Editor's note: This article first appeared on Mark Suster's blog.

This is part of a series that describes a sales methodology for technology companies or frankly many other types of companies, too.

We developed this at our first company and called it PUCCKA - the overall methodology is described here.

This post talks about the “K” or Key Players involved in a buying decision.

The first key player I talked about in the previous post was the Champion, who is a person that is rooting for you or helping you through the process and has both influence and authority - IA. (as opposed to a NINA).

Mostly you need Champions who are “egg breakers.”

But many people get secure in their sales process with just meeting / talking to the people who are the nicest to you. This is one of the most common mistakes untrained people make in a sales process because the nice guy you’re talking to tells you not to worry about the others, that he has you covered.

Or else you avoid meeting others because they are clearly less friendly or sometimes even hostile toward you.

This is a mistake because if you don’t meet a wide variety of people who may have a role in the decision you could be totally blind-sided by a parallel process happening in the buying organization of which you aren’t aware.

Here are some of the other key players you’ll meet on your sales journey:

Enemy - This one is pretty self-evident. The enemy is against you. This might be because he or she doesn’t believe the company should spend money on a solution, doesn’t believe they have a problem or because they prefer not to change at all. Often it’s the latter.

Also know that sometimes your enemy is against you because of a personal vendetta against your champion. If you think that large organizations aren’t political minefields filled with resources competing against each other’s interests you’re kidding yourself. It’s human nature.

The most dangerous enemy is the person who is championing your competitor. If you’re competitors are competent this will happen often so expect it and come to peace with the fact that enemies aren’t always evil - sometimes your competitor just befriended them first.

You should start by seeking knowledge as to why the enemy is against you or perhaps against any solution.

If you have a champion you can learn a lot of this in advance.

But by hearing it directly from the enemy (ask them where they stand on you winning the business! ask them if they have a preferred solution to yours!) two important things happen.

First, you get to hear in their words what their objections are and that gives you a chance to try and overcome them directly. Otherwise you’re relying solely upon your champion to sell in your messages to the enemy.

Second, it’s really easy to vilify somebody you’ve never met. So if they’re in favor of your competitor then you become the big, bad bogey man at a company they are simply against no particular reason. This is often driven by the propaganda of your competitor whom they support.

Like all forms of prejudice, by meeting your enemy it makes them harder to hate you. So if you can’t win them over, at least you need to neutralize them so when your champion slams her fist on the table to advocate for you, your enemy doesn’t feel as bad about saying, “OK, fine.”

She knows you. And after all, even though she doesn’t want to select you, you’re not such a bad guy after all.

Sage - Most organizations are filled with “sages” who have been there for a long period of time and know the organization and its systems inside and out. Sometimes these people never rose up the leadership ranks so you can’t find them by looking at the top people on an org chart.

I used to meet sages by walking the halls and talking to people randomly. I also would ask my champion to tell me who had been around along time, who was really friendly and who was full of long-term corporate knowledge.

The sage is important in helping you to understand the systems, people and processes of the company. They know “why things are the way they are.”

Sages often lack authority. So they can’t really be your Champion.

But they can be a valuable source of information that will also come in handy if you win the business and need to lead an implementation.

Expert - Often decision makers have an “expert” in the organization that they turn to as the “expert witness” on a decision they’re trying to make. This person may be a direct report to the decision maker but often they are not.

It is not uncommon in tech decisions that the expert is a young person many rungs down the corporate ladder.

Often you’ll find a “technical expert” involved in a decision process where the business is making a systems decision. Sometimes it will be a process expert like a CFO or a head of sales operations if you’re selling CEM, for example.

The classic definition of an expert is somebody that DOES have influence but does not have authority. They are a recommender, not a decider.

And an obvious thing to talk with the champion about when you’re trying to understand a key decision maker is to say, “Who does Bob turn to for advice on this kind of decision? Or does he tend to just decide himself.”

It’s funny to me how many people don’t ask the basic questions to help them better sell. If you have a champion and you don’t ask … you don’t get! Ask.

Influencer - An influencer is very similar to an expert but they don’t bring specific domain knowledge to the group decision.

Just as with experience, sometimes the influencer is a direct report of the key decision maker and sometimes they are not.

So best policy is to find polite and respectful ways of asking your champion who influences whom. You might say something like, “When Bob has to make tough decisions, are there 1 or 2 people he tends to reach out to for debate?” or something similar.

We all have people we call when we are weighing tough decisions. Sometimes these people are even outside of the organization.

Find out who influences your buyers.

Sponsor - The Sponsor or “Executive Sponsor” is often a very senior person who holds the budget for the decision you’re trying to get reached. They may not have any involvement other than a simple yes/no when the budget request comes in fro approval.

But ignore them at your risk. Often a key decision-maker can control their sponsor’s decision particularly if they’re worked together for years. You want to find a decision-maker who is good at “managing up” so they don’t get cut off when they ask for approval.

But two points for you:

1. At a minimum you want to know that your champion or decision-maker has one more step in their process (getting final approval from a sponsor). You can find this out by asking, “If you did decide to go ahead with our project - and obviously I’m hoping that you will - is there anybody else up the chain that would still need to sign off on it? Even if it’s just procedurally?”

2. If possible wouldn’t you love to get a short audience with that person if you could. Even a 15-minute meeting could give your decision maker just the extra amount of air cover they need to get a decision pushed through.

As with enemies, when a sponsor has met you (and likes you) it’s 100x easier to get approval to work with you.

Blockers - Finally, it’s worth mentioning the leg breakers that are often involved in a sales process. These are the people who can either unwind a deal you’ve won or at least make your life much more miserable.

1. Technology / Tech Ops & or / Security - This is especially true if you sell SaaS software to a business unit. Often companies will require you to go through a tech audit before signing your contract.

Bringing in tech early in the process isn’t a terrible idea - it can lead to less heartache down the road.

2. Procurement - In a big company you usually have to go through procurement before you finalize your deal. The exact job of procurement is to break your legs! That’s why you need a strong business champion. Procurement will not respond to your pleas to be fair - that’s not their job. But they will respond to the business unit advocating on your behalf.

3. Legal - The other big roadblock in sales is the legal department. They aren’t set up to be your enemy - they are set up to protect the interests of the company by negotiating hard on things that the business buyer often doesn’t think about like indemnities or source-code deposits.

As with procurement, having a strong business champion will pay huge dividends when you go up against legal.


So there you have it - the key players involved in a sales process. It’s your job to track who these people are and make sure you know how each will be involved in your decision.

And speaking of decisions, the final post will be on just that - an Aligned Purchasing Process.

Without an aligned purchasing process, no amount of passion on behalf of a champion is going to lead to a sale this quarter. Knowing whether you are aligned on timing could mean all the difference between hitting your quarterly quota or not.

And if you aren’t aligned you can spend more of your scarce resources on other campaigns that might close this quarter (while marketing nurtures this lead until they are closer to a purchase).