You’re Not Talking to the Decision-Maker

Not long ago, I learned that the President of a credit union couldn’t make a $12,000 decision.

sales don't happen when the client can't buy

Photo by Art3D/dpc

Prior to the first meeting the AE was convinced he had the right guy — he was the freakin’ President of the CU. But when I asked the Prez about the decision-making process at the initial needs analysis, he mentioned an 11-member Board of Directors.

Warning sign.

I asked if any board members could come to our subsequent presentation, and the answer was no. Not to worry, said the President… I’ve got a lot of sway with them.


It was a small market and a small credit union with a small advertising budget, so our ask was modest — $1000 a month for 12 months. The President shook his head. “The board would never agree to spend that kind of money for a year. I can’t even ask them for that.”

Qualifying the prospect is crucial to the sales process — and making sure you’re talking to someone who can pull the trigger is a big part of that. Jeffrey Gitomer puts it this way:

The number of sales you make will be in direct proportion to the number of actual decision-makers you sit in front of. The problem with most salespeople (not you of course) is that they are sitting in front of someone who has to ask their mommy or daddy if they can buy it or not.


Here are some strong indicators that you’re not in front of the real decision-maker:

  • The Board: As above. If the board can veto it, you’re contact isn’t the decision-maker. Period.
  • The Family Business: The young couple says they run the store, and Dad’s retired now. But they still go to Dad for advice. Dad’s still the decision-maker, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • The General Manager: “I make the decisions on this stuff. But I always like to run things by the owner.” The GM will make the decisions… as long as the owner lets him. In this scenario, you need to get to the owner.
  • I Keep Trying to Tell Them: The Marketing Director is absolutely sold on the need to advertise, and she loves, loves, LOVES your station. But every time she goes to the home office for money, those idiots turn her down, and she just shakes her head. Maybe this time will be different, but don’t count on it.
  • If Carl Lets Us Do It: I had this one last year in the Midwest — five people in the room. General Manager, Marketing Director, Sales Manager, and a couple of department heads. They all loved our idea, and they wanted to do it, if Carl would give them the green light. Who wasn’t at the meeting? Carl. We’re still waiting for that green light.


All of the people in the examples above are influencers, not decision-makers. They can block a sale and keep it from going forward. They can run it up the ladder. But none of them can say yes.

It is not necessarily a waste of time to meet with influencers, but your chances of closing the sale go way up if you know who the boss is, and make your case directly to the boss.

 What It Means
To Have The Boss At The Meeting

A Sales Presentation Story

Two years ago in Mississippi, I presented an advertising plan to an insurance company. In the conference room we had four company executives. The CEO had been at the needs analysis meeting; although he was going to be out of town the day of the presentation, he wanted to be part of the conversation, so we set up a web conference so that he could see it.

For the first 45 minutes of the meeting, he was silent — in fact, I wondered if he was still even on the call.

When we asked for the order, the four executives in the room each expressed an opinion. One of them hated my idea, and the other three just didn’t like it.

It looked like a goner until it was the CEO’s turn to speak. His voice came out of the speakerphone:

“I like it, and we’re gonna do it. Let’s get it going.”

15 minutes later we were on our way back to the TV station with a sale and a signed contract. That one “yes” overruled four “nos”.

Don’t let influencers fool you. Asking the right questions can put you in front of the right person… and that may be the difference between “No” and “Yes”.


Question: What question do you ask to make sure you’re in front of the right person? You can leave a comment by clicking here.





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