Bark up the right tree – sales

Don’t look for the decision-maker. Your quest should be to determine who fills six distinct buying roles
{First of two parts}
Derrick had just sold the big deal to the chief financial officer of a very large company. For nearly a year, he’d been touting the benefits of his company’s product, a financial software package, to the CFO. At last he got the nod. But a week into its implementation, Derrick got a call from one of the CFO’s underlings: The customer was killing the project and uninstalling the software.
The customer firm’s CIO – chief information officer – had come up with reasons why Derrick’s software wasn’t a good solution for the company. Let’s put aside the question of where the CIO was before the decision to purchase was made. What was stunning about this turn of events was that the CIO actually reported to the CFO on the company’s organizational chart. And the CIO killed it himself – he didn’t convince the CFO to do so. Now that’s weird.
Some time ago, we touched on the subject of corporate power and influence in the large account sale. I promised to follow up with some specific how-to tips. This month and next month, I intend to deliver.
First, remember these important principles:
1. “Searching for the decision-maker” is a meaningless concept in a complex sale.
2. Your sales plan is only as strong as the contacts that support it. A whole lot of support for your solution doesn’t mean much if it comes from people with little muscle in the customer organization.
3. The contacts with the most power are the hardest ones to reach. The Business Resource salesperson recognizes that and, therefore, has a healthy skepticism about the influence that any contact possesses until that influence is confirmed.
4. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, “Being powerful is like being a lady: If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Truly powerful people go out of their way not to call attention to their own influence. The opposite is true as well: Those with limited power try to make the loudest case for how much power have.
And in this era of matrix management structures and virtual organizations, relying on a formal organizational chart to measure who has power is even less reliable than in the past.
In large organizations in particular, there’s no one “decision-maker.” Instead, there are “buying roles” – six in all. Four are official: The buying company would readily acknowledge that these roles exist and that people are assigned to them. Two are unofficial, neither designated nor acknowledged by the buying company.
The four official
buying roles are:
1. Approver. The person in senior management who gives final approval to a buying decision. The Approver can say “yes” even if everybody else says “no.” Usually the purchase comes from the Approver’s departmental budget. (That means, by the way, that people in the purchasing department are almost never Approvers. They don’t have a budget; they spend other departments’ dollars.) Approvers approve the need to make a particular purchase. They approve how much can be spent – and tend to be by far the most flexible on how much should be spent. Their view is much more holistic, focusing on total cost of ownership, not simply lowest unit price. Typically they approve the buying process and buying team, then disengage from the process – sometimes permanently, and sometimes re-emerging towards the end of the cycle. As a salesperson, your best chances of gaining access to Approvers is usually early in the buying cycle, sometimes very late, but almost never in the middle.
2. Evaluator. This is the person, or people, assigned to objectively analyze a proposed purchase, usually against predefined criteria or specifications. Evaluators can say “no” even if everyone else says “yes.” A “no” from just one Evaluator can kill a deal – unless overruled by an Approver.
3. User. Anyone who uses or is otherwise directly affected by the product or service in question. Users often are appointed to be Evaluators. But rather than weighing the product against some specified criteria, their primary interest is in functionality and ease of use, because they’re the ones stuck with using it.
4. Designated Decision-Maker. This is the term I use to identify the individual – sometimes more than one – who, hearing from Users, Evaluators and even from the Approver (the latter usually indirectly), makes the commitment to purchase. This person’s ability to “make a decision” has been granted or designated by a higher authority. Only when he or she is also the Approver can this person truly be called the Decision-Maker.
Now for the two unofficial buying roles:
Coach. A Coach truly wants you to win more than he or she wants your competitors to win. A Coach also has a good working knowledge of the business and organizational issues within the customer company. For whatever business, personal or political reason, the Coach is willing to share with you information and offer direct steering and guidance through the sale that other salespeople don’t get. A Coach does not have to have a lot of influence, however. For that reason, don’t ask a Coach to introduce you to others in the customer company unless you’re certain that the Coach is respected by the people to whom you’re requesting the introduction.
Information Source. An Information Source is any contact who is open to meeting with you and sharing reliable information about the buying company’s business or organization. Unlike a Coach, however, an information source will generally, if asked, provide the same information to your competitors. One of the big mistakes salespeople make is to label an Information Source a Coach simply because he or she is very friendly.
Take a look, then, at some of your more complex accounts and try to identify people who fill each of these six buying roles.
Jerry Stapleton is president of The IBS Group, based in Brookfield. He can be reached at 414-784-0812.

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