How to find the decision maker


how to find the decision makerPay-off: Some ideas and a step by step guide to help you get to the decision maker and get a ‘yes’

Investment: 5 minutes

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How to help a prospective client organisation make an informed business decision

You know what it’s like. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into engaging an organisation or a group of people in the hope that they’ll show interest and buy into your offering, ideas, or solutions.

But….it’s not happening. The ball isn’t crossing the line. Maybe they’re nodding and smiling and taking some time to listen. Maybe they’re accepting any freebies or insights you’re providing them. But…something’s not right. No decision is being actively made.

“Why am I not getting the “yes” I’m after?”, you innocently wonder.

This situation is way too common. But you can make it far less common and get to your “yeses” more efficiently. You just need to understand the pieces on the game board a little better.

Your client organisation is hard wired for a “no”

Let’s get clear:

You can’t “sell” to someone who can’t say “yes”. If they don’t have the power, you won’t get your “yes”.

And not many people have the power to say “yes”.

But everyone can say “no”.

What’s worse, is all those people who can say “no” (that’s everyone) actually want to say “no”! They flippin’ well enjoy it!

They’re hard-wired for it.

Oh, the feeling of saying “no” to a stranger who appears in the way of your personal agenda! A “no” is quick, easy, appears to avoid any risk, protects us from the unknown (and we fear what we don’t know or don’t understand) and makes us feel in control. It’s an attractive option that just slips off the tongue!

Yes, I’m afraid the odds are stacked against you if you’re selling or trying to persuade others. It’s a tough game. The situation is spring-loaded to present you with a fast “no”.

But we (that’s you, and me) won’t let that defeat us, will we? We are noble people of business. We are the sort of people who will work out what to do about it. And then do it. So let’s work this one through…

Identifying the playing pieces on the board

You probably know already that you’ll need to find the decision maker – the person who can say “yes”. There is no point in trying to get a “yes” from someone who can’t say “yes”, right? (Sounds obvious, but many people still spend time, money and effort blindly trying.)

But, if you’re smart and determined (and I know you are, yeah yeah and better looking than you think), you’ll probably want to organise and align your pieces on the board to increase the chances of a “yes” when you finally reach the decision maker.

So let me introduce you to six pieces on the board and how they move:

The decision maker

They have the ability to say “yes”. They’re usually hiding. Or ‘protected’. They’re often hard to find and reach. But you have to eventually find them, or get as close as possible. Because the closer you are to them, the closer you are to your “yes”.

Simple stuff.

The decision faker

I’ve chosen this name to rhyme since I hope every time you think of “the decision maker” you remember to consider “the decision faker”.

“Decision fakers” don’t hide. They’re accessible. They may be referred to as blockers, gatekeepers (party poopers or killjoys, if you’re feeling upset…) but they can be more than this too. Ultimately, they make the decision as to whether you could or should add value to their organisation when they’re probably not qualified to do so. It’s usually in the form of an uninformed knee-jerk “no”.

Never mind that your offering could align with higher-level strategic objectives they may know little about. You’re in the way of their priorities (the decision simply shouldn’t be made at this level). So they’ll take the decision down, often fast, but sometimes veeerry slooooowly in the form of a long long silence….

Decision fakers can also appear to be a decision maker when they are not. They may present themselves as the decision maker. Your job is to find out the truth. What is their specific role in a decision like this? How does this organisation typically make this sort of decision?

Decision fakers aren’t evil, they’re human, they’re busy, and usually have good intentions. But you shouldn’t be dealing with them. Cross them off your plans. Hop over them. Their “no” rarely has much to do with the strategic objectives of their business coming from the top, which you can still possibly add value to.

The only “no” that counts is the informed business related “no” from the decision maker.


The decision taker

The decision taker often appears to be the decision maker, but is in fact just a part of the decision-making team. Sometimes they are the highest-level you can access. But their approach with how they handle the decision can still make or break all your efforts. If they don’t work well between you and the decision-maker, it could bottleneck, stall and even lose the sale.

Sometimes decision takers present themselves as having the power to say “yes” (or you assume that they do early on). Or they may genuinely believe that they can say “yes” and have every good intention, even though ultimately it needs approval from their seniors where it can easily get shut down.

You need to make sure you’re having the right conversations with the decision taker. You should build trust and respect with them and work with them to share information, ideas and insights. And help them to create the right approach to sell the value into their business. If you can, you should try to organise a meeting with all of you present, so you get closer to that “yes”. Don’t rush that though. Sometimes it pays to tactically move some of the other pieces around the board first.

The decision connector

These people say “yes” to helping you move forwards. For whatever reason, they see some potential value worth exploring for their organisation, or themselves perhaps, or maybe they just simply like and trust you enough to help you out. They’ll still operate within their boundaries of comfort, influence, control, available time, effort, and perceived risk, but they’ll probably do what they can to connect you closer to the decision maker, or at least to more useful information.

They are often trusted contacts of your own trusted contacts, or of yourself. You tend to reach them best through your own network. You should care about them and their own agenda and try to deliver value to them as best you can as you work with them and make it easy for them to act.

The decision you’ll ask them to make is not, “do you know if your organisation wants this?” but, “do you think your colleagues might see value in this conversation? If so, will you connect me (to them or to information that will help me/us)?”

You increase your chances when you reassure them that you won’t waste their colleagues time, and that you’re professional, trustworthy and switched on. Because you are.

You should get back in touch with them to let them know how they helped too. And don’t forget to connect them to whoever they should be connected to. These people are worth knowing, and worth sharing with the world.

Decision influencers

These people are worth winning over and adding value to in whatever creative ways you can. (I don’t mean flowers and chocolate) (unless that’s what your selling).

They have the information, relationships, respect, and credibility to advise and be listened to. They also have unique criteria on what will and will not win them over, so find out what that is. Every single thing you think, say or do either increases, or decreases your chances with them! Act accordingly.

They will either help you to get your “yes” from the decision maker or, if you’re not winning them over, they’ll actively try to persuade the decision maker to say “no” (if you ever get that close).

So whilst they’re not the direct decision maker, you need to help them to make a decision to support your offering or project, then provide them with what they need in the way of ideas, insights, answers etc.

Decision influencers can, of course, be decision fakers or takers too. So follow the ideas under those sections.


And you? You’re a knight. You’re a hero to one (or more) of the decision maker’s problems. The decision maker actually wants and needs you to find them and understand them and their challenges. You get to move in L shapes, hopping around in the way the situation requires in order to help your prospective client make an informed business decision about the value you can provide.

So never ever be submissive. As you reach out, be professional, clear, succinct, polite, bold and respectful.

Basically, act like a knight.

Bit corny?

Get over it. Distract yourself immediately by taking action on the following steps:

Put this into action

So, right now you’re probably facing a situation where you want a “yes” from someone, or a group of people. (Hey, if you’re not, you’re not living life to the full. Get out there and get yourself into a position where you want a “yes”!)

You could do this:

  1. Grab a pen and paper and list all the names you know within that team or organisation
  2. Put a square around the decision maker (or if you don’t know who that is, draw an empty square that desperately needs filling).
  3. Cross out any obvious decision fakers. They’re gone.
  4. Put a circle around any decision takers and decision influencers and connect them with lines to the decision maker
  5. If you’re not in contact with any decision takers or influencers, put a cloud shape around any decision connectors you know (if you don’t have any decision connectors, you might want to get onto Linkedin and start searching for contacts connected to that organisation)
  6. As if you’re playing chess, decide which ‘piece’ you’ll move next. You’ll need to prioritise which of the influencers or connectors you need to work with next. And work out how you can add value to them and get their buy-in to help you in return. I’d strongly (because it magically works) recommend writing down what you’ll say to them, how you’ll say it and when you’ll reach out to them. Then just do it. (But don’t ever read from your script! This was just prep work to focus your mind. You must deliver with your natural human/knight-like abilities!) And schedule an appropriate follow-up (worthy of a knight).
  7. Keep working through this list, updating it as you learn more, and adding value as you go. Ultimately, providing you keep adding value and qualifying fit as you go, you’ll find you get closer to your “yes”.

Give me a shout if you want more help with this. There’s plenty I haven’t said that might just make that difference. And if you liked this, you might also like this: The smart way to increase your probability of getting “yeses”. It’s worth a read.

Please help me connect this to people who’d find it valuable for themselves and their business

If you found this post useful then some people in your network will probably like it too. Please help it reach them with a like and a share – many thanks!

Got ideas to help improve this approach?

What have I missed that’s on your mind? Please share in the comments below. How do you navigate situations like this?

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