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.