Decision Makers vs. Influencers

I’ve heard there are 5.7 decision makers for each sale, and ‘unknown’ influencers. Yet there is no difference between ‘decision makers’ and ‘influencers’.

  • If you want to move and your daughter is in her last year of high school and prefers to stay behind to finish the year, is she a decision maker or an influencer?
  • If your tech group isn’t available to implement an important new program until they finish their current work, would the tech director be an influencer or a decision maker?
  • If your company is going through a merger and the teams haven’t been merged yet, would the director of the groups that need training be an influencer or a decision maker?
  • If you think some of your folks need coaching, would these folks be influencers or decision makers?

See what I mean? ‘Decision Maker’ and ‘Influencer’ are arbitrary delineations. Until everyone who will touch the final solution buys-in, and any ensuing change is managed, no buying decision will happen, regardless of how well your solution matches their need. Think about that when you ask for ‘The Decision Maker’ or believe that the one person who showed up to your appointment is ‘The Decision Maker.’ There is never just one unless it’s a small personal item. And by focusing on this person as ‘The Decision Maker’ you’re actually delaying your sale.

Years ago, when technology was new, a coaching client selling golf carts with new type of visual GPS systems once bet me $20 that his prospect, the owner of a golf course, was the sole decision maker. They’d been having lovely, personal, conversations once a month for a year and my client believed he would eventually close due to the strength of their phone ‘relationship’. He knew they had a need that his golf carts could address. I disagreed: it was obvious to me there was another decision maker in the background that hadn’t been brought in to the conversation. With permission, I placed a call to the owner. Here’s how the conversation went.

SDM: I’m training with William. Seems you two sort of love each other but I’m confused. William tells me you love his carts and find them quite revolutionary. And you’ve been speaking for a year. What’s stopping you from buying them?

O: I do love your carts. But my grounds-keeper would kill me if I bought any. He’s afraid that if the GPS system breaks down we’d run out of carts for the golfers. So it’s not my call.

My client put his $20 into my lap. He’d ignored the fact that that until everyone whose job would be effected as a result of bringing in a new solution became part of the buying decision, no purchase could be made. (BTW, following the above exchange, I used the Buying Facilitation® process and facilitated bringing the grounds keeper into the conversation. Two weeks later the sale was made. But as long as the grounds keeper was not being brought into the conversation, he wouldn’t have. Buyers only buy when they can solve a business problem without causing internal havoc, not because your solution is terrific.)

It’s possible to facilitate the buying decision process by helping buyers recognize all of the people who must buy-in to a purchase. It’s not always obvious to them. And this must happen before buyers can buy. Having a need is merely one aspect of their problem set. And as an outsider, you’ll never know who all of the decision makers are or what sort of internal decisions must be made that fall outside your purview.

Remember that a buying decision is a change management problem; the sales model does not offer the skills to facilitate the sort of non-solution-based systemic change buyers go through (behind-the-scenes politics, relationships, timing, etc.) Pre Sales, and their process delays/stops your sale.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

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