One of the core issues in understanding and influencing our customers’ buying processes is to make sure we are working with the right people, doing the right things at the right time.

Traditional wisdom says, “Work with the decision-maker!”

Sometimes that manifested itself with further wisdom, “Call at the top.” The thinking being reaching high up the food chain, getting the right C-Level executive who will make the decision for us, stuffing it down on the organization. In reality, it seldom works that way. Smart executives know that stuffing something into the organization is a sure route to failure. They want their people engaged in the decision, owning it.

Another reason calling at the top is no longer right. The folks at the top just don’t have the time, they push the decisions down, looking for consensus within the organization.

Other approaches–not good–but the ones I see dominating include: deal with the people we know, deal with who we have a relationship with, deal with our friends, deal with the person that will see us. OK–perhaps–until they are the wrong people. Then we are doomed for failure. Just because they may have bought from us in the past, or they like us, or they are the only people who see us, doesn’t mean they are the right people. In fact too often, they may have very little to do with “this” decision.

Consensus decision-making dominates complex B2B decisions. No one person has the knowledge of what’s needed to make the decision, lots of people need to be involved to solve complex business problems. Additionally, the risks in these decisions is high–pragmatically, people want to share the risk. So how do we know who to work with and how do work with them?

Now we know in complex B2B decisions there are the 5.4–plus there are a whole lot of people on the periphery. Are we supposed to work with all of them? Well, Yes–and No.

Research presented in The Challenger Customer, shows a negative 4% correlation to influencing a decision for us by getting the 5. and hangers on aligned with us. It turns out, getting individuals aligned with our solution isn’t effective. We have to coalesce the group opinions, finding shared interest, shared goals, shared agendas–aligning them around enough commonality for them to make a decision.

Ideally, we are invited in to help facilitate the discussion. Sometimes, we are, but not always and not all the time. Consequently, who are we supposed to work with? All of them? Again, the answer is Yes, and No.

It’s important to engage with each person involved in the decision, but that doesn’t mean we engage each one equally.

We have to invest our most of our time in identifying those people who can get things done. These are the people who will align everyone else involved in the organization. These are the people what will drive the process, overcoming the difficulties the group my face in reaching a decision.

We must identify how power and influence is exercised in the decision-making process. These words–power and influence–have lots of negative connotations, but objectively, the people exercising power and influence in the buying process are the people who will get things done.

The words, also stir some mistaken impressions. We tend to think folks higher in the food chain have more power and influence. This really is a reflection of positional power, not the ability to get things done for the problem the customer is trying to address. Those critical people, may have little positional power, but the strength of their conviction about the problem/solution, their ability to understand and align differences, their ability to get people focused and agreeing on the same priorities are the one’s we are seeking. These are the people, regardless of title and positional power, will have the ability to drive this change or get things done.

All of us have the experience of some person low in the food chain, that had the ability to get different people, at different levels, together to make a decision. Whether it was driven by conviction, an ability to convince others, an ability to see past differences and focus on similarities. these people accomplish a lot more than their title or position in the organization might indicate. These are the people most critical for us to invest time in, help them identify the critical issues, helping them understand critical next steps, helping them maintain the urgency in driving change.

If a decision-making group doesn’t have at least one of these people—the probability of no decision made skyrockets. If we aren’t working with and influencing these people, the probability of making a decision for our solution plummets.

A lot of our traditional ways of identifying roles in decision making, for example the economic buyer, the technical buyer, the Fox, and so forth (each sales methodology tends to apply different labels), tend to miss the central issue of how decisions are made, and who we invest most of our time with.

It’s those people, for whatever reason, with whatever title or role, are committed to getting things done. Who are committed to overcoming all the obstacles and resistance to solving a problem or addressing an opportunity. They are the people we need to work with.

Again, we should spend time with everyone involved in the decision-making process. But we need to invest most of our time on those people committed to getting things done.

Can you identify them in each deal? Are you working with them?