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]

Steps Along the Buying Decision Path

As sellers we are taught to find prospects with a need that matches our solution and then find creative, professional ways to pitch, present, entice, push, market, or somehow introduce our solution to enable them to understand how our solutions will fix their problem.

Unfortunately, we fail to close over 90% of the time (from first contact) regardless of how well their need matches our solution. And it’s not because of our solutions, our presentations/pitches, or our professionalism. It’s because the sales model does not include the skills to facilitate the larger part of buying decisions – those idiosyncratic, behind-the-scenes, change-management-driven processes that are private and we can’t be part of. Yet until they go through this process and walk through each stage of decision making and change management they cannot buy. They will do this with us, or without us. It takes much longer without us, hence a protracted buying decision and closed sale.

Facilitating Change Is Not Selling

I’ve spent the last few decades coding and designing new tools to help sellers facilitate the pre-sales decision path that buyers go through without us. Using Buying Facilitation® with sales, sellers get onto the Buying Decision Team, facilitate the time to decision making/close, and eschew competition. Here are the steps I’ve discovered are what buyers – all change – need to address. As you read them, note that facilitating change includes some unique skill sets (Listening for Systems, formulating Facilitative Questions/Presumptive Summaries, etc.), goals, and outcomes. Remember to ask yourself: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities, necessitating two distinct skill sets. Sales merely handles one of them.

  1. Idea stage. Fred has an idea that something needs to change.
  2. Fred discusses his idea with colleagues.
  3. Fred invites colleagues to meet and discuss the problem, bring ideas from online research, consider who to include, possible fixes, and fallout. Groups formed.
  4. Consideration stage. Group meets to discuss findings: how to fix the problem with known resources, whether to create a workaround using internal fixes or seek an external solution. Discuss the type/amount of fallout from each.
  5. Organization stage. Fred apportions responsibilities, or hands over to others.
  6. Change Management stage. Meeting to discuss options and fallout. Determine
    • if more research is necessary (and who will do it),
    • if all appropriate people are involved (and who to include),
    • if all elements of the problem and solution are included (and what to add),
    • the level of disruption and change to address depending on type of solution chosen (and how to manage change),
    • the pros/cons of external solution vs current vendor vs workaround.
  7. Add needs, ideas, issues of new members; incorporate change considerations.
  8. Everyone researches their portion of the solution fix (online research—webinars, etc., call current vendors or new vendors etc.). Discussions include managing resultant change.
  9. Consensus stage. Buying Decision Team members meet to share research and determine the type of solution, fallout, possibilities, problems, considerations in re management, policies, job descriptions, HR issues, etc. Buy-in and consensus necessary.
  10. Choice stage. Action responsibilities apportioned including discussions/meetings with people, companies, teams who might provide solutions.
  11. Meet to discuss choices and the fallout/ benefits of each.
  12. New solution chosen. Change management issues incorporated with solution choice.
  13. New solution implemented.

The sales model handles steps 10-13. Marketing, marketing automation, and social marketing may be involved in steps 3 and 8, although it’s not clear then if the decision to choose an external solution has been made, the full fact pattern of ‘needs’ has been determined, or if the appropriate decision makers and influencers are included. Buyers muddle through this but we can enter earlier to help by adding new skills of facilitation.

I started up a tech company in London 1983-89 and developed Buying Facilitation® to teach my sales folks to navigate buyers through their decision path, change management, and buy-in BEFORE they began selling. We increased sales 5x within a month. I’ve been teaching this model (and coaching and consulting) since 1989 with similar results.

My book Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it discusses these steps and how Buying Facilitation® can work with sales and marketing to enter the buy path earlier. Note: adding the above stages to typical sales/marketing thinking, outcomes, and skills, will not benefit either sellers or buyers. This model is solely for the benfit of the buyer. It’s truly a change management skill that makes a seller a real consultant, and needs/solutions are irrelevant until buyers understand how any change will affect their status quo. Read the book 🙂


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]

Alexander Throckmorton Comes of Age

StrategyDriven Decision-Making ArticleOn September 25, 2015, Warner Brothers released The Intern: Experience Never Gets Old starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway; written, directed, and produced by Nancy Meyers. The September 2015 edition of Chief Learning Officer Magazine featured an article called Don’t Undervalue Older Workers by Lynn Schroeder. Nancy and Lynn must acknowledge that Edgar Lee Masters planted the seeds for appreciating seasoned workers back in 1914 when he wrote the play based on tombstone epitaphs in the western Illinois hamlet of Spoon River.

When Edgar Lee Masters penned his eloquent formula for genius, which he attributed to one fictional – albeit deceased – Alexander Throckmorton in the classic Spoon River Anthology, he bequeathed to all of us an elegant guiding principle for organizational leadership: genius is a composite made of some parts wisdom and some parts youth. Many organizations have exactly what they need for genius; that is seasoned workers and young workers. The problem is that so many organizations see older, experienced workers as problems; blocking the door for younger, less expensive and less experienced talent to enter the building. If we’re to believe Lynn Schroeder, Nancy Meyers, and Alexander Throckmorton, organizations who deliberately integrate wise, experienced team members with young, talented, and energetic team members, eager to destroy barriers and bifurcations, have the potential for genius—not individual genius; but true, organizational genius.

After the meltdown of 2008, there has been a corresponding breakdown in the corporate conveyor belt. At some of the largest and most recognized organizations in North America, senior executives of pension age are refusing to drop off the end of the belt into the retirement bin. Unable to retire with the financial status they had hoped for, older workers are turning around and walking back up the conveyor in the opposite direction, straight into the line of upcoming middle managers.

Rather than a pile-up of junior and senior workers, the traffic jam on the conveyor belt gives the organization a shot at true genius. Assuming the seasoned and still-working managers were retained because of their leadership value, one might conclude that our nation’s companies may have the greatest opportunity to reinvent leadership since the GI Bill; shared leadership.

What will happen if organizational designers deliberately pair more experienced older workers with less experienced younger workers in leadership dyads – pairings of employees – one experienced and capable, and the other relatively youthful, but clearly talented and loaded with potential. These dyads could replace solo, sometimes rouge leadership at the most senior executive and even middle management levels in the public and
private sectors.

Implicit in this model: decision-making and rank are equal and shared among these co-leaders. Because neither has ultimate authority, negotiations (and decision-making) inevitably integrate the untempered optimism, impatience, and master-of-the universe-inspired creative energy of the young mind with the more concrete, real-world experience of the more seasoned manager. The result is practical genius.

The leadership dyads would remain accountable to one another and all constituents, mutually dependent, sharing responsibilities, in continuous tension and continuous refinement. The organizational homeostasis of a shared leadership model, sometimes referred to “distributed leadership,” can be both more invigorating and more stabilizing than a traditional top-down “Great Man” model that endows individuals – and, eventually, a single powerful leader – with ultimate (and sometimes weakly-challenged) institutional authority. When well executed, the end result of shared leadership, if not genius, is certainly greater clarity, better creativity and reduced opportunity for error.

Wisdom and youth are unlikely bedfellows, replete with natural suspicion, impatience, cultural and institutional incompatibilities. But, from the tension can come great innovation. Walt Disney called differences of opinion on his project teams “creative tension” through which a more creative, higher quality, and sustainable product or idea emerges. Notably, shared leadership has long been the naturally balancing preference for leading households and raising children. It is the theoretical underpinning beneath successful self-directed teams and is a sustainable governance model for faith-based organizations.

A Rising Tide of Research and Academic Attention

The concept is gaining no small amount of momentum among thought-leaders in the realm of leadership research. Writing on www.sharedleadership.com, Michael Marlow, former head of the AT&T Learning Center, and Lorri Lizza of the Society for Organizational Learning and former vice president of Human Resources at AT&T, believe that shared leadership is a growing global occurrence:

“Shared leadership is a growing phenomenon around the world. It is a response to thousands of years of an opposite form of leadership—warrior leadership. When we share leadership, we establish relationships so that each member of an organization, team, family, or community can find and bring forward their gifts and lead.”

Shared leadership thought leaders, Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith (2001), write:

“Many writers – especially those looking at management – tend to talk about leadership as a person having a clear vision and the ability to make it real. However, we have begun to discover that leadership rests not so much in one person having a clear vision as in our capacity to work with others in creating one.”

In Rice University’s OpenStax, Angus MacNeil, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Houston, and Alena McClanahan detail requirements for successful shared leadership:

  1. Equal partnership: one person cannot have power and the other not. This balance of power, MacNeil and McClanashan explain, is probably among the hardest aspects of shared leadership.</li.
  2. A shared goal: Despite divergent opinions and differing tactics, each member must recognize the common purpose and be prepared to let go of individual agendas.
  3. Shared responsibility for the work of the group: All the participants share responsibility and accountability for the work of the partnership.
  4. Respect for the person: The partnership must recognize and embrace differences in the full group to build a strong, cohesive unit that can work well together to accomplish a goal.
  5. Partnering in the nitty-gritty: Working together in complex, real-world situations.

As a SVP in a firm that specializes in leadership coaching and organizational consulting for Fortune 50, Fortune 100, and Fortune 500 companies, I can report that executive coaches and consultants at human resources consulting firms and within internal learning organizations are not yet behind the movement to team up senior leaders (many of whom are circling in a self-imposed holding pattern outside the Human Resources Department) with the strong bodies climbing the ladder beneath them.

Successful shared leadership will require the best of wisdom and youth, not reporting to one another, but working with one another. There is true hope at the flashpoint where the seemingly immortal courage of the young, the leavening influence of the wise, and the potential for genius that is in all of us—converge.

This approach is not necessarily suitable to all enterprises. Military battlefield leadership, for example, does not customarily have the luxury of time to incorporate the best thinking of numerous individuals. The same might be true of professions such as emergency medicine. Yet while a military operation in the field might not benefit from shared decision-making, the Pentagon might. Equally, a hospital board might do well to deploy the shared leadership strategy as well. It is important to remember that this approach is directed at the leadership/management level. Individual transactional activities (for example, trading on the floor of a stock exchange) may also benefit from intuition and snap decision-making of a single expediter.

What do organizations need now more than ever? Wings that are strong and tireless guided by wisdom from the high places. That could be Robert De Niro. That could be Alexander Throckmorton. It could be the older person you nearly knocked down as you rushed into the office this morning. Youth is one thing. Wisdom is another thing. Genius is the ultimate thing according to Albert Einstein:

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.
It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

Wisdom and Youth can create the wisdom.


About the Author

John HooverJohn Hoover, PhD.

Senior Vice President and Leader of the Executive Coaching practice at Partners in Human Resources International (New York), Dr. John Hoover is a former executive with The Walt Disney Company and McGraw-Hill. He is the bestselling author of a dozen books on leadership and organizational behavior from Amacom, Career Press, Barnes & Noble Publishing, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Saint Martin’s Press.

Dr. Hoover is adjunct faculty at Fielding Graduate University and the American Management Association. He has coached, lectured, or served on the faculties of Amherst, Aquinas College, Cal State Fullerton, College of the Desert, Middle Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, and Yale. As outlined in greater detail below, he is an experienced consultant and executive coach to C-level executives and board members in the private sector, academia, and not-for-profit social service agencies.

We Close Only The Low Hanging Fruit

80% of your prospects will buy a solution similar to yours within 2 years of your connection, but not from you; your relationship-building, price breaks, marketing campaigns, etc. are irrelevant until they have their ducks in a row and are ready to bring in a solution.

Indeed: the time it takes buyers to manage changes they’ll face from bringing in your solution is the length of the sales cycle. And you’re not helping them manage the change.

A purchase is the last thing a buyer needs. But since sales only addresses the solution placement portion – the last steps – of a buyer’s journey, sellers have no control over the comprehensive change management issues that precede a solution choice.

We sit and wait, and are unfortunately out of control, as buyers: decide between an external solution, a current provider, or an internal workaround; get buy-in from all relevant touch points; manage any potential disruption. And so we close only the low hanging fruit when they call to buy after they’ve completed their behind-the-scenes elements – and we’re totally at effect of their timing.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to enter earlier and help them address the many issues that must be handled between an idea and a purchase.

I developed Buying Facilitation® to manage that problem for my own sales team. It’s a decision facilitation tool that helps buyers address all decision/pre-sales issues they must address internally to get consensus and manage change. My clients with 8 figure solutions brought 3 year sales cycles down to 4 months; smaller solutions from, say, 6 months to one month, and avoided presentations and RFPs.

Buying Facilitation® employs a novel listening system, a new form of question, and uses the decision points of change to facilitate the pre-sales/decision/non-solution-related systems issues buyers need to manage before they can even consider buying anything. Should the HR person share budget with L&D? Is the merger going to meld departments? Sales doesn’t get involved with these issues, yet these are the systems issues buyers must address that affect buying.

We can help buyers manage these issues and either make or expunge a buyer very quickly. Let me teach you a new skill set – if you want real control over your pipeline and don’t want to merely wait for the low hanging fruit.


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]

What Should Coaches Be Listening For?

A coach’s job is to facilitate potential change, usually by asking questions to identify the components of the problem and decide between solutions while reinforcing the changes and maintaining a trusting relationship. To achieve the excellence that all coaches seek, it’s necessary to avoid the listening filters that could prejudice the interaction, such as:

Bias. By listening for specifically for elements of the stated issues – problems, hopes, missing skills or motivation – a coach will merely hear what she/he recognizes as missing. If there are unspoken or omitted bits, if there are patterns that should be noticed, if there are unstated historic – or subconscious – reasons behind the current situation, the coach may not find them in a timely way, causing the coach to begin in the wrong place, with the wrong timing and potentially creating mistrust with the client.

Assumptions. If a coach has had somewhat similar discussions with other coaches, it’s possible that s/he will make possibly faulty assumptions or guesses that do not take into account the coaches specific, historic, unconscious, and certainly idiosyncratic challenges.

Habits. If a coach has a client base in one area – say, real estate, or leadership – s/he may enter the conversation with many prepared ways of handling similar situations and may miss the unique issues, patterns, and unspoken foundation that may hold the key to success.

As I write in my new book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? the problem lie in our brains. Once we listen carefully for ‘something’, we restrict all else that’s possible to hear as our brains interpret the words spoken according to our bias, often missing the client’s real intent, nuance, patterns, and comprehensive contextual framework and implications.

To have choice as to when, whether, or how to avoid filtering out possibility, we must disassociate – go up on the ceiling and look down – and remove ourselves from any personal biases, assumptions, triggers or habits, enabling us to hear all that is meant (spoken or not). In What? I explain how to trigger ourselves the moment there is a potential incongruence. For those unfamiliar with disassociation, try this: during a phone chat, put your legs up on the desk and push your body back against the chair, or stand up. For in-person discussions, stand up and/or walk around. [I have walked around rooms during Board meetings while consulting for Fortune 100 companies. They wanted excellence regardless of my physical comportment.] Both of those physical perspectives offer the physiology of choice and the ability to move outside of our instincts. Try it.


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]