“Who breaks the tie…?”

By John Hirth

I was in a “pipeline management” meeting with one of our clients, running what we affectionately refer to as a “bid scrub”. These meetings are tough, but productive, and help to realistically assess the likelihood that we can close what has been bid. This was a new client and had not yet implemented our selling process… hence there was still a lot of “quote and hope” strategy at work!
Initially non-threatening, people catch on quickly and as they go “painfully” through each opportunity it becomes apparent why and how their deficiencies occur. Defensiveness can sometimes get in the way but people at the end of the process have a distinct advantage and leave with a much better handle on managing their own pipeline. In the end they recognize the futility in trying to justify what is often a weak position. In fact many have the good sense of starting out the story with “I can see I am missing a lot of information but I’ll go ahead anyway” and accept the “beating” with humility. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is a vital learning experience that will ultimately help everyone be more successful, make more money and reach their goals (getting what they want out of life).
We were well into discussing one of the last opportunities when we ran into a problem. The deal was far along in the selling process and at the point where the sales person felt comfortable and had made an offer. There were strong buying motives, the project was budgeted and we had qualified the decision process and the people making it. With this information at hand the sales person felt confident enough to say this one is a “lock”.
Some questions followed and we found out that there were two different groups with an equal number of people and slightly different agendas. I asked a question that had not been asked by the sales person, “what happens if there is a tie, one team votes one way and the other team votes the other way?”. There was silence, and then the answer “I don’t know”… followed by a sheepish look of confusion.
However,and with aplomb, the sales person quickly recovered and suggested that a tie would be “highly unlikely…” to which we asked “could it happen”, followed by the answer “yes”. Then, I asked “if there is a tie who breaks it?”. More silence… which confirmed my concern that we had not covered all of the decision makers.
The lesson; when working with multiple decision makers we need to ask “what happens if people can’t decide and there is a tie?” The answer will be “the real decision maker”. Businesses are not democracies, they are monarchies and for that reason there is always someone who can break the tie. The tie breaker is who you really need to get to and is the “real decision maker”.
Action Step- When selling to multiple decision makers ask how many people/departments are involved and if it is an even number make sure you ask the question “if there is a tie who breaks it?” It may be all you need to know to get the deal!