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Simplifying the sale

Easy way vs. the hard way

By Troy Harrison

I might be betraying my profession a bit with this article. You see, trainers and consultants love to make the simple things complex, and the complex things downright indecipherable. That’s how a lot of consultants build their reputations and extend contracts – the more the consultant can complicate something, the less you know – and the more you need him. So, if the “Consultant Police” come after me, you’ll know why.

Still, I can’t keep my mouth shut on this one. What I’m referring to is the old “complex sale” philosophy. The “complex sale” strategy was something that was big a few years ago, but in the world of selling, I’m seeing it fade out a bit. The reason is simple: While selling itself may not be simpler now, most companies’ decision-making processes are. Complex sales (and complex buying processes) depended heavily on the existence of a thick layer of middle management with time on their hands. Such middle managers were easy to draft into purchasing committees. As you’re probably observing, the corporate layoffs of the late ’90s and early ’00s (if someone has a better term for this decade than that, please e-mail it to me) have thinned the middle management corps. Thus, decision processes are simpler. Let’s talk about who you DO need to know.

The Decision Maker
This sounds simple – and it is – but it’s still the person that too many salespeople fail to reach. Here’s a hint: Anytime you hear, “I have to talk to my boss,” you’re not talking to the decision maker. My philosophy has always been to start at the top, or at least the top of the most accessible or appropriate chain of command. If you’re selling to small to medium-sized companies, you should be working to meet the president or CEO. Even if that person isn’t the person who will do the deal, they will know who will do the deal – and who to refer you to. And, of course, the CEO always has the checkbook.

The key here is that whatever you’re selling, you have to be able to tie it to a benefit that will register with the CEO. It’s not impossible, as long as you’re not selling paper clips. The bottom line is that, in each sales process, you have to reach someone who can say “yes,” and mean it. In any company, the power to say “yes” begins in the corner office, and extends out only as far as the person in the corner office wants it to.

The Budget Manager
By this, I mean “The person whose budget will be spent on your stuff.” You’d think that the decision maker and the budget manager would be the same person, but as a person who spent a significant amount of time in corporate America, I can tell you it’s not. For instance, a vice president of marketing might make a purchase for marketing materials or supplies that actually spends the budget of the sales manager. Or, he might not – if the sales manager can block the sale. The sales manager might not have the authority to say “yes” to the purchase, but if it’s his budget, he might have the authority to say “no.” And if he does have that authority, and if you haven’t sold him, he will use that authority.

This, of course, means that “whose budget will be spent on this purchase” is an essential question for any important purchase. And if the answer is someone you don’t know, the “can I meet that person” question is the only follow-up.

The User Manager
Essentially, this means the person who is responsible for the successful implementation and use of your stuff. Much like the budget manager (in fact, here the user and the budget often are the same person), the user manager might have the authority to say “no.” People who only have the authority to say “no” like to use that authority.

Even if the user manager chooses not to block the sale, the user manager can do something worse, if he’s not sold on you – he can sandbag your implementation to the point where you are not successful. Most experienced salespeople have been through this a few times, and it’s not fun. The way to avoid it is to give the user manager your best selling effort.

In any sale, your best bet is to keep it as simple as possible, and don’t ask to include more buying influences than are necessary. Today’s corporate managers are busier than ever, have tighter deadlines, more responsibility, and less help. That means that YOUR expertise becomes more valuable. Therein lies opportunity for you, if you’re willing to put in the work.

The all-time best way to discover the decision-making process for any major purpose is this: Find the decision maker (start at the top), and just ask. Ask a question like, “So, can you tell me how your company makes these types of decisions?” and most buyers will give you the straight scoop – or enough of it for you to make headway.

Selling is tough enough. Don’t make it harder than you have to.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, e-mail, or visit

This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2015, Direct Business Media.


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