Part three of our four-part series on Sales Myths that Just Need to Die takes on the myth of the almighty, all-powerful, decision-maker. Check out part one in our series which dispels the myth surrounding the perfect sales personality type, Only Extroverts Need Apply, and part two which tackles the mythical importance of friendships between buyers and sellers, Being Friends with a Buyer is Enough, and stay tuned for part four next week Why “Always Be Closing” is B.S..

In the famous words of George Bush Jr. someone has to be “the decider”. Right?

The sales funnel in many organizations is based on the premise that the key to closing a sale is identifying THE decision-maker, qualifying THE decision-maker, building a relationship with THE decision-maker, and selling to THE decision-maker.

The new reality is that it is rare that any one person within a customer’s company is the sole decision-maker.

“75% of customers agree or strongly agree that their purchase involved people from a wide variety of roles, teams, and locations.” – Gartner, Inc.

Just how many people, on average, are involved in corporate purchasing decisions? According to Harvard Business Review, an average of 7 decision-makers are involved in any purchasing decision, but it varies widely by vertical. 

Take for instance the technology sector where a study by IDG found an average of 21 influencers involved in IT-related purchasing decisions.

Note that the buying committee above is described as being made up of “influencers” not decision-makers. That’s because no one of those 21 people is the sole decision-maker. BUT they all come to the table with their own set of experiences, biases, obstacles, needs, and levels of understanding that must be addressed in order to successfully complete a sale. 

As sales rep, within that group of 21 influencers are likely lurking 1-2 folks whose opinion ultimately matter more than the rest. It is the job of the sales rep to look beyond job titles and sell to those whose decision matters most.

Is this why your sales funnel is clogged?

You’ve probably had a sales rep on your team blame a deal gone bad on a customer that, “wasn’t really a decision-maker.” That’s a sign that your sales funnel is still rooted in the old myth of singular decision-maker, and that your team isn’t considering the bigger picture.

Your customer contact may like their assigned sales rep, and even think your product offering is superior to those offered by your competitor. But what about ALL those other influencers? 

Each is part of a team. Each one has a boss. It’s more likely your path to a deal looks like this graph from Gartner – a messy bowl of spaghetti rather than a linear funnel.

Imagine all the sales conversations that have to happen both with your sales team, and that your customers are having internally. Imagine how many times they are reviewing your company website, reading reviews and pouring over your RFP response.

It is any wonder why it takes an average of 4-5 months to close an enterprise-level sales deal? 

It is no wonder studies show that the overwhelming majority of buyers don’t want to talk about “who is the decision-maker” on the first call. Your sales rep may assume that’s an easy, qualifying question, but it’s one that buyer doesn’t want to take the time to explain in an initial meeting precisely because it is a question that has a long and complex answer that could change several times on the long road to purchasing.

While trying to identify THE decision-maker isn’t a good use of your sales team’s time – it doesn’t mean that reps shouldn’t take the time to understand the decision making process and influencers involved.

3 Questions that your reps should be asking when qualifying leads – and not stop asking until the deal closes

1 Tell me a little about your role… 

The prospect won’t just tell your rep about what they do, but also this is a good way to gain insights about their team and get an early peek at the other players who may influence purchasing decisions. Also, its important to remember that roles aren’t static. Over the course of a 4-5 month sale, new influencers join and leave teams.


2. What (or who) led you to our product? 

Your rep could uncover an internal influencer who is already an advocate of your product, or a piece of marketing collateral that spoke to the buyer’s needs and may give the rep insight into content that will move the deal along.

3. When (and why) did you start looking for a solution? 

This question is aimed at finding out where your customer is in that bowl of spaghetti. It’s possible that they have a solution that they are fine with – but another team member hates. A good thing for your rep to know as they start to consider the other influencers involved. 

Or, it could be that the prospect was tasked with finding a solution recently and that they and other internal teams aren’t aware of all the ways your product can solve their problem and needs more prescriptive assistance from the sales team.

How do you respond to a member of your sales team who gives “the prospect wasn’t a decision-maker” as an excuse for deals gone bad? Let us know on Twitter @Selleration, or email us at sales@selleration.com. We’d love to hear from you.