For most of us, there is no longer a single decision-maker. Instead, there are decision-makers. The nature of authority—and the way it is exercised—has changed dramatically.

It used to be that you started as high as possible on your dream client’s organizational chart. You knew you’d be pushed down a level or two, but at least you’d show up there telling the story as to how you C-level sponsor asked you to pursue the opportunity with your new contact. If the big boss vetted you, you already knew who the authority was in any decision; and you’d already made contact.

But now, the higher up you start, the more difficult it is to get any time or attention. In fact, unless you’ve got some serious game, C-level executives don’t have a lot of use for you until their people have vetted you. They want to be sure you are a value creator before they give you any time. You can’t help me improve my performance? I don’t need you. Can’t help me make the number go up? No reason to meet. Can’t make some other numbers go down? You’re boring, kid; get outta here!

More and more, decisions are being made by consensus. The reason salespeople struggle to find the single person with the authority to bind their dream client to a deal is because authority is no longer consolidated in the hands of one person. It’s all over the place.

The end-users of your product or solution need to buy-in. The management stakeholders need to buy-in. Sometimes the ancillary stakeholders need to approve your solution, even though it barely touches them. And sometimes there is no formal process for building consensus or for a caucus to be held. It’s messy.

Couple all of this with the fact that executive approval is needed for smaller and smaller purchase orders, and you have some real challenges in identifying authority.

Here’s what to do about.

  1. Don’t start at the very top. Start where you can get in and where it makes sense. Find your way in by finding someone with some level of authority who is very likely to care about what it is that you sell. It’s a good place to start finding all the stakeholders you need. Ask them, “Who will we need on our team to get this done?”
  2. Second, assume that power is no longer consolidated. Assume that you will need to build consensus. Go into your opportunity knowing that you are going to have to find the people that your solution touches—and that you are going to need to get them onboard. Do the work to build consensus around you and your solution.
  3. Finally, know that someone is going to sign your contract. It’s my experience that more and more senior managers want their people to testify that your solution is what they need and that together you are going to execute. Only then will they sign off.

But after all of this consensus building, there is often still one person within the organization that holds the veto power.

In one opportunity I was involved in, there were 14 people on the buying committee. They all got an equal vote. Well, sort of. After they voted, a committee of three took their recommendation and discussed it themselves. I received two of the three votes. That should have done it, but the vote in opposition had veto power. I was asked to join a meeting, and I (finally) won him over.

First I had to win fourteen. Then I had to win three. Then I had to win one. Yeah. It’s messy. There’s your decision-maker.


How do you find authority in a deal?

How do you find authority when a decision is made by consensus?

Why do executives insist their team buys-in before they are interested in you or your solution?

What is the right level to get in now?

Sales 2012
Post by Anthony Iannarino on December 10, 2012
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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