How to find decision makers in complex sales: a 7-step process

Posted November 11, 2019

Audrey weber headshot

By Audrey Weber

Associate Content Editor at Outreach

In the complex world of B2B Sales, the typical buying group for a B2B solution can involve 6 to 10 decision makers, according to Gartner. These stakeholders have unique perspectives, personalities, problems, and priorities, and can sometimes conflict with each other. With these challenges, the journey for both B2B buyers and sellers has become more complicated than ever before.

Finding all the key people who play a role in the company’s buying process is not as easy as it sounds, and bringing all of them into consensus will be even less so.

The trick is to correctly identify all the relevant decision makers as soon as you can.Then, your team can fine-tune a winning game plan for the account.

What Is a Decision Maker?

For purposes of B2B selling, a decision maker is not just the person who writes the check or signs the contract.

On the surface, a B2B decision maker could be the C-level executive overseeing the team you’re selling to, the manager who actually leads the team, and the financial wizard who controls the bank accounts. But this picture often proves incomplete. In reality, your sellers need to talk with a broader set of personalities that comprise a decision-making unit (DMU) or buying center. You can only win a corporate buyer when you successfully engage each stakeholder in this unit.

The number and personas of these stakeholders depend on the size, industry, buying process, and culture of each organization. Moreover, the cost and relative importance of the product or service being considered also affect the composition and hierarchy of the DMU.

Each of these stakeholders can be classified into one of several buyer personas. A few, like gatekeepers, don’t necessarily make purchase decisions but are instrumental in facilitating--or slowing down--the buying process.

Based on findings by sales and marketing researchers, the following stakeholders or roles comprise a typical B2B DMU:

#1 Initiator (innovator, business driver, change agent)

This stakeholder takes the initiative to solve a problem or drive more momentum to achieve a specific goal.

#2 Decider/Approver (ranking executive)

Has the final say as well as the weightiest opinion when it comes to a purchase decision.

#3 Buyer/Payer

Has authority over the buying process and greatly influences the final selection of vendors. Typically, also owns the ROI side of any asset acquisition or procurement.

#4 Influencer/Adviser

Commands respect and provides guidance on how the decision process pans out. Often, this professional is a domain expert or someone who wields considerable influence over key players.

#5 User/Evaluator

The intended user of the product/solution being sold. Their feedback on user experience contributes tremendously to the purchase decision.

#6 Champion/Advocate

Someone who appears to support your cause. A champion often plays an instrumental role in identifying all the members of a DMU.

#7 Gatekeeper

Controls how information and access to other stakeholders are facilitated. Might be the original contact person or a close subordinate to a key member of the DMU.

Takeaway: B2B buyers may have different DMU compositions for each type of purchase. This helps manage risks for the company but it also complicates the buying process. In any case, your team should draw the best DMU map and engage each persona for your sellers to win the account.

7 Key Steps to Finding Decision Makers in B2B Sales

A few fundamental steps before you start searching for decision makers:

  • Fine-tune your ideal customer profile (ICP) and buyer personas. Your ICP should encapsulate the buyer characteristics that deliver the best and most sustainable value for your company. Meanwhile, buyer personas should not only correspond to at least the seven roles outlined above, but also reflect specific demographics, domain expertise, pain points, and priorities.
  • Adopt Account-Based Selling as your default framework. This method is perfect for the complex sales and buying processes in the B2B market.
  • Build non-hierarchical playbooks. In today’s world, CEOs rarely call all the shots. That is why DMUs exist. Because corporate buying is non-linear, don’t wait for a low-ranking stakeholder to sign off before engaging a higher-level executive. It’s not about rank, it’s about rationale, relevance, relationships, and ROI. Whenever possible, engage every stakeholder simultaneously with tailored messaging and experiences.

Here are key steps that should help you identify and engage decision makers for a specific organization and purchase deal:

#1 Do your preliminary research.

Learn the prospect’s industry and niche. Get to know the market trends, ecosystem players, and competition landscape. Learn which relevant solutions leading players adopt. Explore LinkedIn, social media, and trade publications to build a map of the target company’s DMU.

#2 Get a referral by tapping your network.

Once you have a fair picture of the buying center, leverage your professional relationships for a solid referral. Remember, a warm introduction almost always beats a cold email or call. If this isn't possible, execute best practices for outbound sales.

#3 Make initial contact and ask the right questions.

Use your research and referral to build trust. At this point, you're looking to build a relationship, not revenue. Prioritize the buyer’s success, practice active listening, and ask targeted questions.

Make this stage a platform for discovering and understanding two areas that are crucial to accurately mapping the target company:

  1. The stakeholders who comprise the DMU
  2. The company’s buying process

#4 Recruit champion(s) or advocate(s).

Engage and cultivate multiple stakeholders. Find individuals who advocate for change and who believe that your solution can help them solve problems or achieve goals. Remember, having many influential champions within an organization can tilt the final decision in your favor.

#5 Bypass the gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers control access to information and more importantly, access to other stakeholders. Engage them with respect and establish the impression that you can be trusted and you are genuinely rooting for the company’s success, or avoid them altogether.

#6 Personalize all stakeholder experiences.

Tailor your messaging for every decision maker you engage. Customize Sequences and drive conversations based on the buyer persona, as well as the actual person you’re building a relationship with. Focus on their unique problems and priorities such as revenue targets, regulatory compliance, return on investment, staff training, IT support., etc. Ask yourself, how does each decision maker define success?

#7 Use the right tools to help you find, track, and nurture decision makers.

Even top performing salespeople will be hard-pressed if they try to get the job done on their own. Let technology do the heavy-lifting so your human team can shine doing what they do best: selling. These tools can help accelerate and enhance their prospecting process:

  • Salesforce
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator
  • ZoomInfo/DiscoverOrg
  • Outreach

What Success Looks Like

Jellyvision, a Chicago-based software company, used persona-based Outreach sequences to get a referral from the manager to a decision maker… and land a meeting with the account.

"The sales reps are able to target the entire buying group quickly and effectively using persona-based Outreach sequences. Because the buying group within these jumbo accounts is 6+ people, it's critical to get in front of as many influencers as possible, and the platform helps us do that.”
- Sara Colombo

You can only close deals with the right decision makers. That means finding out who they are should be a top item on any sales team’s agenda, then connecting and building relationships with all the stakeholders that can influence a company’s purchase decisions.


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