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Week 015 – Tackle the Decision Maker – Chapter 04

Do you remember my post from week 002? Only decision makers make decisions. This is a simple truth that many sales professionals lose sight of. Especially if the sales organizations are used to getting inquiries from potential customers. This is when complacency can set in. Go one better and find the real decision maker.

As soon as a company has reached a stage in its selection process where it knows exactly what it’s looking for, that’s when inquiries can be made with potential suppliers. These can be completely new suppliers, or those who are already listed.

From my experience, I can tell that the people who initiate these inquiries are rarely the decision makers. The recommenders and the influencers are more likely the ones that seek out suppliers in order to get an overview of what’s available on the market. When salespeople get used to the contact with these people, they forget to focus on the decision maker.

Tackle the Decision Maker © Fotolia 2015 / carballo

Tackle the Decision Maker © Fotolia 2015 / carballo

Selling Toilet Paper

Here’s an illustration: Imagine you’ve got a job offer that’s too good to turn down. Your new employer offers you a company car, a notebook, a cellphone and, apart from a good salary, gives you a handsome allowance for your home-office. Your mission is to find new customers. You have a list of medium-sized businesses with 300-600 employees, which constitute your target group.

Where do you begin? By the way, what you’re selling is toilet paper. So, your first impulse is surely to find out who in a company is responsible for the purchase of toilet paper. What will he say when you call him an present your offer? Probably, he will tell you that he already has his suppliers, but that you are welcome to leave your proposal with him and he will get back to you if the need rises.

Now ask yourself: Is the person responsible for purchasing really the decision maker? It’s possible, but you don’t know for sure. That’s why you have to take one step back and pose the infamous “why” question: Why does this company need toilet paper?

The most reasonable answer would be: “We purchase toilet paper because we want to properly equip the restrooms for their use by employees and visitors.” It is thus a question of supplying restrooms, something that could be solved by the purchasing of toilet paper, soap and other articles. There are, however, already suppliers that offer a service together with their products that could be called “restroom service outsourcing.” What does this provide?

It offers the same result, namely the reliable equipment of restrooms, but it doesn’t allocate any internal resources for tasks that do not serve the object of the company. If you use this approach, then the purchaser of toilet paper will hardly be the right person to address. You have to aim higher in the organization.

Of course it’s exhausting to work your way up from the bottom. If you speak to the head of purchasing, he would probably refer you right back to the purchaser in his team. Therefore, you have to find a person who is concerned with the benefit the firm will reap from a given acquisition.

Therefore, it’s best to start right at the top and find the appropriate decision maker. Naturally the CEO of a firm of 300 employees will hardly be interested in restroom service outsourcing. His CFO on the other hand, might be.

Try this: Say your target person is the CEO’s personal assistant. Her name should be easy to get from the switchboard. Once you have her on the phone, ask her, “Assuming Ms CEO would to make sure that ‘(company name)’ maintains its leading position in the market as far as ‘(your proposed benefit)’ is concerned, whom in your company would she assign this task to?

This method works. Why? The personal assistant usually has the task of sorting through business matters and making sure that the important ones end up on the right people’s desks. In this way you should be able to quickly and easily find out who your contact will be. Either the assistant will say, “The CEO handles these matters.” Or you will geht the name of the appropriate person. Either way you will have found your target. Congratulations!

Next week we will discuss the question whether and how we have to prepare our interlocutor for our offer in order to close a deal.

Best wishes,
Stephan Heinrich