Whether you are selling your product or selling your company, always remember that you must be talking to the real decision-maker. In my business, we can spend a few meetings with one spouse who claims to be the “decision maker”, only to find out the other one wants to have input into their financial decisions. Two things can happen:
One, you start over and conduct the first few introductory meetings again with both parties present.
Two, and a much worse scenario, you count on the spouse you’ve been meeting with to explain your whole process and philosophy to their partner over dinner or dishes! You’ve spent years honing your knowledge and how you present it. I recall one instance where we sent home a large stack of paperwork for signatures that never came back. We learned our lesson—or, at least, I hope we did.
You can substitute business partner for spouse in the first paragraph and picture the outcome. Wasted time and money. In addition, sometimes the owner may have started down a different path altogether. Or, they can be a bit miffed that you are out sharing company business details with an outside advisor.
As for selling your company, I have seen this happen on both sides of the equation. An executive began pursuing an acquisition. While it ultimately made sense for the firm, the seller wisely asked for the executive to return with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by the owner before turning over any data. On the flip side, a prospective buyer spent a few months being courted by an employee who was trying to secure his future by representing the owner/seller. He did not allow the prospective buyer to meet the owner to iron out the details. The buyer was dependent on this intermediary for a true picture of the potential business and on his negotiation expertise in the transaction.
So, how do you know if you are talking to the right person?
- Tell me about your decision-making process. Does anyone else need to be involved?
- What information do you desire before making a decision? Once you receive this, is there anything else?
- I hear your objection about ______ (fill in the blank). If we can address that to your satisfaction, would you be ready to move forward?
- What does _____ (fill in the blank) mean to you?
In many cases you are targeting a specific officer of the company. Prior to calling, research the company’s website to find the name and the biography of that particular executive. Then enter that name into LinkedIn to find additional information about the person you plan to call.
Start with the main number of the company. When the call is answered, say, “Hi, I am calling to speak to Mr or Mrs._______. I understand that they make the final decision when it comes to ___________(your product or service). Is this correct?”
Most of the time, the person will know the right answer and patch you through to the right person. One colleague shared that he makes 12 calls to get to the right person before giving up. He puts that target company on the shelf for 6 months before contacting again. His persistence pays off. If twelve calls isn’t the right number for you, you might decide to stop after five or six calls. If the prospective buyer is truly worthwhile, it’s worth your time to dial the phone and reach out. Try different times of day. Sometimes, you can catch the decision maker right before 8 a.m. or after 5 when the phone gatekeeper is not answering the phone.
With today’s technology, we’re making good use of online meetings through offerings like GoToMeetings or Join.me. That can enable you to include other participants who have busy schedules.
If you find that you keep meeting with someone and you can’t get in front of the real decision maker, think about whether it’s a good use of your time. One colleague of mine says if it’s not a “Hell Yes,” then it’s a “NO.” Depending on the situation, you might consider mining your LinkedIn contacts to see if someone else could make an introduction to the owner. Decide if going around your original connection will damage the future relationship. It is a balancing act between borrowing prestige and bruising a relationship. Always be sensitive to the potential reaction to your acts and words.