Don’t worry if you’re not talking to a decision maker; company influencers will help your pitch if you let them.
A few years ago I was put in charge of research and soliciting Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from new vendors for a fairly large project.
I worked with senior management to make a clear list of the key items we needed this new solution to address. I had a list of minimums (we absolutely need the product to do this), company wants (it’d be a plus if it would also do this), and a clear understanding of the players within the industry we were soliciting from.
I wrote my initial RFP and sent it off into the wild.
Enjoying research and thoroughly understanding the product offerings within the industry we were seeking bids from, I went shopping. “Hey, this’ll be easy,” I thought. “I’m contacting salespeople with a concrete list of needs and wants for our company. What salesperson wouldn’t jump to help me out?”
Turns out, the response I got wasn’t quite what I expected.
‘I am the decider’
“Are you the decision maker?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked me for the second time. It caught me off guard. What does that matter? I’m the one soliciting proposals. Tell me what your product will do for us.
“I’m afraid I really can’t give you an estimate until I talk to the decision makers.”
This conversation went on in that vein for several minutes, circling round and round with me trying to do my due diligence, and the salesperson on the other end playing hardball and insisting again and again that I “had to” set up a call for them with my boss.
To this day, I have been baffled by that exchange. I’ve talked to many friends and colleagues, some with 40+ years experience in sales. Maybe it was a bad day for them. Maybe they had fierce commission goals. Maybe they were new. Maybe their company had the policy of only talking to “decision makers.” Maybe their manager had a cutthroat view of sales.
It could be any number of those things, but woe to the salesperson who underestimates the importance of a front-line employee or forgets the value of having an influencer in their corner.
Needless to say, the company above did not get our business and that salesperson lost out on what would’ve been a very handsome commission.
So what went wrong?
They pushed too hard.
This salesperson wanted to talk to “the boss” so badly, they forgot one of the most important things: they were talking to the person in charge of the project. I may not have had the final say in what company we purchased from, but I definitely had the final say in what proposals I presented to the decision makers.
They didn’t do their homework.
One of the oldest maxims of sales is “know who you are talking to.” And in our connected age, this should be increasingly easy. It doesn’t even take long to find some digital trail that will help you know about the person on the other end of the phone, or email, or live chat.
I may not have been the final decision maker in this project, but a few minutes researching the company would have easily shown that I was a key influencer. Heck, my desk was 30 feet from the decision maker.
They didn’t answer our key questions.
When I finally got a proposal from the above salesperson, it only touched lightly on the many questions I had outlined. We were given a less-than-thorough proposal, which further hurt their chances. They were so focused on getting into the boardroom, they didn’t recognize that a front-line employee had been holding the front door open for them.
They didn’t value the decision maker’s time.
One of the key reasons projects are placed into an employee’s hands is because a manager can’t do everything. They simply don’t have time. Remember that part of the RFP process is to ensure the decision maker’s time isn’t wasted. A CEO doesn’t want to talk to 20 salespeople. They have a company to run. That front-line employee should be your best friend. Work with them as if you were working with their boss’s boss. That simple act will go a long way in your favor when they make their recommendations.
They ignored where trust had been placed.
When you are presented with a situation like this, you need to recognize that the employee you are talking to has been put in charge of the project. That means one very important thing: the key decision makers have placed their trust in them. Their voice will obviously have weight. Work with them. Answer their questions and treat them with respect.
Who influences the influencers?
One final point to consider when you are working with front-line employees: influencers will help you if you help them. The more available you are, the more you answer their questions, communicate well, and make their life easier, the better your position will be when they make their recommendations.
The time to talk to “the deciders” may not be in that first phone call, or the second. After all, getting in touch with the decision maker isn't always easy. But if you’ve been given the gift of having an open dialogue with a key influencer, you’d do well to treat them as if they are the CEO.
They may not have the final say, but they can put you in their final list of recommendations — right at the top where you want to be.
About The Author:
An award-winning writer, John Ludwig is a Marketing and Communications expert with an extensive background in document management, content marketing, and social media engagement. He loves good books, good coffee, and perfectly organized documents. He writes for PandaDoc from his home in Omaha.
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