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Networking Skills: 3 Ways to Get to the Real Decision Maker

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Written by Ago Cluytens
Practice Director - EMEA, RAIN Group

We've all been there.

Someone reaches out to you. They're enthusiastic. Ask for information. Want to talk to you on the phone. Ask for a proposal. Tell you they're "genuinely interested" in what you're offering. And "need something concrete to discuss in a meeting that's coming up."

And then...nothing.

The sale doesn't move forward. No decision is made. No further action from your side required. And "they'll be back in touch when they know more."

Here's the thing: sometimes the people we start talking to are not the people we should be talking to. Sellers I speak with often talk about the need to develop their networking skills to "go around someone and get to the real decision maker."

Most struggle, believing that they will damage the existing relationship if they go over someone's head to try to establish a relationship higher up in the organization.

Indeed, this is the wrong approach to take.

It's not about getting around people. It's about taking people along on the journey. It’s about using your networking skills to move up the ladder and get introductions.

Specifically, there are 3 keys to getting past what I call "mock buyers." They look like buyers. They sound like buyers. They may even act like buyers. But they're not (really) buyers at all. It’s up to you to find out who the real buyer is, and include them in the conversation. Here’s how you can do that without damaging relationships along the way.

  1. Build the Relationship First
    In order for you to get someone to introduce you to their manager, colleague or a member of their management team, you'll have to build the relationship first. You have to deliver value, and do so for long enough for them to:
    1. Start trusting you
    2. Start liking you
    3. Believe you have their best interest in mind
    All of these things take time.

    But if you consistently deliver value, and do so in a way that positions you as a valued advisor instead of a salesperson, you'll get to the time where you can have an open and honest conversation and say something like, "I can't help but notice we've had several conversations and things don't seem to be moving forward as much as we expected. Is there anything we can do together to move this forward?"

  1. Provide an Incentive for Action
    Even if you've built the relationship to the point where they trust you (and trust you will do the right thing), you still have to give them a reason to act. Helping you make the sale is about their agenda, not yours.

    So make it about them: their rational and emotional needs, their agenda, and their personal afflictions and aspirations.

    Provide a clear, compelling reason for them to take action and decide the best next step together. A great way to do this is by asking questions like:
    • Out of all the options we have available, what do you think our next move should be?
    • Is there anyone in the organization we haven't talked to yet who should be involved?
    • What would happen if we kept pursuing the same path we're on now? What wouldn't happen?
    • If you're on board, what else needs to happen to get going?
    • What do you think is required to move this forward?
    Build on the answers to these questions, keep asking "why," and dig deeper until you get to the point where they tell you what the impact on them (personally) of acting (or not acting) will be. That's when you've found their individual reason to take action.

  1. Position Yourself as an Ally
    You've built trust and the relationship. You've discovered their reason to take action. The next and final step is to position yourself as the person who can help them get what they desire. Figure out a basic plan of action, demonstrate how it will achieve the outcome they seek, and then execute.

In the end, getting to the decision maker usually isn't about going around people. It's about using your networking skills to build relationships, get introductions, and take people along on your journey, so they win and you win.

Topics: Networking and Referral Generation