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There are still a lot of people that offer the advice that you should always enter your dream client as far up the organizational chart as possible. The idea is that if you are sponsored down, if you could say “your boss sent me with his blessing,” then you were more likely to get a meeting and a deal. It was easy to find your way down than it was to spend your time with someone with no authority.

But things have changed. Now the big boss at the top of the organizational chart doesn’t want anything to do with you unless and until you’ve been vetted as a value creator by her team. Now the big boss doesn’t want to see you unless you come with blessings from below.

But this doesn’t mean that you don’t still need authority to create and win an opportunity. And you need someone with the authority to say more than “no.”

The Powerful Powerless

One of the challenges salespeople face now is dealing with a stakeholder with only the power to say “no.” They have the absolute authority to eliminate you and your offering, but they don’t have the authority to say “yes.” They are the powerful powerless.

Dealing with the powerful powerless is problematic. If you go around them, they cut you off at the knees. Not acknowledging their power is an invitation to have it exercised against you.

But playing into the powerful powerless game can be just as troublesome. You can spend a lot of time with a stakeholder who has no real intention of bringing you in, who can tie you up, and who can prevent you from ever getting a real audience with authority. This is especially difficult when you believe that your solution would be the right for someone higher up in the organization.

Sometimes you have to blow up the relationship, but you should exercise a great deal of caution before you do so. But there are other things you might do earlier in the sales process.

Ensuring Authority Exists and Is Present

One way to prevent falling into this trap is to confirm who will be involved in making the decision early in the sales process, like at the very beginning. You can do this without being insulting and without threatening anyone’s authority (or ego).

You can start by asking, “Who will make up the buying committee and who will make the final decision based on their recommendation?” This assumes it’s natural for more people to be involved and that it will need some executive level approval (something that is more and more true at lower and lower spends).

You can follow up by asking, “After we’ve done the work that we need to do to explore this together, can we ensure that all of the buying committee members as well as the person whose approval we need will be there? We’ve found that bringing them in early helps ensure that we address their concerns.” Or add, “It’s sometimes hard for them to understand all of this without being part of the process.”

Do whatever works for you. You’re smart. You’ll figure out your angle and the right language. But whatever you do, make sure you get the authority in early, especially when you suspect you are working with someone with the absolute authority to say “no,” and no authority to say “yes.”

Authority to say “no” isn’t the same thing as authority to say “yes.”


How do you ensure you have access to the person (or people) with the authority to say “yes?”

How do you avoid getting trapped with a stakeholder who can only say “no?”

When is right to blow up a relationship that can only lead you to a “no?”

Sales 2012
Post by Anthony Iannarino on November 27, 2012

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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