As we’ve continued to explore how enterprises make buying decisions, we’ve discovered that the biggest challenges often exist within the buying team. Fundamentally, for all we talk about buying processes, many organizations don’t really have one. Or at least one they execute consistently. Instead, it is a mix of practices, politics, and “gut feel.” The end result is that many buying teams have regrets about what their buying decisions almost immediately. This puts them on a path to marginal success at best.
This work has driven me to dive deeper into the decision making–particularly in the sense of complex team decisions where the exact information is unknown. As I’ve dug into this, I’ve turned to a former colleague from my days at Adobe for help. Erik Larson is the CEO of Cloverpop. They are a growing startup that basically is in the business of better decisions–particularly the exact type of decisions we are talking about — team decisions with many options and wide range of information.
I asked Erik for some perspectives on both occasional decision makers and on a vendor’s role in decision making. He largely said, the list of what is a good practice is pretty much the same (with some added commentary on vendors at the end).
“My recommendations in this case are easy, assuming the outsider’s desire is to get to best outcome and not just to protect their political interests. I recommend focusing their influence on reframing/broadening best practices using these questions:
— What problem(s) are we really trying to solve? (focuses on problem vs choices which helps to open thinking up to other options beyond the default choice)
— What are the top few overarching business goals impacted by this decision? (puts decision in broader context which helps to break free of a focus on specific buying criteria, which often are framed to support a default choice, and switch to a focus on business outcomes which help suggest other choices)
— Are there any “and” options? (suggesting doing “both this _and_ this” can help open up thinking to finding combinations of different choices that add up to more than the sum of their parts, vs the common “or” thinking caused when a group is trying to narrow down choices)
— How does so-and-so think this will impact their work? (suggesting people by name helps people to look at the decision from another perspective, and ideally seek out their input or at least try to step into their shoes and solve for their needs)
— If we do this, what is most likely to go right, and what is most likely to go wrong? (future-focused story telling about likely scenarios, i.e. pre-mortems, helps break people out of the decision itself and think more broadly about expected results. This often reveals other choices that increase the chances of a good outcome and decrease chances things will go wrong)
— What is the most important information we are missing that would change our decision if we knew it today? (similar to the pre-mortem, focuses on the most important uncertainties which tends to open up more choices, including risk-mitigation ideas like doing phases or creating future checkpoints)”
Beyond this, for vendors, Erik added:
“The vendor is not really an outsider, and it’s probably best not to think that way in terms of effective decision-making. They can make different offers that change the choices available, they can provide more information and perspective from other similar situations, they are impacted by the decision, they have to execute the decision, etc. They are essentially on the decision team…the fact that the decision may “go against them” or they may have further negotiations about the ramifications of the decision (e.g. specific price or contractual details) is normal in multi-party business decisions even when everyone is working for the same company. The question is whether the vendor is trusted and thus Consulted (the C in DACI) and contributes significant value to the decision process, or not trusted and thus Informed (the I in DACI) and contributes relatively little value to the decision process.”
This perspective is dramatically different than the adversarial position that many assume for vendor-prospect situations. Yes, there are different interests, but they exist even within the same company. Yes, there are negotiations, but they exist within the same company. And on and on and on.
We know that trust is a big factor in a positive buying experience with the vendor (more on that later), what could be better to build trust the behaving like a member of the buying team that has the best interests of the team (and their organization)in mind. If you believe your products and services can have a positive impact, why behave any other way?