As we wrote here, the lack of awareness of how the potential customer’s decision-making process works mean a smaller chance of beginning cooperation, more unnecessary hours of work and difficulties in forecasting your company’s actions. Neglecting this sales element has very serious consequences, so you might want to consider it with due diligence. Despite the apparent obviousness, most of the B2B companies I deal with don’t analyse their clients’ decision-making process or do it too selectively.
People involved in the decision-making
The first business negotiations with the main contact person are just one of many talks that will concern the cooperation between your company and your potential customer – especially with larger transactions.
Their decision will be affected by their immediate superior, the company President, the management board, the CFO or the lawyers. Each of them has their own responsibilities, incentive system and annual goals. For example, if your company sells production lines for factories, the President and the management board will be interested in how this purchase will affect the profitability and prospects, the CFO will want to know if the line can be leased, the lawyers are responsible for ensuring that none of the contractual provisions harm the company they represent, and in this particular case, the opinion of the Production Manager will also matter because the efficiency of your machine will have an impact on their fate in the company and the difficulty of their work if their subordinates do not learn properly how to operate the new machine.
If your solution isn’t successful, the decision-makers will suffer the consequences unequally. The ones suffering the most will be those whose scope of responsibility mostly relates to the failure. Therefore, each of them will primarily consider the risks that may become problems within their scope. The manner in which your company addresses such risks will mostly influence the chances of commencing cooperation.
Of course, the number of decision-makers involved depends on the value of the product/service that you are trying to sell – the larger the transaction, the more people might have to agree to begin cooperation. In the case of relatively cheap products, it is possible that the decision will be made only by 1 person.
In a perfect world, each of these people should be talked to, and if this isn’t possible, the salesperson must know at least when and who will be involved in the decision-making so that they can personally respond to any objections – talk to the right person or send them the materials needed. If the salesperson stops participating in the decision-making process after the first negotiations, then they have little effect on many other negotiations that will take place on the topic of the proposal.
You need to consider the entire situation in the following way – if your proposal will be implemented and such implementation will improve the customer’s situation, then the main contact person gets a promotion, so the negotiations should be through the prism of what should happen so that this person gets promoted, and then this person should be proactively supported in fulfilling such a scenario. Therefore, the following questions should be asked during the first longer business negotiations:
Salesperson: I will send the proposal in 2 days. Who do you need to discuss it with so that you can decide?
Customer: With our Production Manager.
Salesperson: OK, if they are positive about beginning our cooperation and I send you the contract, then will we be able to sign it?
Customer: No, signing the contract will have to be discussed with the CFO.
Salesperson: I understand, so their positive decision will give the go-ahead for our cooperation?
Customer: Not yet, then the contract must be checked by the lawyers.
Salesperson: Will their agreement allow the Production Manager to sign the contract?
Customer: Not really, in our company, such large contracts can only be signed by the CEO, and since it’s a transaction exceeding 2 million PLN, we will also need the acceptance of this decision from the supervisory board.
Salesperson: OK, and when is the next meeting of the supervisory board?
Customer: In 2 months.
Salesperson: Great! It seems that we already know all the steps – so this process will take about 3-4 months, is that correct?
Customer: Yes, rather 4.
When will specific people make their decision?
Knowing what people will be involved in decision-making and how long the whole process might take, you have a greater awareness of what needs to happen for the cooperation to begin. If the Production Manager is the first person with whom the decision will be consulted after the first business negotiations, it is worth finding out what that person will take into account while analysing the proposal and what questions or objections they might have. Depending on the answer provided by the main contact person, you can offer preparing appropriate materials or speaking directly with the Manager. The closest possible participation in the decision-making process is supported by systematically identifying the stage which the customer reached at a particular moment and determining the next step – the closer this step is to the appropriate decision-maker, the greater the chances are that it will lead to the commencement of cooperation.
Defining the role of specific people in the decision-making process
Just because someone is a user of the offered solution (e.g. the production hall employee), it doesn’t mean that they will have a real impact on the decision to choose it and vice versa – often the people who decide (the President, the management board, the CFO, the lawyers) won’t use the new production machine on a daily basis. Despite the declarative popularity of democracy and decentralisation, not every person involved in the decision-making will have the same influence on the option which will be chosen. During the negotiations with the customer, you need to figure out who will have the greatest impact on the final decision and seek to persuade that person – the lack of their support will significantly reduce the chances of cooperation. If, during the entire negotiations, it is possible to organise only one more meeting after the initial talks, make sure to meet the right person.
The best time to analyse the decision-making process is during the first business negotiations – then you will want to learn as much as possible about the people who will have to be convinced to commence cooperation. The lack of awareness of who will be involved in assessing your company’s proposal will diminish the chances that the salesperson will have an impact on winning the customer after the first meeting.