurlow

Steve is a sales improvement expert. He joined Huthwaite in 1991 initially as a Consultant before becoming a Director. He has designed and delivered sales improvement projects to many of the world’s leading organisations. Semi-retired he now provides freelance consultancy to the UK mid corporate sector. Steve is a Member of the Institute of Directors and a Master, and mentor, at the Institute of Sales Management

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