When selling business to business, most people assume there is a single decision maker who has the power to buy what you're offering. If you can only get through to that decision maker, you can make the sale.

However, unless the customer firm is very small, that single, all-powerful decision maker probably does not exist.

In today's business world, even CEOs try to reach consensus with their direct reports before making any important decision, according to Neil Rackham, author of the seminal and classic "how to sell" guide, Spin Selling.

In most cases, the decision-making process for purchase of any product or service of significance is generally split among three types of decision maker:

1. The Access Owner

This the person in the organization who is prepared to talk to you, to give you inside information and access to the other decision makers. The access owner is absolutely critical to making things happen, because your initial credibility in the rest of the organization will be largely dependent upon his or her sponsorship.

2. The Problem Owner

This is the person in the organization who owns the problem or challenge that your product or service addresses. The problem owner is unlikely to be an "access owner" or to normally be willing to spend time educating you about the organization. People who own problems are generally too busy to give a sales rep much time.

3. The Budget Owner

This is the person in the organization who has control of the money the problem owner will need to purchase your solution to the problem. Typically, the budget owner isn't much interested in the specific problem or the specific solution but whether the budget that he or she controls is going to be spent wisely.

Most major sales decisions are made if and only if these three decision makers agree that it makes sense to buy a particular product or service. The access owner says, "This guy can be trusted to deliver"; the problem owner says, "This product will fix my problem"; and the budget owner says, "This purchase makes sense financially."

Adjust your sales efforts accordingly.

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