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Many salespeople seem fixated on gaining access to the highest-level corporate title possible, believing that to be the optimal strategy to get to "the decision-maker." There are two flawed beliefs in this thinking:

  1. That a single person will make or dominate a company decision
  2. That even if there is such a dominant influencer, her dominance will be due to her title in a corporate hierarchy

In fact, decisions are made by groups of people with a meaningful stake in the problem, challenge or opportunity about which the group must decide:

  1. if they must act, and
  2. if so, what course of action they should take

For each decision considered, different people will have different stakes in the outcome. The nature and degree of their respective stakes will determine the degree to which they must try to influence the decision. Ironically, unless the decision being taken has major strategic impact, the most senior management may not have any stake in it at all.

This fluidity means that the stakeholders serve equally fluid roles in each decision. Some may even play multiple roles. Unlike corporate titles, which are fixed, decision roles are temporary. For these reasons, I prefer a "hat" metaphor. We all understand the concept of changing hats or wearing many hats. 

Here are the four key hats/roles in any decision:

  • Spec Hat
  • Hands-On Hat
  • Financial Hat
  • Guide Hat

Today, we'll look at the first two.

The Spec Hat is often a gatekeeper, sometimes a recommender. He's someone who

  • cannot say "Yes," but can say "No" 
  • judges quantifiable aspects, measuring your firm and you against a set of objective criteria. 

Spec Hats (there may be many for each sale) don't determine who wins. Their influence is more subtle, and occurs much earlier: They decide who gets in the game.

These are the people who put together the "short lists," who decide which messages get in front of others and which disappear into a black hole.

Often, it feels as if the Spec Hat stands between us and other, more obviously influential, buyers. Be careful, though. They cannot buy, but if disrespected, ignored or otherwise alienated, they can sabotage our sales effort. We must resist the urge to bypass or dismiss them. Like each of our other buyers, we must identify Spec Hats' Practical, Financial and Emotional needs, and show how those needs can be met by guiding us to the other buyers.

The "Hands On" Hat is the buying role with which lawyers are most familiar because that's who lawyers work closely with when delivering legal service. To make sure we match our probing sales questions and message to our audience, we must remember that the Hands-On Hat:

  • Judges the effect our service has on her own job (vs. the overall effect on the company)
  • Sees her personal achievements being directly dependent on the success of our service
  • Uses or supervises the use of our services
  • "Lives with" us and has a personal stake in our performance
  • Is concerned specifically with the job to be done

Remember that there may be several "Hands-On" Hats per sale, particularly on an engagement with broad, multi-department scope. To avoid blind spots in your sale, recognize all Hands-On Hats, and learn each one’s Practical, Financial and Emotional needs. 

They are usually respected recommenders to the Financial Hat (next week).  Also, if we win the business, these buyers will work closely with us and be best informed about our performance. They're thus most likely to become our references and referral sources for future sales, so let's not merely get them on our side for the sale, but get in position to over-satisfy them.

Besides inside counsel who have the same specialty as you, who are some of the other logical Hands-On Hats for your primary service?

  • Employment: Human Resources, and any of the business functions that house the employees in question
  • Tax: Finance, Marketing, Distribution
  • M&A: Finance, C-suite, and, depending on the type of acquisition, might include Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, HR, R&D, among many
  • Litigation: Almost any company function could be affected by litigation, so look for lots of people with a stake not only in the ultimate outcome, but how the litigation is conducted

Next week: The Financial Hat; The Guide Hat

Mike O'Horo

Do you spend too much time "following up" on supposed prospects that have languished in your pipeline far too long? They don't buy, they don't progress, they just eat up your limited sales time. It's probably because your fear of hearing "no" prevents you from pursuing a decision. You're better off with a "no" than a languisher. 

In RainmakerVT's Three-Step Decision Process, learn how to introduce and manage a reliable decision process that will align all the Hats behind a decision, and keep you from drilling dry holes.