How to Handle “I Gotta Ask My Boss”

My good friend Larry Jacobs (aka Webeneezer Scrooge) just sent me an email complaining about the way prospects sometimes lead you astray when it comes to decision-making power. He writes:

I always ask who handles marketing and advertising. They say: “Thelma.” Thelma comes to the phone. I ask her: “Thelma , are you the person in charge of marketing, are you the decision maker?” Thelma says yes. So I give her my schpiel, we talk a few times and then Thelma says: “Sounds good. I gotta ask my boss.” Say what??

He wasn’t asking for my advice (doesn’t need it); he was just kvetching.  Even so, his email got me thinking.  There are a couple of important things going on in this situation:

First, decision-makers aren’t what they used to be. Time was that for most B2B purchases, there was a single decision-maker. That’s not true any more, because most companies have instituted purchasing policies that require multiple approvals.

Second, most people overestimate their authority and importance when asked about it. Nobody wants to admit that, despite their fancy title, they’re really just a dogsbody at the beck and call of the bigwig in the corner office.

It’s also possible that the contact is wants to buy but is using this sudden deferral to his boss in order to buy some time to think it over.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to short-circuit the entire problem, regardless of the source. During your first substantive conversation, ask: “How does your company normally purchase a product or service such as this?”

The ensuing conversation will reveal whether or not the contact is the real decision-maker or is just fooling himself. And you’ll get an idea of who else you’ll need to contact in order to actually close the deal.

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