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The Issues with “Drop In” Decision Makers

by Hank Barnes  |  July 23, 2019  |  2 Comments

In a recent post, I shared some of our finding regarding the composition of buying teams with regard to active vs. occasional participation.  That got a few of us thinking and we decided to dig a little bit deeper into one aspect of this, one “team role”–the decision makers.  We wanted to see if the impact of different combinations of active and occasional decisions makers on the buying process (and the resulting effectiveness).

First a reminder, we defined these two groups as :

  • Active – Primary members of the purchasing team who are included in all/most discussions related to purchasing a solution
  • Occasional – Individuals involved for specific tasks, who monitor from a distance, who have veto/approval power but are NOT involved in daily/regular discussions, OR who “drop-in” on an occasional basis.

What we discovered feels pretty important–maybe more so for enterprises that are buying technology, but also for technology vendors.

  • Having even one decision makers that participates only occasionally in the buying effort significantly increases problems in team dynamics.  That involvement also increases the likelihood of the project that results from the purchase failing to meet expectations.  More than 1 occasional decision maker tends to make things a little worse, but the big issue is just having them.
  • The best scenario is when there are several (more than 2) active decision makers and no occasional ones.
  • The worst scenario is when there are 1 or 2 active decision makers and at least 1 occasional.

The chart below shows the percentage of responses to several statements on a 7 point likert scale-where we are including scores of 5, 6, or 7.  Given the statements, a shorter bar is “better.”  It means that the respondent did not agree with these statements.  The difference between our best and worst case decision making combinations is eye opening.

I believe (there is more work to do here, so these are almost hypotheses) that these results connect to some things we know.  First,  the evidence of the value of diversity in teams continues to mount.   When there are more active decision makers, it is more likely you’ll have diversity–including perspectives from people in different groups.  That is why we think more active decision makers is better.   For the occasional problem, I suspect it is a problem of context.  They occasional decision maker drops in without understanding everything that went on.  They are likely senior level (since they are decision makers) and may be prone to talking rather than listening.  So the team, acquiesces to there comments, all while being frustrated.  A final issue is that occasional decision makers often increase the likelihood of delays due to revisiting decisions that had already been made.

What can we do about this?   For buying teams, try to find ways to get the occasional decision makers more involved.   If you can’t do that, then make sure you make it easy to give the occasional decision maker more complete context—not just where you are in the process, but how you got there.

For vendors, the first thing to do is be aware of these patterns and work diligently to understand the buying team composition.    There may be cases where your sales teams is playing a bit of a role of connector–having discussions with the buying team and the occasional decision maker.   In these, the sales team can become the context creator, building a bridge within the buying team.    Beyond this, finding ways to anticipate some of the issues that arise (as outlined in the chart) and being proactive about helping the buying team confidently overcome them can be critical.

There is more work to be done here.  I’d appreciate thoughts from my readers on how to deal with these challenges, from both a buyer and seller perspective.

Additional Resources

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: b2b-buying  consensus  context  decision-maker  decision-making  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. His research efforts focus on understanding the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. He then applies that research to explore the implications on vendor strategies, supporting the efforts of product marketing, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and CEOs. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Issues with “Drop In” Decision Makers


  1. From a vendor perspective, maybe this goes some way towards explaining the rise in “stalled deals”?

  2. Gordon Hogg says:

    Love the advice for vendors.

    We like to think it’s obvious and simple to organize the buying team – it’s not! It can be confounding for buyers and heaven forbid you forget a key player.

    What’s stopping vendors from helping buyers to get the right voices on the decision team so they can weigh-in on the problem and determine needs.

    What’s stopping vendors from guiding the decision team to issues they will surely encounter and out the other end to keep the deal moving forward.

    Is it faulty assumptions on our part? (ie: it’s the decision teams job to deal with occasional DM’s – our job is to sell our product)



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