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Identifying Decision-Makers – The Critical Step in Uncovering Opportunity

An organization can have a need for your product or solution.  They can have a budget to purchase your product or solution.  You can have a track record of delivering results to similar organizations.  You can even have multiple interactions with various contacts at that organization.  These are all indications that there may be a sales opportunity.  However, there is one critical element missing if there is truly a qualified sales opportunity that can be put into the pipeline and forecast.  You need to know who the ultimate decision-maker is.  Who has the final authority to make the decision?  Who is authorized to sign the contract and write the check?  In fact, you shouldn’t just know who they are, but they should actually be engaged in the sales process.

Confusion about the decision-making process and the identity of the ultimate decision-maker is probably one of the biggest mistakes salespeople make.  It can be a very costly one.  The primary reason sales cycles get stretched, or deals stall in the pipeline, is the decision-maker wasn’t engaged.  Consequently, salespeople waste valuable time and resources chasing deals that often simply aren’t real. Too many sales organizations make the following mistakes when it comes to identifying and engaging decision-makers.

Rely on Inbound Marketing Activity. Just because someone downloads your latest eBook doesn’t mean they’re a decision-maker – even if they say they are on the form they completed.  Often it’s lower-level contacts who are tasked with exploring solutions and conducting research.  They may very well be involved in the buying process and have some level of influence, but they also might just be doing the “leg work” for their boss.

Rely on Third-Party Lists.  Many organizations build their marketing databases by purchasing lists from third parties.  The problem with most third-party list sources is that they’re notoriously incomplete and out of date.  Every list should come with an expiration date because, just like the milk in your refrigerator, they do go bad.  The information on a list doesn’t remain static.  It’s constantly changing.  Companies are merging, changing names, moving, and going out of business.  And the contacts at those companies are changing jobs, getting promoted, and relocating.  The content of some lists can completely turnover within a few years.  Even if the information is accurate, how do we know that it’s complete?  Does it have all the potential contacts listed?  Does it have the right ones?

Rely on Online Research.  Google and LinkedIn can be great sources of business intel.  We have at our fingertips, the ability to instantly research just about any company.  Unlike third-party lists, online research tends to produce information that is much more reliable and up-to-date.  But there is still potential for incomplete data.  How do we know that the information we are finding is accurate and complete?  We may be able to find out various titles of the contacts at a company, but do we know their functions and responsibilities?  Determining how the contacts relate to each other and how they make decisions can be a little more challenging.

Afraid to Ask.  The most reliable method of determining who is influencing a potential purchase and who is involved in the ultimate decision is picking up the phone and asking.  It’s amazing what people will tell you if you simply ask the right questions.

  • “What is your role in evaluating potential solutions?”
  • “Who else will be involved in making the final decision?”
  • “Do you require approval from someone else before you can sign the agreement?”
  • “Who’s budget will this purchase come from?”

These are all questions that can help you capture additional contacts, identify the decision-making process, and ensure that you’re engaging will all the right people.


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