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When Times Are Tough (Are you knocking on the right door?):


I must bash out this article in a hurry, so forgive me (Hemingway) for this unedited version.


I was visiting one of the large South African corporates today. Waiting for my contact, I sat and eavesdropped on a conversation between three people. It was clear that they were there to sell something. According to what I heard, they were hoping that arriving en masse might sway the client.


I know this corporate very well and realised that the person they were speaking with, albeit carrying the title of manager, had no authority whatsoever to make any decisions that involved spending money. The only thing that she had which could be to their advantage was that there was a possibility that she could get them to the decision maker. This too was highly unlikely as she is quite intimidated by and in awe of this particular decision maker.


So I interjected in the conversation and asked them how often they had been to see this person. This, they said, was their seventh visit. “And are you any closer to closing the deal?” I asked. “Not really” they said looking somewhat perplexed. So I ventured a gamble. “Do you think that maybe you’re talking to the wrong person?” Looking surprised they told me that she kept on telling them that she will arrange appointment with the decision maker once she has completed her due diligence. This time I looked surprised. So I asked what they’re selling? “A meal ticketing system for the four canteens in the building” was their reply. “And over what period have you had these seven visits?” I asked. “twelve months.” Came the reply.


Wow! That was a shock! Twelve months and they had still not gotten to the decision maker! “Guys” I ventured, “you ain’t gonna close this deal. In fact your contact has no intention of introducing you to the decision maker, and she can’t tell you that.” Shocked, they looked at each other and then back at me. I continued. “Do you know who the decision maker is?” They all nodded their heads. “Then why don’t you phone him or her and set up an appointment?” “And go over her head?” one of them asked. “Look” I said. “Let’s get real. Her job is look at your product and then put forward her suggestions, right?” They all nodded in agreement. Well then either she sees no value in your product, or she is too intimidated to put something forward that is as “out of the box” as yours. Which do you think it is”? There was silence for a short while. “Our product is scaring her. She sees it as a risk because she doesn’t understand it.” “Bingo!!!!” I shouted. Everyone in reception looked at me shocked!


I leaned forward confidentially. “Now cancel this appointment, go back to your office and work out an approach strategy to get you to the decision maker.”


Later, in the car, I thought about this conversation and related it to my situation. My point of entry into a business is via the learning and development department. Getting to see them is a problem as they seldom answer their phones. But on the odd occasion that we do speak to them and make an appointment, we find that their skillset does not include the ability to make a decision about will what we do benefit the business? Then to cover themselves, they promise to make an appointment for me to see the decision maker and disappear. I don’t ever hear from them; they do not reply to emails or respond to messages. I know that what I do adds value, but because of the lack in their skillset, they don’t know how to position my product to get me to the decision maker. So they avoid me completely.


So now I bypass learning and development and go directly to the decision makers. Takes a little longer to get to see them, but when I do, we do business.


So my message to salespeople is this. Don’t work through people that don’t understand the value of what you are selling. Go straight to the decision maker. If that scares you, get out of sales. You are after all employed to make money.



This article is protected by copyright and may not be duplicated or republished in full or in part, without the express written permission of Mark Deavall.  Mark is contactable on or +27 82 465 5481.