Finding the elusive decision maker. Then what?

Question from a reader:

Jeffrey, I speak with many people in organizations that want you to think they are the decision maker when in fact they are not. I have wasted too many emails and follow up on people that can’t help. How do you ask without hurting the relationship you may have built? How do you determine the real decision maker? Steve

Finding the real decision maker may be one of the largest barriers to a sale in existence. It’s second to one other barrier: “Once I find the decision maker, what do I say?”

Finding the decision maker and speaking with that decision maker intelligently are not just critical, they’re also skills that can be career building or career ending.

I’m about to give you insight that will help you find and communicate with the all-important decider. But I caution you, it is not a be-all end-all. Rather, it’s the beginning of your true understanding about decision makers, and decision making.

There are several parts to the decision-making process. Finding the decision maker is only one of them and it may be the smallest one.

Early in my career, I created a question that helped me find decision makers without ever asking anyone who the decision maker was. Whoever I was talking to, as I was making the sales presentation, I asked the question, “Who pulls the trigger?”

That was a direct question that didn’t insult the person I was talking to. If you ask, “Are you the decision-maker?” or worse, “Who is the decision-maker?” you both embarrass the prospect, and pressure them for an answer. To the person you’re talking to it gives the impression you’re sales hungry instead of customer friendly.

By asking, “Who pulls the trigger?” you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. You’re merely asking for distant information. Vital, but distant.

After I asked the “who pulls the trigger” question, I followed up with an equally powerful, but still pressure-less question. I simply asked, “How will the decision be made?” And whatever my prospective customer said, I followed up with yet another question about the decision-making process, “Then what?”

The words “then what” lead you through the decision-making process. Especially if you continue to ask it. Then what? Then what? Then what? Until finally you come back to the trigger puller. It sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?
Well, over the years I found that it wasn’t quite that easy. I had to have a greater understanding of the total process especially what happened after the purchase was completed. In other words, what happens after ownership and what are the expected outcomes.

You may think what happens after ownership and expected outcomes have little or nothing to do with the decision maker. And you would be totally, completely incorrect.

After ownership comes value of purchase. Often erroneously referred to as ROI, it’s what happens after the customer takes possession, and what they’re hoping to achieve as a result of it. REALITY: That’s the only thing decision makers want to know. And once you know it, you’ll be able to find every decision maker. That’s pretty powerful.

There are additional questions you MUST ask during a sales meeting in order to find out the total purchasing and use of product or service situation. Keep in mind, you’re going to be selling for about an hour, but they’re going to be using your product or service for years. Once you understand that, you understand the significance of obtaining that information.

Here are the critical decision-making questions:

  • Who do you collaborate with?
  • Who will be the main user of…?
  • Who calls and asks for service?
  • When a service person arrives, who do they meet with?
  • How did the last purchase happen?
  • Who will be responsible for the outcome of this purchase?

HERE’S THE SECRET: Once you have the names of these people, you ask the person you’re meeting with to introduce you. And talk to these people about what really happens. Even if you’re meeting with the CEO, you can still ask for meetings with his or her people.

Once you have this information and meet the people involved…
Look at the insight you’ve gained.
Look at the understanding you have about their business process.
Look at the expertise you put into your experience base.
And even more important, you’re now charged with the responsibility of making certain every person involved in use and decision making are aware of your value.

“Jeffrey,” you say, “it’s a pretty complicated process. In fact, it changes my whole strategy of selling.”

That’s correct, your way was a fight to get to the decision maker. People lied to you, and people led you down a rosy path that completely wasted your time. Oh, and you lost the order. My way is a little bit more difficult to learn and implement, but a heck of a lot more productive in terms of not just finding the decision maker, but actually making the sale – and gaining experience and expertise for the next sale.

Now you have to make a decision.
Decide to try it my way!

Reprinted with permission from Jeffrey H. Gitomer and Buy Gitomer.

About the Author

Jeffrey GitomerJeffrey Gitomer is the author of The Sales Bible, Customer Satisfaction is Worthless Customer Loyalty is Priceless, The Little Red Book of Selling, The Little Red Book of Sales Answers, The Little Black Book of Connections, The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude, The Little Green Book of Getting Your Way, The Little Platinum Book of Cha-Ching, The Little Teal Book of Trust, The Little Book of Leadership, and Social BOOM! His website,, will lead you to more information about training and seminars, or email him personally at [email protected].

Building Trust Develops Team Cohesiveness

LDRSHIP is an acronym for the seven core values of the U.S. Army: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal courage. These principles were instilled in me during my eight years in the U.S. Army Infantry, and later in my career as a Drill Sergeant. These values were foundational to many of my business decisions. The growing reality in retrospect is that these same principles not only made me an effective leader, but they enabled me to develop something in the workplace that every organization strives for but often struggles to achieve: team cohesiveness.

Team cohesiveness doesn’t simply happen, it is created. It’s created through a process of due diligence and a deliberate effort to intentionally and consistently integrate the seven core values into the workplace. Simply put, one has to try. With consistency, trust will be developed.

Developing this trust starts with loyalty. Loyalty is subjective, but its basic definition is faithfulness to the commitments you’ve made and remaining true to the obligations at hand. That means you need to look out for your employees, defend them, advocate for them, and represent them — they are your team. Let your words and actions demonstrate that you’re committed to your team, and doing so consistently will mean that the depth of your commitment is never questioned but it’s understood to be deeply rooted and unbending. This established sense of loyalty builds team harmony because of the trust that it creates. You know what it feels like when somebody truly and legitimately supports you. Did it empower you? Do your employees feel the way you do when a team has your back?

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About the Author

Jason LevesqueCEO Jason Levesque, a US Army veteran and entrepreneur, founded Argo Marketing in 2003, and has become a widely respected Maine business owner. Jason has created numerous job opportunities and he remains committed to further developing and supporting his local community. Argo Marketing Group currently has three offices located in Portland, Lewiston, and Pittsfield, Maine; making Argo Marketing Group one of the largest privately held, third party contact center operations in North America.

Blurred Lines: Setting Healthy Boundaries at Work

Success in the workplace depends on your ability to relate effectively to people. Research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in an individual employee’s skill or motivation.1

Difficult workplace relationships are far more than a nuisance; they can cause anxiety, burnout, clinical depression and even physical illness.

Healthy relationships at work can propel you to great heights of achievement; dysfunctional or toxic ones will tether you to mediocrity. When we mismanage relationships, the fall-out affects productivity and quite possibly our ability to advance. Your success at work depends on your ability to set the kinds of boundaries that encourage mutual respect and keep the focus on productivity.

7 Tale-Tell Signs of a Toxic Relationship

You’re in a toxic professional relationship with a boss or peer when they:

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About the Author

Van MoodyField expert Van Moody is the author of The People Factor (an upcoming release by publisher Thomas Nelson) and a motivational speaker who advises on matters related to relationships as they pertain to friends, family, significant others and the workplace. He is a ‘People Scholar’ who helps others build their ‘Relational IQ’ to achieve success at home, in their social circles, and in business. He may be reached online at


1. Association for Psychological Type International, APTI

Lessons The Avengers Can Teach About Leadership

With the upcoming release of Thor Dark World and amid the success of The Avengers blockbuster movies overall, there are excellent parallel leadership lessons that can be learned from these Marvel Comics superheroes. Namely, knowing when to take the reins and when to call on others for their specialized skills and expertise. Although, in business, we might not necessarily have to restore order to the universe and face unimaginable foes, we do often have to recalibrate our organizations, face strategic issues that seem impossible to solve, and combat pressure from the competition.

Movies like Thor Dark World and The Avengers actually have significant business value in their themes and characters. The plots, obstacles, and how each of the Avengers react can reflect what happens in business, and offers legitimate insight on how managers can handle challenging issues—better ensuring that proverbial good over evil prevails.

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About the Author

CEO Miller IngenuityWith more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue is a globally regarded business growth authority and ‘turnaround specialist’ who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. He may be reached at

A Shift in Leadership Can Make a Multi-Million Dollar Impact

You would think that an Ivy League institution like Cornell University would be a model of the best practices of leadership throughout its organization since Cornell and most universities believe they are growing the next generation of leaders for our country and our world. Well… not necessarily and not always. While Cornell executive leadership can be exemplary, there were and still are times when units within this very large institution needed significant improvement. I was asked to lead a cultural turnaround in a large section of Cornell’s non-academic infrastructure. Over time, this intervention prevented lawsuits and arbitrations, increased customer satisfaction, increased revenues, reduced expenses, personnel problems, worker’s compensation claims, and turnover.

We chose to change our culture from a “top-down, my way or the highway” model to a values-based collaborative one. In any organization, what is rewarded and measured is what you will get. With a giant leap of faith, we invested in our leaders. We required every person who had supervisory responsibilities to attend a nine-day intensive training spread over three-four months.

Our leaders completed the program knowing, not guessing, what was expected of them, as leaders of their teams and as models for our entire organization. The experiential, highly interactive course included intensive exploration and training in 4 core Masteries: Personal Mastery, Interpersonal Mastery, Team Mastery and Culture and Systems Mastery.

They learned a great deal about their impact as a leader on everyone around them, a humbling experience for most. They learned and practiced how to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts, build teams to succeed, lead meetings that didn’t waste time, lead change that would stick, walk the talk with our organizational values, and finally how to engage and manage our talent. They also learned how they would be held accountable to our high standard of leadership behaviors. We began to measure performance for both business and behavioral results. That got everyone’s attention!

After three years of running our program, we had more than 200 leaders on board. We then required our entire staff to attend a week-long intensive program. This involved several more years and another 1,800 people, 60% of whom were union employees. We remained steadfastly committed to having all our staff from custodians, plumbers, and bus drivers to engineers, architects, and finance directors, trained in the culture we wanted to create and the culture we expected each of our people to honor.

Prior to the leadership intervention, our campus customers said we took too long and were too expensive. We also received powerful feedback that customers did not like working with us because of leader and staff attitudes. This of course directly correlated to our proposal win-rate of only about 40% of the bids in our facilities related departments. In reality, we were not any more expensive than others. Our real problem was we were not holding our leaders and staff accountable. High quality service was not a value before we started. We were a mediocre, at best, institutional operation with a sense of entitlement.

The results of our extensive experiment were nothing short of remarkable— and we found that positive, impactful leadership leads to great bottom line results. We managed university budget cuts with grace; we had far less turn over than the university as a whole and even lower than national averages for the same job categories.

Soon after the program was implemented, our internal customers started to notice. Our productivity grew each year and our facility bids were winning over 70% of the time. Because we were awarded more contracts and generated more revenue, we had a positive impact on the university and on our city. It is no accident that millions of dollars were saved because of one and only one intervention—teaching our leaders how to lead their people well in a solid values-based culture. More than 50% of our custodians had perfect attendance and we celebrated them. We received more applications than anywhere else on campus and became the ‘division of choice,’ where people wanted to work.

All of these stunning results were a direct result of the heightened quality of leadership throughout our entire organization. Our colleagues and customers could count on our people to do a great job, as promised, when promised, and with a good attitude—plain and simple.

During this time and over the next ten years, we experienced only two arbitrations, both of which we won. No lawsuits were filed against us by employees and we had very few Step 3 grievances from our four unions. Imagine this—the unions did not complain or file grievances even when their members were, like the leaders, required to receive an anonymous 360o feedback report on their impact in the workplace and required to attend training.

I co-conducted a professional peer review of a nearly identical campus on the west coast (size, structure, unions, facilities, budget, number of staff). They had no leadership or staff training in place, were not focused on customer service or accountability, and spent millions of dollars every year on arbitrations and employee law suits, most of which they lost. The only material differences between our campuses were geography and the quality of the leadership. Their leadership was measurably dysfunctional and ineffective; ours was functional and effective. We spent half a million dollars to train our people and restructure our reward systems over 10 years. They spent five times that on one lost lawsuit in one year.

We learned from our experience in culture change that having the ability to lead others to success does not happen by accident; it takes solid values, a long-term and deep commitment, alignment, accountability, and great leadership.

About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.