Selling to multiple decision-makers takes skill

It's inherently more difficult to sell to multiple rather than single decision makers, yet it's increasingly more common to do so. This article examines several common challenges inherent in selling to multiple decision makers and then highlights some easy steps you can take to increase your odds of making sales.

The challenges in selling to multiple decision makers are many, and include:

  • Member availability.

    Depending on the makeup of the group (executives, department/program heads, etc.), it can be very difficult to assemble all the members at one time. The primary responsibility of the individual group members in the company is usually their position, not their capacity as a group decision maker. Consequently, the may limit their scheduling flexibility.

  • Lack of group ownership.

    Many times, due to politics and the protection the group offers, no one takes ownership. It's often easier to vote with the majority rather than their conscience as to what they think is truly best. It can be a matter of individually perceived self-preservation.

  • Member motivation and commitment level.

    These levels aren't equal from member to member which can slow the decision making process. If a member is assigned to the committee whose department or individual responsibilities won't be affected by the decision, their level of interest may wane and they may simply vote with the majority rather than giving the proposal their complete consideration.

  • Conflicting personalities.

    Groups and committees are often the place where individual vendettas are realized. A member may have a grudge or ill feelings toward another and his decision may be rooted solely in spite. Rather than making a decision that's in yours or his company's best interest, he discards sound reasoning and feels victorious in slaying his foe's recommendation.

  • Individual buying motives.

    Although the group may have a set criteria for members to adhere to in making their decisions, each individual makes his or her own buying decisions in precise psychological order based upon their own buying motives.

There's no panacea which guarantees success in selling to multiple decision makers. Using the following recommendations can aid in making successful presentations.

  • Arrive early to build rapport.

    In addition to being prepared to give an excellent presentation, when you arrive early, you'll meet the individual members as they arrive. This will give you an opportunity to build individual, personal rapport with some of the group members that likely won't exist once the meeting begins.

    Remember that the first buying decision all prospects make psychologically, regardless of the product or service you're offering, is about you, the salesperson. They'll size you up and make evaluations about your integrity and judgment. Their decisions must be positive or your won't make a sale. Keep in mind that, for more than any other reason (including price, quality, options, etc.), people buy from people they like. If you can build rapport with several members, they can help you build rapport with other members.

  • "Act, don't react," to keep your presentation on track.

    It's very easy to get sidelined into a "town meeting" where individual members pepper you with questions, not allowing you to complete your presentation. To curb this trend and bring the presentation back on track, use polite, closed-ended questions that provide a succinct answer. Then relate the answer to a point made earlier by another member. This brings the presentation back on track while building credibility and rapport with both members.

Here's an example of how one of our associates, Tony Rigato, effectively kept a presentation on track during a major presentation before a standards committee at one of the Big Three automakers. Tony was trying to get his company's products on the company's program while the committee was hearing five presentations a week. It would take a lot to stand out.

Tony, who had arrived early, overheard a competitor as he spent 20 minutes talking about his product, then asked the committee for questions and left. Tony had planned a different track than his competitor and, after introducing himself and his sales force, asked, "Before I get into my part of it, why don't you introduce yourselves and tell me what role each of you plays on this committee?"

The committee members were stunned. "That's going to cut into your selling time!" one snapped. But eventually they all complied. Tony then started asking questions. "How familiar are you with our company?" The response came, a diatribe about how badly the previous owner had treated them. Tony wanted to scream, "We're so much better now," then recite a list of positive changes. Instead, he asked how the company used these parts.

When it was over, Tony says, "I felt like the biggest idiot." But the committee leader told Rigato that his was by far the best presentation the group had ever seen.

Often there isn't a dominant buying motive for the group as a whole. One of the common mistakes salespeople make when selling to multiple decision makers is trying to sell the group rather than the individual members.

Despite their group membership, each individual makes their own buying decisions due to their own buying motives, which can include: desire for gain, fear of loss, comfort and convenience, security and protection, pride of ownership, and satisfaction of emotion.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.