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A LinkedIn group post today asked, “What experiences have YOU had in identifying someone not just who CAN make a decision, but is WILLING to?”

I try not to flame people in their own forum, so I made my comment more even-handed than I really felt.  In truth, the single-decision-maker mentality is the means by which salespeople create most of the problems they spend money on sales training to learn how to fix.

If you’re selling anything of sufficient value to justify a commission, it’s extremely rare for there not to be multiple stakeholders, each with a legitimate but disparate interest in the decision. Because these are the people who must live with the consequences of any decision, it’s equally rare that one person can (or should) make and impose a solution on them.  Senior executives know this is related to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Group decisions are facilitated, not directed.  Otherwise, it’s not really a decision, but “apparent acquiescence,” the shelf life of which is measured in the time it takes to get to one’s office and begin figuring out how to undermine it or get around it.

While people may reasonably differ on sales approaches, one thing that is inarguable is that decision-facilitation is an acquired skill. Unfortunately, it’s one that few buyers or sellers possess.  As the writer’s post implied, all stakeholders must participate, but their participation will ebb quickly unless they experience a credible group-decision process and dynamic.

Too many salespersons forfeit any decision-process credibility by pursuing only one predetermined decision outcome, i.e., “yes.”

If stakeholders know that your efforts are geared toward trying to get them to do something that they know is good for you (buy from you) but don’t yet know is good for them, they’re obligated to keep you at a distance until they resolve that inner conflict. That’s why so many sellers find themselves on the outside, awaiting a decision in which they’re not invited to participate.

If, by contrast, sellers accepted that there are two legitimate potential decision outcomes:

  1. it’s a great idea to do business together
  2. it’s a bad idea to do business together

and undertook a high-integrity investigation with the stakeholder group to discover which it was, they’d be seen as contributors, would experience greater cooperation, and would remain welcome throughout the decision process.

What if you mutually discovered that it’s not a good idea for them to buy from you? Would you try to get them to buy, anyway? (I would hope that’s a rhetorical question for all.)

On the other hand, if a high-integrity, cooperative investigation reveals that it is, in fact, a great idea to buy from you, you’ll both want to do it, and quickly. That eliminates that pesky closing problem, doesn’t it?

Hearing this, lawyers I coached inevitably asked, “What if too many of these high-integrity investigations reveal that it’s not a good idea to hire us?” Fair question.

The answer is unpopular, but very useful: It tells you that you’re in the wrong market, or positioned improperly in the right market. This is the canary in the coal mine, alerting you that your problem is one of marketing, not sales.

You haven’t achieved what Silicon Valley investors call “product-market fit.” Your offer is misaligned with your market’s needs or desires. You have to modify one or the other. Simple, but immutable.

RainmakerVT subscribers: To learn how to facilitate group decisions like a pro, using only your “lawyering” skills, go to Getting Chosen section and spend some time with the “Stakeholder Alignment” simulation.

Did you know that the inability to facilitate a decision is your biggest impediment to sales success?  Learn why by downloading our free eBook, "No Decision: The Blind Spot That Prevents Lawyers from Doubling Their Income."