Who makes the decisions in your household? Research shows that women make at least two thirds of the purchasing decisions, from houses to groceries. But it’s not always the hand that holds the wallet that rules the world. Have you ever been on holiday with a toddler? You’ll probably remember that your choice of accommodation was shaped by their needs. You may even find yourself in a less than exciting restaurant for dinner, just because it was the only one offering chicken nuggets and chips. There is a tiny tyrant shaping decisions surreptitiously.
When you’re negotiating with corporate partners you may find that your immediate contact is not the ultimate decision maker. In a large organisation, that person may be 3 or 4 levels above in the hierarchy. That means you have to adapt your approach to sell through your contact, not just sell to them.
How does that change your approach?
Who has decision rights?
Firstly, it’s important to find out who really is the final decision maker on your partnership. It’s easy during the discovery phase to forget that vital question. You may have made a great personal connection to a warm contact and you’re getting on famously. But they may not have budget or decision authority. We know of a charity who spent months negotiating with a large insurance company. The principal contacts were very passionate about the partnership and the charity spent a lot of effort and time shaping the offer. But when it came to the CEO, the partnership wasn’t a priority issue for him. He wanted a tactical, quick fix to a brand issue, not a long-term social impact partnership. Always ask about the decision-making process and try to tailor your approach to the preferences of the final decision maker.
Don’t diss the EA
Secondly, you need to enlist the gatekeeper as an ally. If you’ve ever tried to get directly to a CEO, you’ll know that the EA is the first point of defence. Never dismiss the EA. I’ve seen too many people treat the EA or the chief of staff as an inconvenient roadblock rather than a source of useful information and access. Instead, you need to provide a succinct and commercial reason for why you need that conversation and if possible, get him or her to provide you with some insights into the decision maker.
Consider the different decision perspectives
If the final decision maker on your partnership is the CFO, then you’ll need to include plenty of economic benefits in your proposal. CFOs love numbers and crunchy stats that show how the partnership adds value to the business. Your primary contact might be in CSR or HR, but you’ll have to sell through them to get the partnership over the line. If the decision maker sits in marketing or PR then they’ll want to see evidence of shareable content, audience stats and customer impact. Think about the different drivers within the corporate and make sure you’ve hit the right hotspots.
It’s great to have a warm contact that takes you straight to the decision maker. But often you may not get direct access to them- especially in a large corporate. By selling through your main contact to the key person you mitigate the risk of failure and save yourself wasted time and effort trying to convert the wrong people.