The #1 Conversation You Should Never Have With a “Non-Decision Maker”


Some people could be professional time-wasters.

You know the kind. They piddle, browse, and fidget their days away. But although we know some of the obvious wastes of time (like drifting into the social media vortex), other time-sucks come disguised.

Want to know a great waste of time? Trying to close deals with non-decision makers.

This is a classic hamster-on-a-wheel scenario. You’re working your tail off, but without the decision maker, the deal won’t go anywhere.

Trying to close a deal with a non-decision maker is simply a waste of time. However, non-decision makers can help us in other ways.

How to Identify the Decision Maker

As you navigate these early conversations, first understand who you’re talking to — what’s the person’s real role and responsibility in the company? Are they an asset owner or asset custodian?

Here’s the difference.

Asset custodians work for the company, but don’t own it. They’re building a resume and trying not to get fired. They don’t carry the weight of the company’s success or failure.

Asset owners bear the responsibility for the company. They’re personally invested in its success. They make the final decisions and are held liable for them.

Let’s say you sell software. When you talk to your contact in the IT department, you’re talking to an asset custodian. They’re looking for a cool program with awesome features. They don’t necessarily care if the sales or accounting departments like it. They’re not worried about the usability of the program. If it fails, they can likely justify why they chose it and pass the blame to someone else.

The owners, however, have a different perspective. They’ll purchase software based on what it can do for the company — not how cool it seems. It’s their company, their data, and their success at risk. Their motivations are different.

When you make a sale, you need both the owners and custodians onboard.

The asset owners are likely going to make the final decision to buy — so speak with them. It’s up to you to help them understand how your product will solve their problem. Don’t rely on your IT contact to just relay the information. Remember, they’re not the salesperson — you are!

But you still need your asset custodians to buy in. When it comes to everyday use, the asset custodians likely drive the success of the program. If they believe in your product, adopting it becomes much easier.

What You CAN Discuss With Non-Decision Makers

Once you know someone doesn’t have the power to make a purchase, change your objective. When you talk to a non-decision maker, it’s not about making the sale — it’s about fact-finding, planning your next steps, and generating buy-in.

Non-decision makers may not be able to close a deal, but they can give you some good information. You’ll likely be able to gauge how many employees work for the company and understand the scope of their need. You’ll also start to glimpse their pain. If there’s a problem, the gatekeeper isn’t shouldering all the responsibility for it, but they still have an idea of the issues at hand. Once you understand more about the company, you can better know how to approach future conversations.

Conversations NOT to Have With the Non-Decision Makers

Ultimately, your goal is to speak with the decision maker. You want to hear the pain-points directly from the person with purchasing power so you can explain how your product solves the problems. Your most important relationship is with the owner.

Related: 7 Rules for Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Yes, you ultimately want the asset custodians to buy in. But you have to choose your conversations carefully — otherwise you’ll never make it past these gatekeepers.

Here’s what NOT to do:

1. DON’T Give the Pitch

Don’t pitch your product to non-decision makers. If you tell them everything they need to know, you’ll never speak to the decision maker. Remember, your goal is to get to the asset owner. If you tell the asset custodian everything, they’ll just act as your middle-man and pass the info along. They’re not a salesperson, so the owner won’t hear the best pitch. Hold out to speak with the owner so they hear the pitch directly from you.

2. DON’T Write Them Off

Maybe you’re not talking to the decision maker, but you are speaking with an influencer. Everyone has their part to play and you want influencers in your corner.

In many situations, you’ll hear, “My boss asked me to look at different solutions and tell him the ones I like best.” That requires a different conversation than the pitch.

Tell the story that makes you relatable. Maybe you’ve been in their position and know what it’s like to try to narrow down solutions. The goal is to connect with them without launching into a full pitch. Always end with, “We’re interested in your business, so let me know what our next step is to earn it.”

3. DON’T Forget the Goal

For every conversation, set a goal. With a non-decision maker, the goal is NOT to close the deal. The goal is usually to book an appointment with the decision maker. Then make sure your conversation leads you to that goal.

Related: Make Yourself a Better Salesperson by Focusing on the Sales Activities That Matter

When we sell based on value (not price), we have to choose our conversations wisely. Every conversation is important — and every conversation is a stepping stone leading to a decision point. Don’t waste your time pitching to a non-decision maker. The key is knowing who you’re speaking with and driving the conversation accordingly.

7 Rules for Getting Past the Gatekeeper

getting past the gatekeeper sales meetings

You’ve driven across town for a sales meeting, only to find the receptionist catching up on the latest issue of US Weekly while Dr. Jones is tied up. Now what? We’ve all been there – suddenly in a battle to get past the gatekeeper.

In many cases, gatekeepers are low-waged employees who don’t really understand the business. They don’t care about how awesome your product or service is. It could be the perfect solution to solve all their company’s woes, but it doesn’t matter.

Your purpose is never to sell the gatekeeper. Your purpose is for the gatekeeper to send you to the decision maker, and these strategies will help get you to the person in charge.

1. Dress the Part

We’ve all seen the caricatures of salesmen: baggy shirts with sweat stains, un-tailored pants, and the general look that they just climbed an uncountable number of stairs. This look doesn’t help your case. If you dress like a salesperson, you are the salesperson. But if you look like a hotshot, you’re going to get past the gatekeeper much faster.

In fact, the more you can blend into the office environment, the better. In pharmaceutical sales, some of the smarter reps wear scrubs. If you’re wearing scrubs and you ask to speak to Dr. So-and-so, no one even asks you why you’re there.

Don’t stand out, but if in doubt, err on the side of being overdressed, not underdressed.

2. Use Body Language

You’re trying to blend in with your clothes. Now, act casually. Don’t look like you’re about to pounce into a 5 minute monologue. You can even act confused: “Oh my! You’ve changed so much in here,” or, “It took me forever to find a parking spot. Are you guys always this busy?”

Body language works hand in hand with clothing choice: get in the door without being pegged as a salesperson.

3. Let Go of the Literature

People often make the mistake of holding literature in their hand when they walk in. This is an immediate turn-off. A gatekeeper’s first mission is to discover friend or foe. They have several roles: answering the phones, receiving packages, and trying to keep out the riff-raff (aka: you.)

If you come in holding a brochure, you’re sending a clear sign that you’re a salesperson. The sooner the receptionist discovers you’re in sales, the harder you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to get any information.


4. Learn to Talk to Strangers

You’ve been trained not to talk to strangers your entire life. Well, it’s time to start. Nobody likes talking to strangers, but it’s no reason to ruin your chances at sales.

Remember, it’s just another person. Practice talking to people in everyday situations without the pressure. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable you’ll make the gatekeeper.

5. Capture Information

I love to walk in when a receptionist answers the phone because I have the chance to capture information. Listen to what she’s talking about, take note of names, look for clues about what she’s eating, drinking, or reading, and try to find some kind of commonality.

If she’s drinking a Red Bull I can later say, “I can’t stop drinking those things. How many of those do you drink a day?” Those little pieces of information pay off in the conversation to come.

6. Start a Conversation – But Not About the Sale

Gatekeepers’ jobs may be to keep out people like you, but they’re still human beings, right? Warm them up through casual conversation. Use the information you were able to observe to ask about their drink, talk about the parking situation, or note how busy they are.

For example, you may say, ”Hey, listen. How big is this office? I didn’t think you guys had this much space.” You want to have a conversation without giving the reason you’re there. The better you can connect with the gatekeeper, the better your chances are to move on to the person in charge.

7. Use First Names

First names are critical. Give them yours, use theirs, and speak about the person you want to see on a first name basis. Exchange names early on or casually use the gatekeeper’s name in conversation if you’ve read it from their desk.

If you’ve been able to find out the first name of the decision-maker via a phone call or LinkedIn, use it with the receptionist. If you say, “I’m here to see George,” it sounds like you know him and you’re more likely to get through. (The exception: doctors. They usually don’t want to be on a first name basis.)

There’s no need for the gatekeeper to stand in your way. Be proactive in your approach so one person won’t stop you from making your pitch and gaining a client.