How to Get to the Decision Maker in Sales Negotiations

Successful sales professionals excel in finding, reaching, and persuading a decision maker. A big obstacle for many sales reps is making sure they are talking to the right decision maker. You may have the perfect sales negotiation pitch, but if you engage with the wrong person, you’ll likely waste your chance to make a sale.

According to Calum Coburn, an expert in sales negotiation training, “being strategic about your sales process shortens your sales cycle.” To speed up the process, focus your attention on finding the contact you need. Use these six tips to reach and persuade the person with the authority to approve purchases.

Use Organization Mapping

What kind of company are you looking to sell to? For SMEs, the decision maker may be more evident than for large corporations. In an SME, the decision maker is probably the owner, founder, or CEO. For a publicly traded company, you may have to look through their annual report to identify the decision makers relevant for your purpose. 

For privately held companies, however, you may have to put in more work. For instance, you may talk to present and former employees. If you don’t personally know any, then check the company’s online presence for the face of the company. The company’s largest clients or service providers may also assist you in identifying the right decision maker.

Sales teams often use relationship mapping to visualize relationships within a company. Such mapping typically identifies technical decision makers, executives, influencers, recommenders, and gatekeepers.

Company mapping can also be useful in customizing your sales negotiation pitch. You get to know the departments involved and the people in charge. The mapping exercise identifies what each department or person could possibly care about in your products. Use the mapping to identify:

  • Key players
  • Internal alliances
  • Executive-level relationships between the sales rep and the prospective buyer
  • Background on previous dealings

Use Company Hierarchies

A decision to buy is normally made by a senior person with budgetary control. The person’s team is then tasked with researching and negotiating. So, you may have to first interact with junior staff before negotiating with senior executives. Most companies will have three categories of decision makers for each buying process:

  • The final decision maker—The person who gives authorization for signing the paperwork.
  • Advocates—The people who perform research and deal with salespeople. The advocates then pass along their findings and suggestions to the higher-ups.
  • End-users—Those who will be using your product in their day-to-day job or as part of their function. End-users often have the power to decide whether your product meets their needs and specifications.

To find out who your decision makers are, you may need to ask your contacts the following questions:

  • Who approves the signing of contracts? This will be the decision maker.
  • Who will the contract signer listen to? This is the advocate.
  • Who will you be interacting with after the sale? This is the end-user.

Leverage Common Connections

To speed up the sales cycle, negotiation training experts recommend relying on your networks. Who do you know who has a close relationship with the decision maker? Do your colleagues have any connections at the prospect company? Do you know someone who can introduce you to the decision maker?

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Mutual connections can often provide new ideas and information to advance your sales negotiation pitch. These connections could act as referrers or provide valuable feedback. You can approach a mutual connection by stating your interest and highlighting why you think the connection is best placed to make the introduction. 

For instance, kick it off with:

“Hi Jane. I know you used to be the CFO at [company A]. Could you introduce me to Susan, your former boss? You could also mention how my company creates custom inventory software.”

Introductions by mutual contacts can increase your credibility and brand awareness. The person introducing you may also highlight your competitive advantages. 

When you have a referrer willing to make the introduction, set yourself up for success in a sales negotiation. Be ready with an elevator pitch highlighting your unique selling proposition. Also, have a couple of relevant open-ended questions to spur interest and keep the conversation going. You want questions that will steer the conversation towards your sales pitch. 

Make Gatekeepers Your Allies in Sales Negotiations

The gatekeeper is usually trained to keep time wasters away from the decision maker. Your first point of contact might be a receptionist, personal assistant, or some other junior person  involved in screening visitors and calls. Then the gatekeeper allows only those visitors or calls they believe to be important for the decision maker.

As such, many sales reps approach gatekeepers with an adversarial or sneaky attitude. But such an approach is unwarranted, and you shouldn’t try to negotiate with or bluff your way past the gatekeeper. A more effective strategy would be to treat the gatekeeper as an extension of the decision maker. For example, you could lead with:


Hi [gatekeeper’s name],

I realize that you and [decision maker’s name] are focusing on exceeding your sales quotas. I was hoping you could schedule some time for [decision maker] so that we can meet. I would like to take [him/her] through something that I think will see you reaching your goal faster. Is this something your team would be interested in?

Be open and honest about your intentions for meeting the decision maker. Strive to create a good impression on the gatekeeper.

Coming off as a possible strategic partner can make it easier for the gatekeeper to set up an appointment for you. With the right approach, the gatekeeper may even offer insights into the company’s problems.

Be respectful and courteous, recognizing that the gatekeeper is only performing their duty. Condescending, bullying, and bluffing may only land you in the gatekeeper’s blacklist.

Ask Subtle Questions

Once you create rapport with end-users, advocates, or gatekeepers, gather further information on the company’s decision making process. Phrase your questions with tact. For instance, you can ask:

“Aside from you, who else are the decision makers?”

This question can work on the ego. In essence, you are recognizing the power of whoever you’re talking to. You appreciate the person is integral to the decision-making process in the organization. Subtle flattery can persuade the person to assist you in finding an audience with the ‘real’ decision maker. 

If the person you’re talking with is not in any way involved in making the decision, they’ll correct you by volunteering that they’re not part of the process—with no harm done.

Here’s another tactful question:

“Each of our customers’ organizations operates in a different way. How does your company make decisions?”

Your company mapping may have skipped a few key decision makers. You may also have made wrong assumptions. The answers to this question either confirm your previous mapping or can direct you to the right people.

Connect on Social Media

According to research by Google and Millward Brown Digital, over 64% of final decision makers use social media for their research. Sales reps using social media realize an average of 45% more selling opportunities than those who don’t use social media.

Social media can be a powerful tool for picking out the decision makers. The use of social media can also be a way to bypass gatekeepers. You can often interact with decision makers straightaway through the direct messaging functionality provided in most social media tools and kick-start sales negotiation.

Be careful not to come across as spammy or excessively eager. With sales negotiation training, you can learn to make use of subtle lead generation tactics. Share helpful content on how your products can benefit the prospect’s company.

Start by choosing the most relevant social media platform. For most industries, LinkedIn is one of the best platforms for connecting with B2B buyers. Take part in relevant groups for your enterprise. Share your training and expertise with potential buyers without making a hard sell. Contribute to conversations about your brand. Use forums where prospective buyers are likely to notice your company or brand.

You can search for hot topics using hashtags and social listening tools. If your prospect runs a personal social media account, connect with them without seeming intrusive. Start engaging with your target decision maker by liking and sharing their content.

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You can also comment and respond to questions that the decision maker may ask. With an increase in familiarity, you can reach out to your target and pitch a warm call.

Reach and Influence Decision Makers

Key executives with the authority to approve buying decisions often insulate themselves with trained gatekeepers. While this makes the work of a sales rep more difficult, expert sales negotiators can use the above six ways to locate and reach the right contact.

Sales negotiators have a higher chance of success when dealing with the final decision maker. Asking the right questions can identify who you need to negotiate with. Mutual connections can pave the way to direct introductions. And making the gatekeeper your ally can win you an influential emissary.

Once you reach the final decision maker, be ready with your sales pitch. Customize your pitch to include information gleaned from mutual connections and gatekeepers. Get personal by bringing up the referrer, but avoid name-dropping. Negotiations stand a better chance of success when you know your prospect’s needs and have close mutual connections. 

Illustration by Kalaimaran Jeyagandhi 

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