Sales Techniques: Managing the Decision-Maker

Written by Martin Lucas

You may be surprised to learn that for a salesperson, any sales opportunity can feel very personal. There is often a feeling of being self-critical which is intrinsically linked to the psychological term ‘Fraud Syndrome’, per wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

Having trained over 5,000 sales people in my past corporate life and while I ran my own sales training business, I can attest to the fact that Fraud Syndrome is a lot more common than you might think. The same is true for business owners but with a slightly different context, as there is more emotion involved in having your own product or service judged than your ability to sell someone else's service.

About eight years ago, I was mulling over ways to make sales opportunities easier to manage. I wanted to make both the salesperson and the prospective customer feel more in control. The reason I have always focused on how both parties feel is that it can create balance and avoid the salesperson getting lost in their own bluster while keep them focused on their potential buyer.

From the buyer’s perspective, when you feel more in control, you will feel more confident about making the right decision and not looking foolish to yourself or to your colleagues. Both matter (a lot!) in terms of any sales decision (both consciously and unconsciously).

Here is what I did - including why - and how you can do the same.

The secondary conversation

Every business to business sales situation involves more than one person making the decision. You generally have one person interact with the salesperson and another who makes the final decision, and that person is what we call the secondary decision maker. Some typical examples:


You see, even the CEO has some checks and balances. She may have a strong desire to use your services but will still look internally for the approach of checks and balances. The challenge for the salesperson is that you rarely get to interact with the secondary decision maker throughout the process (often, never at all). That presents a very strong possibility of miscommunication - the old ‘he said, she said’ scenario - that you can’t control. At this point, salespeople will often say, “but they will see my proposal or read my email(s) or hear from our main contact at the company”. All these examples are equally fraught with issues.

Here’s why:

  1. The secondary decision maker will not devote the time you expect. They are short on time and will approach the situation based on the context of their skills.
  2. Proposals are ALWAYS too long and miss the simplicity of focussing on the buyer’s gains. That’s quite a bold statement but I’ve analysed hundreds of them over the years and it’s frustratingly common for proposals to fail to serve their true purpose - focussing on the gains provided by the specific service being offered - and instead waste space grandstanding about the company.
  3. Email, like EVERY written word, is subjective because the reader absorbs it through the lens of their current state of emotions.
    1. Feeling happy, it reads well.
    2. Feeling annoyed about a conversation you just had, it may read badly.
  4. Very few people have word-for-word memories, everything we hear goes through our own reality distortion field. You can test this anytime with a myriad of games:
    1. Tell a friend about something that happened to you today - be specific. Wait five  minutes, then ask them for the details of what you said. How closely (or not!) did they match what you said?
    2. Pause and look at something in your eyeline out in the world. Identify what exactly you enjoy about the view. Then point at the same thing and ask a friend to say what they like. Did they like it for the same reason you did?
    3. Watch this video and play the game about how you see Tigers. It’s a really cool way to understand the difference between Eastern and Western cultures.

To combat this, I was thinking about what humans really want when making decisions, which is...  

To feel in control of the situation

Ok, so how can we resolve this was my thought…

We could aim to be in the room and explain everything beautifully first-hand but that is neither feasible - no matter how world-changing we believe our solution is - nor is it practical, as a sales opportunity can be lost at any stage of the sales journey.

This left me thinking about how the salesperson can control the secondary conversation, aka the one between their main contact and the ultimate decision maker. I then paused to think more about this need for control and also how to avoid the salesperson feeling judged or foolish.

The epiphany came as I realised these feelings were true for both the parties in the sales process. On the customer side, no one wants to be judged either! Therefore, if the salesperson provides something that their main contact can pass onto the decision maker, it would create a psychological side step. The side step is that they no longer feeling they are being judged as it’s now their colleague judging you. The way to do this was to let the secondary decision-maker(s) hear the salesperson’s voice direct and see what they did and why.

The How

In my experiences in Sales, the ace up my sleeve was that I came from the conferencing and collaboration world, meaning I knew the world of audio, web and video conferencing inside out.

So, I created my proposals in slide decks and used conference calls to screen share, show my face and record it all. That way, I could give everyone what they need. I have eight years of evidence that, more often than not, the contact passes this directly to the decision-maker and, as a result, they understand everything very clearly. I’ve won awards and published books for my sales work and it’s partly because I make the complex simple wherever I see the opportunity.

I have labelled this methodology, ‘Everybody Wins’.

Here’s an example explaining the what, how and why:


My tip is keep the deck to 10 slides or less and no more than five minutes for proposals under £20k, and maximum of 10 minutes for opportunities larger than £20k. At the end of the day, if you can’t get to your point in 10 minutes, something is wrong. It’s all about context; just remember it’s about control - for ALL parties involved.