The New “Decision Maker.” Everybody, and nobody.

There is no such thing as a decision maker, and any sales strategy built on reaching or closing that mystical figure is doomed to fail.  That might seem a little strong coming out of the gate but stick with me on this.

If you’re going to build a sales and/or marketing strategy you need to know your audience.  Understanding that you’ll need to build consensus with either a great digital experience or good ol’ fashion sales is key. Once you understand the current procurement landscape and what it takes to build momentum towards a sale; then you can operate from a position of strength and confidence when building a strategy.


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Let’s look at the 6 poisons that killed the decision maker;

  1.  After 2008 the corporate purse strings tightened substantially, have never relaxed, and probably never will again. 

If you sold a product or service in 2008 or the first half of 2009 I’m sure you remember the pain.  Things like “pushing off non-essential purchases” until “next year’s budget.”  Well, something happened during that time, new practices, perceptions, and processes took over. Which created numerous barriers to making purchases quickly or without following a defined process. While the reasons behind these controls were well-intentioned the desired effects were real. The unintended effect of over-complicating assessments and procurement processeses was immediate.

  1.  The individual willingness to take risk in an organization is beaten down by corporate culture. 

I’m not exactly sure when and where this happened (2008?), but even the innovators inside an organization often feel they must get consensus from their team in order to make a decision. That ultimately leads to a  group decision.  I do not fault the logic that having 2 heads, or 3 or 4 or 5, are better than 1. But diluting authority only serves to draw out assessments and purchases and can often times kill it completely.  I believe that social media and the need for constant social validation has trained us to unnecessarily seek approval and consensus.  In my last role I would frequently communicate with my peers in our weekly meeting and show them what I was working on or assessing, but I would handle some processes alone. I lived and died by my decisions but I always learned as a result.

  1.  The individual ability to take risk in an organization is beaten down by corporate culture. 

Modern corporate structures encourage collaboration and engagement more than ever before. It is the fabric that holds organizations together, gives them culture, and gives their employees focus and motivation.  However, I believe that employees and teams incorrectly apply the practice.  Why do 15 people have to weigh in on a CRM?  The false hope is that the project will be more effective when implemented because more people are on board. Just remember that not everyone got the product or features they were pushing for. I once worked with a client that had a very efficient process in this area. They collected and ranked specifications up front from her team and then used those to assess various products. With all of the blogs, white papers, and media sources available online gathering this information is quite easy.  In fact, leading marketing automation company’s poll found that 70% of the decision making process is achieved up front, though research online.

  1.  Financial decisions are now made by committee or – even worse – consensus.

It is widely agreed upon by sales people, sales leaders, growth hackers, marketers and everyone else responsible for customer acquisition that you need broad support in order to get a deal done. In my own personal experience selling both services and SaaS products, I have seen that 3-5 people are generally involved in the process.  However, the more important thing I have seen that is noteworthy is that often times the person charged with gathering information or presenting options internally operates under the idea that they are the decision maker.  Not only is that overtly wrong, but they are very rarely even the most influential person or budget owner.  You have to go into every opportunity with the understanding that you’ll need to quickly get past this person or risk losing to the deal to someone who does.

  1.  Advanced CRM, accounting, and other systems give projects and purchases exposure to the entire group or organization. 

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  It’s a phrase I love and a good sanity test.  It also applies to businesses that over-collaborate when it comes to picking new products, services or other vendors.  And it is made exponentially worse by project management and other collaborative tools that give uninvolved people organization-wide insight into projects and initiatives.  This is tough to stomach for most collaborators, and I struggle with this myself.  If someone in your company had been through the implementation of a similar product or onboarding of a service provider you’d certainly want them involved.  But what is the cost of opening involvement to people who are not directly responsible for its success?

  1.  The advent of SaaS itself is a source of this.

Stick with me here for a second.  Think about it, never before have operating groups, teams, functions, etc have so much choice of which technologies will help them accomplish their goals.  When you combine cloud computing, SaaS, and our strong startup culture companies are left with hundreds if not thousands of choices.  When you’re facing this volume of options you need to change the way you source, assess and purchase products, you need people to bring forward the best ideas and technologies and that takes manpower.

So do I have a better idea?  Yes, I do,  Thanks for asking!

I don’t believe that consolidating purchasing authority will ever happen again. People certainly enjoy the security of shared blame for any blowup that might happen as the result of introducing a new technology or process. But there are several things that a business or organization can do streamline assessment and purchasing.  I’ve seen many companies do this well so long as the process is rigidly followed. In the SaaS world, I’ve seen this specific process result in a decision in almost all cases:

    1.  Assign research to 1 person: this person will look at product/service providers, find their competitors, download white papers, and present a range of solutions internally to a stakeholder team that usually involves the users, IT and procurement.  Complete the necessary steps to get budget approval.
    2.  Send an RFI: these are different for each industry but ask basic questions to fill the gaps in your knowledge.  Make sure you ask for pricing here.
    3.  Get demos or have initial meetings: this is the step where you can whittle down your requirements and get to know the companies and people you’ll prospectively be working with.  By this point, your committee/team should have a good idea of the solutions in the marketplace and be comfortable assessing the potential products or solutions.
    4.  Send an RFP to 3 vendors: It might sound hard.  It might even sound a little crazy.  But don’t kill your team or burn bridges by inviting 10 teams to submit RFPs.  This will also cause scope creep as the purchasing team attaches to various features, integrations and capabilities that inevitably have no overlap from one vendor to the next.
    5.  Invite 2 vendors back to final presentations/discussions: Again, more forced choice.
    6.  Pricing negotiation: No need for a lengthy explanation here.
    7.  Purchase: Bingo!


You can clearly see there are no innovative new platforms nor assessment processes in this list.  But, there is power in just having a list at all.  That’s because successful assessing and purchasing are as much about following a process as it is about having a good one.  It’s not easy of course, with budgets, egos, needs, challenges, etc all at play simultaneously.  But with a good leader driving the process the consensus can be built and maintained to take action if things do not drag on for an extended period.  Even on the buy side, time kills all deals.

When marketing and sales teams that are beholden to this process, look at your own internal approach to navigating this, you should guide your prospects through this very comfortable process. It’s good for you and easy enough for them. I acknowledge that changing client processes is somewhere between challenging and even sometimes impossible. But if implementing this approach get’s you even a 5% lift in sales isn’t that worth doing it right?