Deal talk: Finding the decision maker

Isn’t the decision maker the person talking to you?

While the answer is sometimes “Yes”, it’s not straightforward. I’ll discuss this article in two parts:

  1. How to figure out where decision making sits

1/ General principles for finding the decision maker

Here are three general principles:

1. Decision power generally sits in “business” or “product/tech”.

Decision power is usually either in “business” or “product/tech”. This mirrors the profit center of a company. The Pragmatic Engineer has a fantastic article on Profit vs Cost Centers. To put it plainly:

  • Product/tech lead: In some tech firms, the power is with the technical team. This could be product or engineering or a combination of both, and this team tends to be the “profit center”. Business supports the scoping, evaluation, and recommendation. But the ultimate decision power is with product and/or engineering.
From DesignStripe

2. There might be multiple decision makers.

Even if the person talking to you is from the org with decision power, they might not be the final decision maker. The person could be responsible for making a recommendation. Then, the decision could be at levels above or below them. It might be decision by committee.

3. The larger the company, the harder it is to figure out where decision making sits.

The larger the company, the more complex it is to discover where decision making sits.

  • Large company: there are multiple stakeholders, but there’s likely still one person to “sign off” on the deal.
  • Unable: The person talking to sales doesn’t know who the decision maker is. Or they mistakenly think they are the decision maker, when there are many others that have to be bought in.

2/ How to figure out where decision making sits

Three tactical suggestions on how to discover where decision making sits.

  1. Seek third party sources
  2. Talk to someone about your deal

1. Ask questions directly

First, use the decision principles above to investigate who holds decision power. Second, ask questions like:

  1. After XYZ, I’ve seen ABC done after, when will we do ABC?
  2. Should we involve [insert cross functional team]? When will they have capacity?

2. Seek third party sources

Use Linkedin sales navigator to map the organization. If selling to a startup, talk to VCs/connections about how the company makes decisions.

3. Talk to someone about your deal

Invite people to sanity check if you’ve identified the right decision makers. When doing sales, relentless optimism is both a strength and a weakness.

  • Weakness: A salesperson may end up convincing themselves that a deal closed and they were talking to the decision maker, when it’s the wrong person.

Conclusion

There are substantial costs when sales identify the wrong decision maker:

  1. Deal limbo: You think your deal has closed, but it’s a “maybe” (the worst place to be).

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Celine Wee

Celine Wee

Musings are my own: a collection of learnings from Payments, Go To Market, Web3, Biz Ops across Stripe, Coinbase, Twitter.