Decision Makers

By November 23, 2010articles

A Key to successful business development

By Peter Rosenwald,
Marketing Director,
Chartered Developments

All of us will have had the experience in our career of facing significant procrastination when cajoling business owners to use our firm’s services. Why does this happen? In your mind, you’ve done an admirable job of matching services to needs; you’ve demonstrated why they should choose you instead of your competitors; it’s clear that the benefits of using your firm would be cost effective and strategically valuable for the business….yet you’re left waiting in vain for the only answer you want to hear – “you’re hired”.

Although it may sound obvious to most, decisions are never made unless the decision makers have decided. In other words, they must follow their own decision making process. It is your responsibility to understand this process and then engage with it to overcome their procrastination. If you do not take control then procrastination takes place and deals can slip away and even go to a competitor.

Their decision-making process starts with YOU. There are elementary mistakes that many professionals make while dealing with decision makers;

– failing to engage properly with the decision making unit
– pitching to the wrong people
– allowing proposals to go cold, or not be effectively controlled

The keys to avoiding these errors are simple. Central to success is learning how to identify decision makers, their decision making process, and, crucially, how to get in front of them.

As mentioned earlier, everyone has had some personal experience of attempting to win new business, and I include myself in that. Years ago, when I was younger, and perhaps a little naive and trying to win clients for our accountancy firm, a prospective client said something to me towards the end of a meeting that may ring bells with you:

“Thank you very much, Peter. I’m 99% certain we will use you.  I’ll go through it with my wife and we’ll let you know next week”. I replied “fine, I’ll speak to you next week then.”

My inexperience, allied to being unfamiliar with the decision making process, led to me waiting for the call, at which point I would visit again to complete the formalities of signing up the client.

To coin a phrase, however, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and one can actually take his statement to me in several ways:

– “don’t call me, I’ll call you”
– “my wife makes all the decisions, so I will need to convince her”
– “I have other options to consider before I make a decision”
– “I’ll run it past my current accountant first”

This is a scenario that happens on an all too frequent basis. Knowing there must be a better way of dealing with these situations, I contacted a friend of mine, Philip Millard an excellent business developer, who was my boss some years before. His advice was simple:

– call the wife! Invest time in telephone dialogue with her, and informally discuss her role and thoughts on the business.
– Only once you have built the rapport, arrange a time to visit her and her husband together
– it’s essential you don’t attempt to close the deal with her over the phone.
– In the meantime, construct a proposal that incorporates her thoughts.

Bearing these pointers in mind, I contacted the husband, explaining that it would be courteous to talk with his wife. As it transpired, I spoke with her at length, and it became clear that she was the finance decision maker. I subsequently met them together, at which point they agreed to join us as clients, completing the necessary paperwork there and then. That experience taught me a salutary lesson – always ensure, where possible, to get all decision makers together so they can collectively make the decision with my help.

We now apply this three step rule for our accountancy, legal and corporate finance clients, which is, essentially:

– establish who the decision makers are (the decision making unit)
– clarify their decision making process
– ensure you pitch to ALL of them

While many professionals have understood that they need to isolate who the decision makers are, they nonetheless haven’t grasped the importance of doing this with the people they are meeting. There is a world of difference between black and white information from Companies House about who the owners are, and actually getting it straight from the horse’s mouth with all the shades in-between. If, for example, you are informed that  ‘the other people involved will be two directors Paul Mason and Jenny Jones’ you are already a step nearer to meeting them. Besides demonstrating a degree of trust in you by volunteering this information, the prospect is tacitly inviting you to ask for a meeting with Jenny and Paul.

How you ask who the decision makers are is a matter of style and circumstance. Much can be said for a direct approach:

“if you were to change accountants who, apart from yourself, would be involved in the decision?”
“I understand you are the HR Director. Would you mind telling me who else would be involved in the decision to use us?”

An alternative approach demonstrates an interest to learn more about the business, although the endgame remains the same:

Question: “Out of interest, when was the last time the company made a big investment?”
Answer: “We bought a new CNC cutter earlier in the year”
Reply: “That’s quite a big purchase. Who else was involved in that decision?”

Your objective changes once you know who the right people are. In essence, you must be positioned in front of the entire decision making unit instead of pitching to the individual you are meeting. Preparation is everything – engineer the first meeting so that you exit with a second meeting arranged. There is a simple but effective way to achieve this. At precisely the point when you sense you have captured their interest and enthusiasm, make them an offer which they can only accept: “So really it would be best if I created a draft proposal and went through that with you and your partners in the next couple of weeks – does that seem fair enough?” When you reach the end of the first meeting, the scene has been set for you to set a date for the second before you leave. Some professionals like to re-enforce their position: “would your co- directors prefer a full presentation or more of an informal chat?”

Armed with this knowledge I hope you can now be more successful at your business development.