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How To Deal With Multiple Decision Makers

It is often said too many chefs ruin the stew, and this certainly holds true in sales. Large organizations grow bureaucracy like trees grow branches, and these often come with additional stakeholders which must be placated, overcome, persuaded, or otherwise mollified. They are often invested in the final decision, as they are affected by it in some way.

That’s the nice way of looking at it, and is true in some places. In other companies politics abound, and the situation should be viewed with rather more cynicism. Many people are involved in order that more may take credit for a successful project. Should the project fail, the blame will be spread far and wide, and nobody will truly be at fault. This, of course, is and extreme way of looking at things.

Reality often sits somewhere in between. Some decision makers will be helpful, others will not. Some are truly decision makers, others fancy themselves to be. It is your job to tread through this morass with a fleet foot and discerning mind. You must distinguish each party’s role, their status, and the degree of influence they hold in the final decision.

Of needs, dreams, and desires.

Before you run headlong into a meeting with the grand panjandrums of the company and declaim the merits of whatever it is you sell, you’ll want to prepare. You’ll need to understand the needs, dreams, and desires of as many of the decision makers as you can.

Don’t get caught up in the details. Your focus should be on the one or two things they absolutely need, not the hundred or so they’d like to have. An individual approach is preferable, since it will let you get a good feeling for that particular decision maker. However, that kind of approach is rarely granted. These people are, after all, very busy.

Instead, you’ll need to bring all of your wit and creativity to bear, and concoct a way to discover these needs, dreams, and desires from a group. This can be tricky, since corporate politics often come into play, and can ruin even the best laid plans. For instance, it is common for decision makers to ‘agree’ on certain priorities, even when these are not their actual priorities. The agreement is for political reasons, naught else, and happens only in public. Their true agenda may be quite different.

A potential means of achieving this goal (though of course there are many) is to provide those in the room a set of needs. Make sure they are not all realistic or perfect – there must be room for discussion. You are, after all, seeking to extract information, not introduce a solution.

A keen weather eye.

During your initial conversations, it would serve you well to understand the relationships your small stable of decision makers have with each other. Who is the alpha of the herd? Who sits quietly by but holds the true power? Who holds the office in but a tenuous grasp?

Yours is no to reason why this is so, but simply to observe. Some players simply lack the full weight of importance, and can be as marginalized by you as by their peers. Assign importance to their needs based on your eye. If there are no obvious divisions, or the backstabbing is minimal (there may be none. If there is, be extremely wary), assign an equal weight.

Coalesce purpose from the dust of disarray.

Once you have this information, you must abstract meaning therefrom. The top two priorities from four decision makers are still eight priorities, and the number multiplies quickly as you go along. Among these priorities you are unlikely to find much common ground; one or two may coincide, but most won’t.

And of course you are expected, in your presentation or meeting, to provide some kind of coherent approach in meeting these needs. Assuming no marginalization of any decision maker, you will have to cover all of these points with equal profoundness. You are likely to be faced with disarray.

In order to create meaning from this confused mass, you will require the skill of abstraction (which you no doubt already possess) and a good understanding of their business model (which you can easily acquire). The latter will serve as the groundwork, the frame upon which you will build your conceptual palace. The former will be the rest; all the materials, the crenellations, and everything else.

Bring order to the chaos by abstracting their needs into broader, universally-applicable concepts. These must fit into the frame of their business model while providing sufficient meat to fulfill their needs. Do not forget their desires and their vision; these should form the decorative finale of the palace you’ll present, and will ultimately sell your product. By inflaming their imaginations for their future outcomes, you are fanning their desires into roaring bonfires. Keep those flames alive, but don’t allow yourself to be burned by utilizing speculation and “creative” truths.

There is method to your madness, though it best remain hidden.

Have you looked at my illustrations? Have you noted the one concerning strategy for large accounts? Its colors may seem garish, its design whimsical (its fonts, however, divine). The content should give you pause and cause you to reflect; it provides you with the means (in broad strokes) to ultimately succeed.

Your work with the many decision makers will culminate in a meeting or presentation. Or even a fulminous phone call. They will all require individual persuasion even while sitting in a room of their peers. Political pressures will permeate, potentially polluting a providential situation. Your awareness is called for, as is your cunning.

The palace you have so carefully constructed speaks to them all, and all are interested. And yet there will be doubters and there will be those who doubt in silence. You must play the room carefully, asking for the opinions of all and listening for those who are not wholly there. You might, with great delicacy, begin to push the one side or the other. The strategy you follow will depend entirely on the room, and on your comfort with it.

Some final thoughts.

Your goal, as ever, is to close the deal. You seek the best for the prospect, and you happen to sell it. The machinations described above are merely there to guide your considerable intellect into the paths most suited to this goal. You may, of course, desire to pursue an entirely different means to that end.

By approaching the task as outlined above, however, you will come across some particularly beneficial side effects. You will be able to see the process for what it is: diving into their politics and emerging as unscathed as possible. You will be able to close the deal more rapidly due to your identification of those who truly matter and those who may not. And you will sell more effectively if you build the palace of ideas around the groundwork of their business.

As ever, I wish you all the best!

Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!

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