Whether starting a new enterprise or sustaining a legacy company, your success will depend on your ability to complete sales. Depending on the industry and product or service offering, sales cycles and sales processes vary widely in complexity, duration, and value.
But one thing remains constant—the shorter the sales cycle, the better. Because the faster you can close deals, the more time you have to close other deals or focus on other operations expansions. For this reason, it’s vital that you know how to identify the purchasing decision-makers of a given company in your outbound sales model.
Have you ever spent precious minutes, days, or even weeks courting the wrong team member—only to find out the decision-maker you’re after is in a different office? Too often, salespeople waste valuable time pitching to a lead with little to no decision-making power, lengthening their sales cycle and risking redundancy.
This article will illustrate how to identify the decision-makers of any company, shortening your sales cycle and saving you critical time and energy.
Identifying sales leads
Decision-makers are rarely directly accessible and are often barricaded and screened by caller ID, email filters, and assistants. Knowing who you’re talking to and their relationship to the decision-maker will save you valuable time and help you identify who is an actual lead versus who is just an interested ear.
Typically, the gatekeeper is the lower-ranking point of contact between you and the decision-maker, like an assistant or associate. The goal of every sales conversation is to gain information while building a relationship—conversations with the gatekeeper should be no different.
Though you may be able to tell an associate’s proximity to a decision-maker by their title, building a relationship with someone at this level means asking clarifying questions like “In what capacity do you work with…? How would you describe your day-to-day priorities?”
Once the gatekeeper is identified, there are a couple of directions to go. You may either call after hours when the gatekeeper has left the office, which is good for initial contact but not always for a sustained sales process, or you may work with the gatekeeper and bring them along for the sale. They likely are aware of the decision-maker’s needs and pain points and can be a powerful ally in relaying the benefits of your product or service.
The influencer is often a junior-level associate whose role is to screen problems and options before decision-makers sign off on them. Though they don’t have the final say, they have direct relationships with and influence over stakeholders.
While building a relationship with these individuals, you can gain insight into their power within the organization by asking questions like “Does Mr. or Mrs. X always listen to your recommendations?” or “Is there anyone I should look out for who might hijack our conversation?”
The answer to these questions will let you know how experienced the influencer is in offering solutions to the decision-maker and how involved you’ll need to be.
At the more proactive end of the influencer is the champion. A champion is an influencer who has shared information with you on the product/service review process, has given insight on how decisions are made and who makes them, or has introduced you to a key decision-maker.
Think of a champion as a coach or guide through the sales journey—while they may not directly make the sale for you, they are hands-on with lending you their unique knowledge and experience. Give these champions everything they need to connect you with the decision-maker. If they need to send an email, write it for them. If they need to persuade the decision-maker that your product or service is worth their time, provide them with collateral to share.
This person is usually the executive—the autonomous budget allocator or check-signer. The decision-maker is your key stakeholder. These individuals usually delegate the research role but sometimes take it on themselves. When this happens, work closely with them and be a reliable point of contact. If it doesn’t happen, keep them in the loop while you work alongside the key influencer.
The self-proclaimed decision-maker
Avoid this person, as they are a toxic prospect. Look for warning signs like volunteering too much information on their salary or bragging about their proximity to the CEO. A self-proclaimed decision-maker can, however, still be a valuable influencer—it’s still good to build relationships but you’re asking questions like “How often do you meet with Mr. or Mrs. X?”, as strong influencers meet with decision-makers often.
The blocker is also someone you want to avoid, as they can easily become a time vacuum. A blocker may come across as an influencer, both in their title and in their day-to-day role and responsibilities, making them a likely candidate to be a primary contact within the company.
However, a blocker will eventually stop returning phone calls, replying to emails, or engaging at all. A blocker may even intentionally thwart your sales efforts if, for example, they are an advocate for a legacy product or a champion for a competitor’s product or service. Blockers waste valuable time resources—your follow-up, no matter how thorough and professional, will go unrequited, and either a new relationship will have to be formed or the lead may run cold.
Blockers will always exist, but there are ways to mitigate against the time they may cost you. Be actively engaged with your lead’s LinkedIn information. If a primary contact has become a blocker, pay attention to when your lead is hiring a new teammate and re-engage the sale through them.
What’s most important is to discern as early as possible if you’re speaking with a blocker. If you are, do your research and see if someone else at the company should hear what you have to offer.
Weaknesses of the traditional “job title” based approach
When identifying decision-makers within a company, avoid what most SDRs do and don’t base your hunt on job title alone. This approach may seem intuitive, but often the size and type of company will dictate where certain decisions will fall.
Additionally, if your search is based on filtering out a single job title, you may miss valuable leads from companies who may not have the title or office you’re filtering for. You may end up finding the title you are looking for and build a great rapport with them, only to find out they don’t hold sway over the deal you eventually have in mind.
Know the decision-maker you’re looking for
For every decision-maker who carries the authority to close your deal, you’ll like have to wade through the many who do not. Getting to the decision-maker is about being aware that the wrong decision-maker can cost time and money, so it’s better to do your research on the front-end to understand what your decision-maker looks like and how to best work with them.
Job titles and duties are important, but remember not to overlook important factors by asking questions like:
- What is this person’s title and responsibilities?
- What is this person’s tenure at this company?
- Who do they work with internally?
- How does this decision-maker interact with your company digitally?
- Are they a hands-on or hands-off decision-maker?
- Do they typically delegate research?
Similar to buyer personas in the sales and marketing process, understanding who you’re looking for and how to pitch to them is done by developing decision-maker personas. To do this, find out as much as you can about your prospective decision-maker according to the above questions. The more complete and developed your decision-maker persona, the better luck you’ll have reaching and building rapport with them.
Mapping the organization
Once you’ve completed all the steps above, you’re ready to begin mapping the company. Account mapping streamlines the sales process by allowing you to visualize the buying team so you can find the best path to sale. Using Lucidchart, you can import account, opportunity, contact, activity, and task data from Salesforce to easily build account maps and account plans.
Indicate each person’s role to easily identify who your influencers, decision-makers, gatekeepers, blockers, and champions are at the company and understand the relationships between them. When you share these visuals with your team, everyone can have a holistic view of the account at any given time, and account knowledge stays within the company.
As you continue to update your account map and make more connections, you will know who is the appropriate decision-maker to reach out to and how to initiate the next step of the sales process.
As with anything, with research, data, preparation, and action, closing deals can be more science than art. Knowing your decision-maker is a vital step in that process and can be done using these valuable tips and techniques.
Map out key contacts to better understand internal hierarchies and identify where you have gaps in your buying team.