There’s no shortage of sales processes that tell you it is important to “sell high” in the customer organization or sell to the “real” decision maker. It would be hard to fault this logic since it has proven successful over the years. However, the question that always comes to mind is how do you know you’ve sold high enough or sold to the right person?

Many times you are simply directed to sell to the “decision maker”. Let’s assume for a minute this signifies the person who is authorized to make the final selection decision and to authorize the issuance of a purchase order. On the surface, if we were to reach this individual, it looks like we’ve arrived. Finally, we are talking to the person that can make a decision!

Based on my work with buying organizations, I might caution you to dampen your enthusiasm somewhat – and here are the reasons why. Often an individual is authorized to make a decision within very strict parameters of scope, scale and budget. Only if your offering is within these various criteria can they make the decision to select you. But what happens if one or more are “outside the box”? Obviously, the decision gets sent up the chain of command. Furthermore, what if the best solution for the customer is not within these predetermined parameters? Many times it won’t get sent up the chain of command because there is simply too much invested in the current path or there may be political implications for trying to change things that have already been approved.

Additionally, if you and your organization did not participate in the development of the various parameters of scope, scale, budget, etc., then who did? It’s a fair bet that whoever did (both inside and outside the customer organization) probably had a different agenda than you. It is also worth considering they might not have the insights and expertise that you or your organization have. However, now everyone is artificially restrained by the constraints that were determined before you and your team arrived on the scene. What’s to be done?

Here is a good rule of thumb to help you determine if you are selling high enough. First does this individual own the outcomes your products and services will deliver? If not, then we have more work to do. If so, we might be there. Second, do they freely share the metrics for success of those outcomes? If not, then odds are you are not selling to the person who is truly charged with producing results. Otherwise, why would they not share those results with you if it was important that they be achieved? If the individual does freely share and welcomes discussions concerning the outcomes, then we are definitely getting warmer!

Finally, does this person own the eraser? By that I mean do they have the authority to change or modify scope, scale and (most importantly) budget? If they learn new things from you and your team that sheds a different light on the issues or the potential outcomes that might be achieved, can they change and modify scope (what gets done), scale (how much) and budget (what is paid)? In short, do they have the ability to “erase” other budgetary items and reallocate the funds to your work?

If so, now you know you are selling high enough.

Good selling!


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This is a tough and sometimes unwelcome question often fraught with emotion – especially for the sales team pursuing the opportunity. However, it is imperative they know a B2B opportunity is qualified and therefore worth committing precious hours and limited corporate resources in pursuing.

“It’s an approved project with budget. We’ve met with all of the key buying influencers – and they really like what we have to say!” I am willing to bet this opportunity would easily clear the “qualified” hurdle and would probably show as “upside” or perhaps even “commit” in many a sales pipeline. But is it really qualified?

Meet Steve Thompson

Steve is president and founder of Value Lifecycle TM, a strategy execution consulting practice that helps both selling and buying organizations position, negotiate, and close “must-win” deals. Steve works closely with clients to help them advance their corporate strategy, strengthen relationships with their customers and suppliers, and achieve sustainable business outcomes.

True Compass

Is this opportunity qualified? Do I have a compelling value proposition that will increase my odds of winning?

Does my proposal setup the right negotiation? What is the “right deal” for this opportunity?

Is this customer likely to renew? What is changing with the customer’s business that presents new opportunities for me?

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