To most effectively navigate the decision-making process, we must first recognize that both formal and informal decision-making processes run in parallel. Second, it’s also important to identify the key players in both processes — and work to build relationships with individuals on both “teams”! Your success at winning business depends on your ability to navigate BOTH!

FORMAL AND INFORMAL FACTORS ARE AT PLAY IN THE MAKING OF NEARLY EVERY BUSINESS DECISION.

The “formal” decision-making process is the one that is articulated to us as vendors when we ask, “Help me understand how the decision will play out.” Clients typically respond with something like, “Well, we will establish requirements, ask five vendors to propose on those requirements, and then we’ll select two finalist to present ‘verbals’ to our decision committee. We’ll choose a winner from there.”

Does anyone think this is how the system actually works? The informal decision-making process lives in the gap between what is described above and where the decision is made. “Behind the scenes” conversations and politics that influence, often crucially, the more formal decision-making process—including the politics between those who have been officially identified as decision-makers and those who have not– make up the informal decision-making process. Having a full understanding of both the formal and the informal decision-making processes is critical!

SO HOW DO YOU GATHER INTELLIGENCE ON THE TWO? YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND FULLY WHO IN THE ORGANIZATION HAS INFLUENCE AND/OR AUTHORITY.

Why is this so important? Understanding influence vs. authority enables you to be smarter about where you might invest time building and strengthening your relationships. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to align yourself exclusively with people identified to you in the formal decision-making process as those with “authority” to make the decision. The reality is that there are “influencers” who impact the process behind the scenes. So identify and create relationships with them as well!

Clearly, people with both “influence” and “authority” are high-value targets to align with. You can test for “influence” and “authority” by asking the right questions and by observing behavior.

What behaviors might you look for? Getting an agreement countersigned by someone you have not met indicates that the person you have been dealing with has “influence”, but may not have the organizational “authority” to sign off. Similarly, people who are assigned to initiatives that are outside of their core competencies typically have “influence”. You might also look for the person who says that she was asked to attend a meeting “just to listen in.” From our experience, this usually screams this person has “influence”, right along with the person who assigned her to attend!

A second approach for enhancing your insight into “influence” and “authority” is to use the concept of “Can vs. Care.” Simply put: try to establish if your client contact CAN make the decision AND if s/he CARES to make the decision.

“Can” suggests that the person has the authority to make the decision, but that does not mean that he “cares” enough to do so. Your job is to make the problem big enough in the client’s mind to take action (i.e. the pain point is significant enough to trigger a decision.) Align yourself with people who not only can make the decision, but who also care to make the decision; these are the people on whom you should place our relationship bets!

GET STARTED TODAY

Reflect on your current initiatives to see if you can identify which of your client contacts has the “authority” and/or “influence” in the decision-making process. Then consider a project that your firm recently lost. What did you miss? Was your firm aligned with the right people for success? Were you?

Apply these insights to your next pursuit…and see how much more effective you will be navigating the complexities of the decision-making process!