Navigating the decision making maze of a business


This dilemma replicates itself in business-to-business (B2B) selling.  The assumption, for instance, that a nod from the Managing Director will automatically open all doors to the purchase of your solar panels, is a fallacy.

‘Do you want to speak to the man of the house, or the woman in charge?’ So I once read on a gift mug.  If you are a spouse your face lit up with amused acknowledgement. The generally accepted belief is that the man is the head of the house. And whereas this is true, its application moves at a tangent to the belief. The assumption of this headship is that decision making starts and ends with the man. So all you have to do is convince the husband and the wife will follow lockstep. Any spouse will tell you the situation on the ground is confusingly different.

Who really is in charge?

Confusing to, say, the seller of a house. He cannot understand why the husband keeps saying that he likes and can easily afford the house, but is seemingly trapped in some form of frustrating inertia. Little does the novice seller know that the actual decision maker is the wife.  And that the husband’s pride won’t let him admit this.  It gets murkier.  If the seller speaks with the wife hoping to get a nod, she will say something like, “I’ll have to talk to my husband”, or, “My husband will decide”, or something vague. A classic case of seemingly amorphous decision making.

B2B selling

This dilemma replicates itself in business-to-business (B2B) selling.  The assumption, for instance, that a nod from the Managing Director of the housing estate you are pitching to, will automatically open all doors to the purchase of your solar panels, is a fallacy. His position is not necessarily a conformation of veto decision-making purchase powers. And simply because the plant manager and engineer have confirmed your pump is precisely what the plant needs to operate optimally doesn’t mean you’ve hit a sales home run. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that they will push your agenda internally. “This program is precisely what we need,” the head of department said to the consultant. “But for it to sail through you have to convince Human Resources first. If they reach out to us we will say we are happy with it but we cannot do so until then.”

Probe the decision making process

As part of the pitching process, probing the decision making process of the institution is critical. How one does it is not a science. Try using third-party stories. “How have purchase decisions of this nature been made before here?” Or, “With similar clients we’ve had to go through this process (explain it) to get a decision made. How different is it here?”  Whatever responses you get are not to be taken as gospel until bounced off another point of contact or three. Many times even those inside an organization aren’t sure how the decisions are made.

Getting a decision made in B2B selling can be frustrating. With practice however you will find yourself saying the equivalent of, “We have something we think your wife will love to see in the house (read, kitchen). Come with her. She’ll love the surprise.”


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