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Whether or Which One: Assessing the Buyer

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re talking to the wrong person?

Picture this: you’re deep in the sales process. You’ve put in a lot of work into this buyer over the last few weeks - you’ve gotten to know them and formed a good professional relationship, and you’ve done a lot to show them how your product is the essentially tool they need to succeed. You’ve done all the right things - but you can’t shake the feeling that the person on the other side of the table is wrong somehow. Not on a personal level, but from a sales standpoint they are saying things that sound right… almost. You can’t quite be confident in the sale - and two weeks later, after you submit your final offer package, it gets turned down. “Oh, my boss doesn’t like the sorts of things you were offering” you’re told - and you’re left wondering why no one thought to mention that sooner.

Has this happened to you? Our friends at Pragmatic Marketing gave us the concept of the “Whether or Which One”: is your sales contact a Whether person (can they make the decision whether or not to buy) or are they only a Which person (a key influencer and information gather, but not the final decision maker). Whether or Which One is a way of assessing if you’re talking to the right person, if you’re talking to someone who can affect a sale, or is merely a middleman. It’s an invaluable tool in win/loss - you’d be surprised how often a critical factor in a win/loss boiled down to whether your sales contact had any power in a sale, and if a vendor compensated accordingly.


An Agent With Agency

In any sales process, it is vital to deduce if the person you are negotiating with has the agency to make decisions. If they don’t you’re at a disadvantage - any promise they make about what their company will or will not do is conditional on the agreement of people not in the room. Negotiating with a middleman isn’t impossible, but it’s vital to determine how much power your contact actually holds - are you dealing with an influencer, or someone with little to no ability to affect change?

Here’s what you have to try and learn at the start of the sales process: if your contact is a “Which One”, do they have access to the “real” buyer, or are they the agent for another middleman - and there’s four or five layers of management between your contact and anyone who can make a real decision? If they do have access, can you determine if their word carries weight? In other words: are you negotiating with someone who can tell their boss “buy this product, trust me” or are you speaking to someone who really can only provide their boss with a bunch of options?

If you talked to the ‘wrong’ person, and don’t understand the relationship between your contact and the decision maker - if you know nothing about who holds real power and how anything you’re saying is transmitted - then your sale was undermined from the start. That doesn’t mean it’s an automatic loss - so long as the ultimate decision maker picks you, it’s technically a win - but it’s a win that might as well have been a coin toss. Better to guarantee you know the power dynamics of a given situation whenever possible.

Who Are You Again?

Most people we speak with in win/loss interviews are “Which One” people - they evaluate the options, make a recommendation, but do not make the final decision. Most sales are conducted by Which Ones - but most vendors act like they’re always negotiating with a “Whether” person, and this blinds vendors to potential problems. If you want to avoid having to do a loss analysis in the future, you can’t be indifferent to the person on the other side of the table - you can’t just treat them like an infallible mouthpiece for their company. They’re an employee with degrees of power in a hierarchy, and if you don’t grasp if they have power in a sales scenario, if you don’t make adjustments to try and make a good impression on the ultimate decision maker, the sale could fall out from under you. Having a good grasp on Whether or Which One can also improve your sales forecasts. If you’re assessing the probability of closing a deal, knowing the power dynamics of your contact gives you an edge when calculating wins from potential opportunities.

Negotiating with a Which One type buyer is hardly an insurmountable problem - like we said, most sales are conducted with Which Ones, and wins still happen every day. But they happen most-often for vendors who understand the Whether or Which One power dynamic, and adjust their sales techniques accordingly. If you want to join their number, you’ll start doing the same.


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