6 key questions for understanding a sales decision network

Sales networks

Sales networks

In B2B sales – you’re not selling to an individual, you’re selling to multiple people – a network.

In any significant purchase many people are involved in the decision process.  A few are key decision-makers. Others are influencers who may not make the decision but can influence those who do. An influencer may be a potential user of the solution or a key advisor to the decision-maker.

There are others who play the role of gatekeepers they cannot say yes, but can say no.  Financial staff and Procurement Managers often play this gatekeeper role.

Salespeople must know who is playing which role, the relationship between the players, and what they think about you and your competition. An average salesperson has a general understanding of this information. A top sales performer has a comprehensive understanding.

In the end, it is probably wise to worry less about your sales process and focus more on the customer’s buying process.  If you are to have a comprehensive command of the buying process you must know the answers to at least the following 6 questions:

  1. Who are the decision makers, influencers and gatekeepers?
  2. What is the relationship between the key players?
  3. What are their decision criteria for deciding between you and your competition?
  4. What are their views of you versus your competition on the decision criteria?
  5. Do you have or can you develop an internal champion who is a major player?
  6. Has the project been budgeted and funded?

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©2013 Sales Momentum®


About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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4 Responses to 6 key questions for understanding a sales decision network

  1. This is one to the most important issues facing B2B sales in 2014.
    The Sales Decision Network.

    Dick, you are quite right to name change from Decision Making ‘Unit’ to “Network”, that captures the increase in COMPLEXITY, i.e. the increased size of what was the DMU. I blogged on this recently as well,
    as I believe the definition of Complex Sales we were using has changed:

    We, Sales, need to rethink HOW we fit to the Buying Network in 2014.

  2. Richard Ruff says:


    Thanks for the your blog reference. I would be interested in chatting about this topic – as you, I think it is a big deal. What I would like to explore is what are some good pieces of wisdom as to knowing how to navigate a complex network. Say you don’t have a champion then where do you start? How can you tell if you are on the right path? Are there some common missteps etc?

  3. Ian Adams says:

    Glad you included #6 Richard. Particularly selling into very large companies. Better figure this out soon, before 6 months of work and effort, only to hear they went with a competitor’s free version.


    • Richard Ruff says:

      Great build, Ian. Too often projects appear to be “important” – but the funding isn’t there – or it’s low on the list and a probable candidate for being cut.

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