How Decision Makers Pick the Winner


It’s Completely Different from How They Pick the Finalists

How your prospects decide who makes it to the short list, and how they choose who eventually wins the business, is completely different. Are your strategies for each stage completely different?

Your prospect decision makers go through three stages of decision making that you are probably very familiar with, but it’s important to know that each stage is a separate and different competition that requires a different strategy. If you want to win more than your fair share of the business, you need to have the right strategy for each stage.

Their first stage is to throw a broad net to identify all the relevant players that are in the business to provide solutions to their general requirement. This is a logical, objective, mental exercise that our prospect performs entirely in the neocortex of their brain, which is the part that drives all our logical and analytical thinking and is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is a simple intellectual exercise, and your strategy for this stage is also simple—you and your offering just needs to be known to exist. Either you’ve been in the market for so long that your brand gets you on the initial list, or you need your marketing efforts to build that awareness and credibility to get there. That includes referral networking, social marketing, referenceable accounts, content marketing, speaking engagements, advertising, etc.

The second stage for your prospect decision makers is to narrow the broad list to a short list of candidates that can best meet their specific requirements. This is also a logical, objective exercise driven by neocortex-based thinking. A figurative, if not literal, matrix of requirements and solution providers is established to see how everyone stacks up against each other, and that process reveals which providers to eliminate and which ones make it to the short list of top contenders. Beyond a checklist of specific features, the criteria for the solution provider includes things like depth and breadth of resources, years of experience, references, geography, etc. This stage is primarily an exercise in elimination, so your strategy is to satisfy the checklist of requirements, and communicate that to your prospect.

The third stage is the most important and most challenging stage for you and your prospect. This is where all the potential solution providers look the same to your prospect, because they all meet the requirements and can certainly get the job done. As an insider expert in your industry, you can understand the hair-splitting differences between the short listers, but your prospect is not, and they have a hard time appreciating those nuanced differentiators. Think about the times someone close to you told you they were having a bad hair day, but to you, their hair looks exactly the same. That’s because they’re experts on every minute aspect of their hair, and you aren’t. So, now, how does your prospect decide who’s the winner?

Because the prospect has been so focused on more objective criteria to this point, salespeople assume that we’re still playing the same beauty contest game and operating by the same rules. Therefore, the next logical progression is to attempt to educate your prospect, so they are able to appreciate the hair-splitting differences that differentiate you from the others. It probably also makes sense that you should provide even more data and references to further validate your claims. This is the most common mistake salespeople make, because in stage three, the game has completely changed.

Remember that your prospect is really buying two things: 1) the value proposition of your offering, and 2) You. You are an important part of the equation, because the client relationship will lie with you, as your client sees you as their window into all your company’s resources. By stage three the short list finalists can all provide a good solution, and understanding more about those minor differentiators is not as important to them as this other half of the equation—You.

This is where the other part of their brain takes over, regardless whether it’s an individual or a committee that’s making the decision. In the simplest neuroscience model, it’s called the limbic brain, and it’s the part of the brain that we do have in common with the rest of the animal kingdom. This part of your prospect’s brain tells them how comfortable they are working with You and how much they trust You. They’re not looking to you as a new friend or to be entertained. This is serious. They know that you and your company will be making countless micro-decisions behind the scenes as you deliver your solution, and they need to feel comfortable that you will be making all those decisions with their best interest in mind.

Interestingly, the prospect will rarely admit that this the basis of the final selection, because it seems too emotionally based and not the objective, scientific, or professional analysis that they feel the business world expects. But it’s still true nonetheless. Therefore, to win more than your fair share of the business you need to always have a parallel strategy that goes well beyond the objective criteria that your prospects use to determine the finalists. That strategy must be completely focused on how the limbic works to assign trust and comfort.

First, understand how your prospect’s limbic brain assigns trust and what you need to do to get it quickly. Most people think trust must be earned over time because you must prove yourself, but that path is the longest and riskiest. The specific way you can build more trust in a single meeting than most salespeople will ever build over any length of time is beyond the scope of this article, but you can learn more in the article Vendor to Trusted Advisor in your First Meeting. Also, don’t make the three most common mistakes that promote distrust in your attempts to win the business. Learn more in the article The Three Most Common Behaviors that Create Distrust.

If you’re winning business because you have great offerings and represent a great company, you’re only winning your fair share of the business, at best. The top rainmakers win far more than their fair share because they know there are dozens of powerful dynamics of behavioral science taking place in all your client, prospect, and networking meetings, whether you’re aware of them or not. If you aren’t making them work for you, they’re probably working against you. Are you ready to start operating at a higher level?

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