Closing the Deal and the Audience of One


In a sales presentation, you need to know who the decision maker is. And if you’re going to succeed, you must get that right.

I have been in situations where I have presented to a room filled with people but I also understood that ultimately, the decision maker would make that call by himself. In a room of 20 people the opinion of one trumped the 19. Had I not known it, I would have missed the mark on my presentation.

sales audience

Next time you need to make a compelling case for an idea, or a product, you must identify the decision-maker in the room. However, do not assume it’s the boss. The ultimate word sometimes comes from an influencer who might not be the highest ranking person in the meeting. I learned that as an young music director. While on paper I was “in charge” of the music program of my church, I knew that Rosie, the long lasting, long standing, and revered organist was the decision maker for that group. It took me several years before I was able to retire Rosie and take leadership of that group.

Not all decision makers are alike. Here are a few profiles:

  • The Dictator. Old school and in charge. It’s her way or the highway. If she wants your opinion, she’ll give it to you.
  • The Consensus Builder. He needs buy-in from the entire team. Unless everyone is happy or mostly happy, the deal is not going forward. Be prepared for a long sales cycle.
  • The Intuitive. You never know what’s going to trigger the “good feeling” or  the “gut check” with this type of leader. Get ready for a ride. It could be your best and worst presentation or even both at the same time. You might have to throw reason to the wind and come up with your own closing “vibe” angle.
  • Mr. Happy Pants. Worst of all of them. He loves everything and everyone. Your presentation will get great reviews and you might even get a hug. Closing the deal will be a challenge because since everyone and everything is great, nothing becomes priority. You enjoy being with them, but there’s never resolution. Mr. Happy Pants will frustrate, well, the pants off you.

Who did I forget?



  • So, so true. I’ve been selling to churches for ten years. Selling to churches is all about high trust selling, but… the fact that the main decision maker (“the influencer”) could be any staff member or even a volunteer, being able to ID that person and develop a relationship is critical.

  • The Manipulator.  He may drive the conversation during the presentation, or he may wait until he can meet privately with his colleagues afterwards, but either way he repurposes your content to suit his own ends regarding your product or service.  He’s so smooth that new people on the “decision team” aren’t even aware of what he’s doing to them.

    The Smartest Guy in The Room.  He’s made up his mind before your presentation has even started.  He also has a series of questions designed to defeat your proposition in a publicly demeaning way designed to inflate his own ego in front of his peers at your expense.  If you can make him look good, you win.

  • Haha. Mr. Happy Pants. Classic. 

  • The Money Man.  This guy will buy the board’s decision . He’ll put down the cash for the drawings, hold private meetings behind your back, and swoon everyone so that you don’t have a chance.  His idea gets a couple hours of board time and your idea gets 15 minutes with 45 minutes of hard questions to follow. Your only chance is to let his project die on the vine and then be ready to step in with humility, while smiling on the inside.  He’ll eventually resign and you can move the organization forward because now everyone sees that money doesn’t buy everything.

  • The HiPPO:  I just heard this recently. One of my coworkers says the starting point for any discussion is the HiPPO:  The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. My coworker then moves the conversation along from there. How far the end result deviates from the HiPPO starting point depends on other characteristics (just as you discussed) of the HiPP.

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