Selling to Decision-​Makers: Strategies for Each Type

BY Rachel Cagle
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Last year, you probably encountered more sales situations in which you had to win over multiple people in order to land a sale. The economic climate forced companies to watch their finances more closely. So, it’s no wonder more people were assigned to decision-​making roles. As if selling couldn’t be any tougher, right? You'll probably be faced with multiple people in your prospect’s company to sell to for some time. When that happens, follow this advice for selling to decision-​makers from Flori Needle, writing for HubSpot.

Selling to Decision-Makers

During the sales process, you will often encounter these three types of decision-makers:

  1. The gatekeeper
  2. The influencer
  3. The actual decision-maker

The Gatekeeper

The gatekeeper is the first decision-​maker you will encounter in the selling to decision-​makers process. They decide whether or not you get to speak with the person they are guarding. Don't leave a bad impression on them. They may tell the higher-​up they guard about their experience with you. That will ruin your chances of success, even if you manage to bypass the gatekeeper and reach the other decision-maker.

So, you need to recognize the gatekeeper as the important asset that they are and treat them as such. Most sales reps the gatekeeper encounters immediately ask to be transferred to leadership. You can stand out and gain the gatekeeper’s favor by building familiarity with both them and the company. Needle says that by, “expressing genuine interest in getting to know their organization and challenges, you can gain valuable insight to help you make a sale down the line.” Needle recommends asking questions such as:

  1. "I see your company is preparing to launch XYZ product. How has that experience been?"
  2. What are some of the challenges your organization has faced in launching XYZ?"

If you show a genuine interest in the gatekeeper during the selling to decision-​makers process you’ll reap multiple benefits. These benefits include scoring more information to use during your later sales pitches and possibly a sparkling recommendation from the gatekeeper.

The Influencer

Sometimes the gatekeeper won’t transfer you to the higher-​up you were expecting. You may, instead, get connected to an influencer, “a junior-​level employee who’s asked to research options before briefing a superior,” explains Needle. “They don’t have the budget or authority to make a final decision, but they do have the power to influence the decision-​maker.” But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the influencer’s opinion of you and your product or service means nothing.

The primary decision-​maker is not generally the one who will be using your product or service day-​to-​day. It’s the lower-​level employees who will. So, their opinion of you and your interaction with them matters. To make the most of your sales pitch when selling to decision-​makers, Needle recommends asking the influencer questions. “The goal with these prospects should be to ask questions about the challenges they face with their current systems, toolsets, and day-​to-​day tasks.”

The answers the influencer gives you will help clarify the company’s pain points. You will learn what areas your product or service excels in compared to what they’re currently using. You'll also know what they want from what the solution they’ll eventually choose. “At that point,” says Needle, “you can present your product or service as a solution and demonstrate what a day in the life would look like if the sale were to go through.” 

If you can paint a picture of a more laid back work experience for the influencer, they’ll be more likely to go running to the decision-​maker to ask for your product or service. After all, the final decision-​maker is selecting a new product or service for the influencer and their co-​workers. If the influencers believe that your product or service would genuinely help them, how could the decision-​maker go into their meeting with you and prepare to tell you, “No”?

The Actual Decision-Maker

You’ve finally done it. After selling to decision-​makers on many different levels, you have at long last reached the decision-​maker with actual buying power. Now, just because you have won over the two previous decision-​makers who have obviously reported their opinions and findings to this higher-​up, don’t assume you have the sale in the bag. If you get too cocky, you’ll lose the sale you have worked so hard for.

Needle says that in order to win over a decision-​maker, you should partner with them, not sell to them. This means that you’re primarily showing an interest in their company and how your product or service will fit in rather than boasting about your product or service itself. Ask yourself how you can use your product or service to help them see an increased value in their company.

First of all, “identify opportunities where you can potentially fit in and present your product, service, or business as a solution to their pain points,” says Needle. Highlight key insights you gained from the gatekeeper and influencers about the company’s day-​to-​day. The decision-​maker may oversee the day-​to-​day, but they probably don’t have the insight you have gained into how it can be improved. Highlight who specifically will be positively impacted by working with you and how. Then you can throw in statistical evidence of the improvements you’ve seen your product or service help other similar companies achieve.