Busting The Decision Maker Sales Myth

Posted on September 7th, 2023 to Uncategorized

How often have you heard this sales myth? 

“You’re wasting your time if you’re not talking to the decision-maker.”

While direct conversations with key decision-makers are coveted in sales, an organization has a complex web of stakeholders — each playing a significant role in influencing the outcome of your business proposal. 

And sometimes, you may make the mistake of overlooking the less-discussed VIPs.

You’ve likely heard of the Decision Maker, the Champion and the Gatekeeper.

But I bet you haven’t thought much about two others, one of which can seriously throw a wrench in your plans.

In this blog post, I’ll bust the sales myth that you’re wasting your time if you’re not talking to the Decision Maker.

You’ll learn why it’s crucial to know who you’re talking to and their role at each stage of the buying journey.

And, by the end, you’ll know how to ensure you have complete visibility into everyone in the company who can help – or hinder – your efforts.

First, let’s start with the three most talked about players.

1. The Decision Maker: The Star of the Sales Myth

First up: the coveted Decision Maker.

The Decision Maker is deemed most worthy of a meeting because they have the ultimate say in priorities, budget and whether your work gets the green light. 

Typically, they’re a member of top leadership and generally not involved in the day-to-day execution of work, although they can be (think CEO, CFO, CHRO, etc.).

It’s essential to change your approach when meeting with them versus another critical player within the organization, like a Champion. 

How You Win With a Decision Maker:

Prepare to adjust your sales strategy for senior executives because you’re competing for their attention amidst conflicting priorities.

High-powered leaders are busy and may feel the impact of the problem less than someone else who manages it daily.

So, instead of focusing solely on the solutions you provide, be sure to pepper in some executive-level questioning, such as:

  • Is this a priority for you to solve now?
  • What resources do you have to allocate?
  • What could go wrong if you focus on this now?

These direct questions might feel a bit risky, but a busy Decision Maker will appreciate your executive-level thinking, which will make them more likely to engage with you. 

Next up, The Champion.

2. The Champion: Dispelling the Sales Myth of Second Best

Many of my clients interface directly with c-suite Decision Makers — but an equal number have just as much success working closely with Champions. 

Champions are key stakeholders who frequently influence the Decision Maker.

While the Decision Maker holds the final authority, they often follow the Champion’s advice, occasionally prioritizing it above their judgment.

Champions tend to have more time and familiarity with the intricacies of the problem, making your discovery conversations that much more beneficial.

While Champions might not be the ones to write the checks, they’re often the ones who will win your first deal and continue to advocate for you internally. 

Champions prove why the Decision Maker sales myth is … a big myth!

How You Win With a Champion: 

Show respect for the Champion by not perpetually trying to leapfrog over them to get to the Decision Maker.

The Decision Maker doesn’t want to talk with you, and you’ll damage your relationship with the Champion.

Harsh but true!

Instead, ask questions to understand your Champion’s relationship with the Decision Maker and how the decision will ultimately get made. 

Explore how to support your Champion in achieving their needs from the Decision Maker, potentially introducing you – but only if it holds significant value for the Champion.

Let the Champion know their success is your success by showing you genuinely care about what’s keeping them up at night and that you’re invested in helping them reach their professional goals.

And finally, make them the hero of the story by recognizing their knowledge and expertise. Make them a partner in delivering the solution.

But don’t forget about the people who guard the phones, the schedules and ultimately — the Gatekeepers!

3. The Gatekeeper: The Underestimated Power Player

The Gatekeeper’s role is to protect the time and energy of the Decision Makers and Champions, only allowing the most high-value matters on the calendar. 

Think of it like the velvet rope outside the VIP section at a Beyonce concert – unless you’re amazing, you’re not getting in. 

Generally, the larger the company, the busier the executive, so learning how to influence the Gatekeeper is an asset.

How You Win With a Gatekeeper:

Arguably, Gatekeepers have little power and influence in you being chosen for an engagement, but they could hold a lot of power in you getting a shot.

Thus, you must show up in kindness and professionalism — if you don’t, forget about VIP; you’ll be in the nosebleeds!

When I used to cold call Decision Makers at advertising agencies in New York, I made a point of learning everything I could about the receptionist.

Their names. Their kids’ names. Their dog’s name. And most important of all — their Starbucks order (which I would treat them to when I visited the office).

They knew I wanted an appointment but also that I respected them and was grateful for their time and efforts. 

The relationships I built with the gatekeepers were instrumental in getting my calls answered and my appointments scheduled. 

Now that we’ve busted the sales myth that the Decision Maker is the only one worth your time let’s move on to two key players you may spend less time thinking about.

4. The Influencer: The Invisible Vote

In addition to your Champion, Influencers can make or break your chances of winning a contract. 

These people aren’t your Decision Maker or Champion, but they have sway. They can make or break your chances of winning a contract. 

Now, the Influencer can have either a positive or negative effect on your chances.

Obviously, we don’t have to worry about the positive Influencer. We love them!

But the negative Influencer can throw a wrench in the best plans. 

Let me share a story to explain what I mean. 

I had a client, a cybersecurity firm, working with a high-level Champion at an agency (the Chief Revenue Officer, to be exact). 

The agency needed help right away to update and upgrade their cybersecurity protocols, and the stakes were high — the agency was losing huge contracts, including renewals from existing clients, because their security wasn’t up to snuff.

In other words, their business was 100% at risk and needed to take action immediately.

My client, who had been in constant contact with the Champion, assumed she was a shoo-in to get the contract — she knew the Chief Revenue Officer would need sign-off by the Chief Financial Officer, but given the money at risk, she figured the deal would sail through. 

But as time dragged on and no contract materialized, my client knew something went sideways.

Finally, she discovered what happened: The head of IT was questioning why they were hiring outside consultants, arguing that his team could perform the necessary upgrades.

I bet you can guess what happens next. The Chief Financial Officer balked at spending money on a problem the IT person claimed they could solve, even though they hadn’t and couldn’t.

The moral of this story? 

The negative Influencer wasn’t considered during the sales process by my client or the Champion, and the deal went south. 

So, how do you anticipate and avoid this unexpected sneaky influence?

Let’s get into it.

How You Win With an Influencer:

Chances are you won’t be in the room having a direct conversation with an Influencer, which puts you at risk. 

Champions and Decision Makers don’t usually bring them Influencers into the sales process, so it’s up to you to determine who in the company may influence the decision.

To identify who potential influencers may be, you can ask your contact questions like:

  • Who else in the organization stands to benefit from this work? 
  • Would they agree with your characterization of the situation?
  • Are there any folks within the organization who see this problem differently or have differing opinions about handling it?

These diplomatic questions will give you the information to work with your contact to bring in the Influencer’s voice during the proposal process.

That way, you can put the most robust scope of work forward. You’ll have addressed all of the presenting problems and underlying issues that could stand in your way.

And finally, we’ll meet The Joker.

5. The Joker: The Misleading Sales Myth Persona

The Joker is here to waste your time.  

The Joker has no power but big ideas (and often an even bigger ego). 

They present as a Champion, often claiming to have the ear of the Decision Maker, talking a big game about how they will “get you in.” 

But you don’t have to fall for the joke. You can easily sniff out The Joker by asking pointed questions about timelines, budgets, decision-makers and processes. 

If they can’t speak intelligently to these items, be conservative with how much time and energy you invest until you see evidence that they’re, in fact, a Champion. 

How To Win With a Joker:

You can’t. 

Most of the time, your best bet is to cut ties early, before they waste your time — or, worse, damage your reputation with the real stakeholders. 

You may ask for introductions to people with more authority, but an introduction from a Joker might not be the best way to meet someone. 

The Big Picture: Debunking The Decision-Maker Sales Myth

I hope this post dispels the sales myth that only the Decision Maker seals the deal.

While it’s ideal to meet the head honcho, the Champion can be instrumental in helping you understand all the factors at play.

The Champion can give you more of the time and information you need to provide a tailored solution to their problems and potentially uncover opportunities for more work. 

Everyone you come into contact with plays a role in getting the deal done, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not meeting with the C-suite and be kind and professional with everyone.

If you liked this blog post, you might enjoy attending my monthly Sales Roundtable — a virtual session for founders and subject-matter experts where dig into sales topics and challenges. You can learn more and register here! 

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