Buyer Roles in Group Sales Presentations

I know that you didn’t invite them, but someone did and you better figure out their role!

Hold on, don’t throw anything at your screen, ’cause I didn’t invite them either, but let’s sit down and figure out what roles people play. Remember the longer your sales cycle is the more people you’re going to meet. And the more group discussions you have, the more strangers you’ll have to deal with.

Let’s start out with, what I don’t mean by buyer roles. First I don’t mean personality types…even though I love the names I’ve heard. There was Seymour D’Tails, the analytical type that could never get enough details. There was Penelope Pincher, the CFO that only cared about purchase price. So even though it is helpful to understand social styles sales strategies (an old Xerox training program) I am really only writing about the role that people play in the buying process.

Let’s list the roles then talk about what you can expect from them, and how you should interact with them. Okay, get your pens ready. There are contacts, coaches, evaluators, users, key influencers, decision makers and…gatekeepers.

Contacts – They can be almost anybody in the prospect company. You will meet many of them over time, and sooner or later their role may change. So what do all contacts have in common?

- They are to some degree knowledgeable about their company.
- They probably have credibility in some parts of the organization.
- They are able to provide some information.
- They are willing to meet with you.

Coaches – From all the contacts you meet you’re going to have to find a coach. So what should you look for in addition to those listed under a contact?

- You know this person is credible within her/his own department and probably beyond.
- This person will share information freely with you.
- Additionally like all good coaches they will give you direction.
- Your coach will double check your strategy if you share it.

They win if you win, therefore they want you to win, and they will proactively position your case when you’re not there. Why? Because they see your product/service as the best business fit (and they might gain a little power)

Evaluators – These folks are tricky. First we know they have some credibility and they have some organizational tie to the use of your products/services. Why are they “tricky’? Because they generally focus only on the present and get very concerned about the details & specifications of your product/service (and sales people like to focus on the future and benefits, not features). When you’re dealing with evaluators you better be a product expert or bring one with you. They are also tricky because an evaluator that has enough credibility with the decision maker can easily become a key influencer. “Oh no…what’s that?”

Key Influencer- These folks are a special breed, and they are the most difficult to recognize. Key Influencers are the mac daddy of evaluators because of the credibility they have with the decision maker. Key Influencers can be delegated the authority to make decisions. So they are very difficult to spot because if that delegation of authority did not take place, these folks will still look like a duck, walk like a duck, quack like a duck but they’re not a duck.

Decision Makers – Sorry Anthony Parinello…I loved your book “Selling to VITO (Very Important Top Officer)” but decision makers are not always CXO’s. They can be, but they don’t have to be. Look, if each of the Fortune 1000 has 6 top officers then there’s only 6,000 decision makers for over 5,000,000 sales people to sell. So how do we recognize a decision maker?

- They focus on the future (just like us!)
- They focus on the health of their company
- They ask why a lot more often than they ask what
- They can say no, even when everybody else says yes (just like a key influencer)
- And…they can say yes when everyone else says no (AHHH a key influencer cannot do this!)

This is all you really need to know. So who’s left? Oh yes…the famous gatekeeper. Well there’s two kinds of gatekeepers. First there’s the administrative type that’s the air traffic controller between you and the person you’re trying to call. Let’s not talk about them because they’re just doing their job, and if you can’t find a way through or around them you should transfer out of sales.

Gatekeepers – Gatekeepers are usually graduates from the user role or the evaluator role. Don’t think of them as the enemy…but think of them as the anti-coach. Remember, a coach wins when you win? Guess what? A gatekeeper sees themselves as losing if you win. Don’t let your fragile ego worry about why…just accept the fact. So also accept the fact that while a coach will proactively support you when you’re not there…a gatekeeper will gladly point out your weak spots in your absence. And it gets worse. Almost every gate keeper is a competitor’s coach! But that’s okay, if you chose your coach wisely they will have more credibility and will gladly slay the dragon. Oh…and one more thing before you leave…sometimes gatekeepers smile at you during your meeting.

Well I’m almost to my self imposed 900 word limit so I think I’ve overdone this topic. If you have an opposing point of view feel free to register that by visiting my blog. In fact leave a comment on my blog anyway, it’s lonely here.

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