Super-Heroes of Persuasion: Mastering the
9-Step Process Decision-Makers (DMs) Go Through
It is critical to place yourself in the shoes of your target audience if you’re going to be great at communicating with that audience to get what you want from them. Therefore, knowing the 9-step process Decision-Makers (DMs) go through before they decide YES versus NO is imperative to being the best you can be at persuasion. Since persuasion applies to all walks of life and virtually any situation, it can be considered an essential survival skill in life. Your ability to achieve or even provide for your family depends on your ability to persuade.
Let’s consider persuasion this way; whenever you’re placed in a situation where you must convince someone else regarding virtually any subject, you have essentially become involved in a ‘sales’ transaction. You are, in essence, attempting to sell them on your particular topic. It could be a business sales decision. It might be a teenager making the case for borrowing the family car. Perhaps you’re arguing in favor of some religious, political or scientific theory. It doesn’t matter; you’re selling. Whenever you’re selling, you want the outcome to be favorable. You want to hear “YES” and not “NO”.
In almost any important decision-making scenario, the DM will go through a process, which will lead up to, and through the actual decision. If you, as the salesperson, fail to understand the process and in what way(s) your interaction with the DM should be shaped during each step, you are handicapping your own efforts. You are making it more difficult on yourself to get that elusive “YES” than it should be. Below, I outline the 9-Step process our DM typically goes through. The more thoroughly you understand this process and tailor your interactions to shape the results produced during each stage, the more successful you will be in earning the YES you’re looking for.
Step 1: Awareness
Awareness for a DM begins when a situation is brought to their attention that may need actions taken. Thus is born the awareness that a decision might need to be made on a particular issue. This is the point at which a person with the power to make a decision recognizes that actionable needs might exist and begins to recognize for what purpose those needs exist. At this early stage, others can be told of the situation so feedback can be solicited and received. This is the moment when a DM begins to analyze a particular situation for concerns, needs, opportunities and any other important pluses and minuses of consequence. Certain questions will get asked. A few examples appear below:
- What exactly is the problem?
- Why should the problem be solved?
- What parties are affected by the problem?
- In what ways is the situation impacting them? Us?
- Does the problem have a deadline or a specific time sensitivity, which impacts the decision-making process?
- Is there any way to avoid this situation?
- What might the costs be? (and not necessarily just in financial terms…, also consider time, resources, respect, reputation, alternative projects not pursued, etc., a more holistic approach to costs…)
Step 2: Reaction
After awareness comes reaction. The reaction could be to do something immediately, maybe not do anything… ever, or any one of a seemingly infinite number of reactions between those disparate ends of the spectrum. Our DM must decide to take action to solve the problem or need, and this decision will be influenced heavily by their initial evaluations. They might then allot money, time, and any resources necessary to make an optimal decision. Depending upon the severity and time-sensitivity of the problem or need, the DM (whether a mother, manager, friend or politician) may need to act quickly instead of deferring action until later. It is critical for our salesperson to understand this element of the process. When action is needed, the decision-making process will continue. If there is too much uncertainty, then more investigation is required. This actual step to decide to take action is a major event in itself and therefore isolated from other steps in the process. Keep in mind a person can change their mind at any time and take no action if they feel none is warranted, or if circumstances change along the way. The process may then cease, and no further steps take place.
This is basically a micro decision-making process inside of a macro decision-making process. It’s like looking into a mirror that has a mirrored image visible presenting an infinite number of receding images; just as when a decision-maker has to decide in his own mind if he’s going to decide at all. Remember, choosing to do nothing is an action and a decision.
Step 3: Information Gathering
Now the DM needs to begin to evaluate the options for the problem or need being considered. Making sound decisions almost always works best when a robust effort to gather all relevant information occurs. Occasionally, rushed decisions are required, but the resulting decisions and solutions are typically stopgap in nature rather than long-term. Due diligence is mandatory whenever time allows. Speed can often be a factor in business decision-making, but not at the expense of sound due diligence. DMs prefer talking to people they know and trust to get opinions. The Internet puts volumes of research at the fingertips of those searching. References might be called into play. Information gathering is both easier and more complex because of the avalanche of data, which can be easily accessed. The methods employed to gather intelligence vary greatly based upon the importance of the decision and the time available. Another key factor to be aware of is the expertise and experience level of the DM and the people who assist the DM.
Step 4: Massage the Data
Establish a baseline for judging the intelligence gathered. It’s not uncommon for DMs to experience information overload due to the abundance of data available today. The pitfall to worry about here is the risk of paralysis via over-analysis. At this point, a natural filtering and ranking process will begin to occur. Some potential solutions are ruled out while others are qualified as possible candidates based on the judging criteria established along the way. The DM often begins to feel empowered during this stage of the process. However, the converse could also occur. If the information gathered is discouraging in some way, then the DM may feel helpless or sad about the outcome of the looming decision. Either way, the DM should possess a list of viable alternatives after working through this step of the process.
Step 5: Deeper Analysis
It would be impossible to drill down extensively on each potential solution in most business settings. The practical limits regarding time, budgets and resources to dedicate to the investigative effort will typically make such an exhaustive effort untenable. Now that our DM has a ‘short list’ of potential solutions, the opportunity to drill down to the next level or levels can occur. The more challenging or significant the problem or need, the deeper and more all-encompassing this investigative effort should be. The processes identified in both Steps 3 and 4 are turning the raw data collected into usable business intelligence. The DM and their team fulfill the analysis role during this step. Brainstorming and analysis of the different choices speeds up before it slows down. The DMs process can get quite collaborative at this point. The seller needs to understand what key variables are most critical to the analysis so as to be able to highlight the best features of their offerings, which satisfy these specific needs. The evaluation process also draws near a verdict during this step. The DM may seek to work through final opinions, interviews and investigations on the potential solutions at this point in the process, so the salesperson needs to be prepared to contribute.
Step 6: Ready… Aim…
Resolve last minute concerns. Now is the time when the DM becomes comfortable with the potential solution. Especially in major decisions, there are a few ambiguous issues, which need to be sorted out. These issues could be related to costs or functionality. Typically, the DM is examining some kind of trade-off between competing alternatives. Often that trade-off is related to the sacrifice of some aspect of a solution’s capabilities for a reduction in the price tag. It’s like the car purchaser debating whether to purchase a Chevy or a Cadillac. A salesperson needs to understand if their solution is the lower cost alternative or the fuller feature/function offering in order to effectively communicate with a DM during this critical final step before the DM pulls the trigger. The DM may be experiencing anxiety. Research consistently indicates the bigger the decision the greater the anxiety. Toward the end of the decision-making process many feelings can be running through the DM and their team. Occasionally, there is unfinished research, ambivalence or inconclusive data. Even in cases where concrete data is present, the last minute has a way of producing some obstacles to alleviate. Understanding these emotional factors are playing themselves out and providing assurances wherever possible is often the difference between getting the YES or hearing the dreaded NO. The salesperson can be far more effective now, before a decision is reached, than trying to talk a DM out of a decision already made.
Step 7: Fire…!
The analysis is now complete. Last minute concerns have been resolved. It is time for the DM to render a verdict and make a choice. It’s still possible that some final negotiations could occur. Typically, these are related to minor pricing concessions, length of agreement or certain restrictive covenants, which the DM wants added, deleted or modified. The seller needs to be prepared to deal with these quickly so as not to impede the process. The DM likely understands that he or she will not win on all last minute negotiating issues, so know where concessions can be made and where you need to stand firm. If an issue isn’t a ‘deal breaker’, then don’t let it become one now. The DM, in addition to making the decision will announce it to all the affected parties. The decision’s announcement can be powerful. The announcement, rather than being anticlimactic, can trigger its own set of repercussions, especially if the decision is controversial or will result in major change. If possible, the seller should assist in making the announcement as positive as possible, eliminating as many objections and obstacles as possible. Doing so will pay off in the next Step, implementation. Ultimately, all the effort put forth in the first six steps of the process should produce a well thought out Step 7.
Step 8: Implementation
Implementing the decision is anything but an afterthought, or at least it shouldn’t be. Inattention to the implementation step can result in unnecessary questioning of the decision at best or failure of the proposed solution at worst. When a decision could take months to make, inattention to implementation would be a colossal mistake. A good seller should recognize the need to support implementation. This support will make the DM feel better about the decision made and better able to cope with resistance from others, including your competitors. Implementation makes or breaks both good and bad decisions, and the DM may not be too involved in the actual implementation step. A Dad who gives the car keys to his daughter must wait until her curfew and safe return while dealing with the worry and consequences in the interim. This Dad has little to implement beyond handing over the keys and waiting. Conversely, a CIO who purchased a new ERP software solution must wait up to a year before knowing if the purchase was a good fit for his company. A good seller understands his DM’s role in implementation.
Step 9: Post Mortem
We’ve reached the end of the DM’s 9-Step process. The decision has been rendered and implemented. It’s now time to evaluate the decision. Inevitably, the quality of the decision and the repercussions are revealed over time. Regardless of the depth of the due diligence process, there will likely be surprises. The more complex the decision or systems involved, the more likely unanticipated consequences will pop up. DMs wish to avoid ‘decision regret’. Regardless, the DM needs to be brutally honest in this post mortem process. What works? What doesn’t work? Why? Who’s affected? There should be as many questions asked and answered in the post mortem as there were back in Step 1. This is where the DM can take pride in the afterglow of a decision well made and implemented or face the dreaded “I told you so” comments from their stakeholder group that held differing opinions. Using the examples from Step 8 of the Dad and the CIO, it can easily be seen how the evaluation process for different decisions can vary enormously.
Whether you’re the DM, someone who influences a DM, or a salesperson hoping to get a DM to agree with your proposal, understanding the mechanics of the DM’s process will help you be more successful. Make sure you’re prepared to be as effective in contributing to each step as possible, regardless of the role you find yourself in. Getting a YES or making sure your decision is a sound one will be a worthy reward.
Companies training their leaders, marketing and sales people in the 9-step process DMs go through have seen major gains in lead generation, new sales and extended sales. They also report higher morale among managers and employees. Outside of business, individuals who study these steps for their personal life discover the ability to get a YES response improves between 30% & 50%. It’s shocking what putting yourself in the shoes of your audience can do to get you a lot more of what you want. Good luck!