Prosper logo
Log In

Identifying the decision maker and the difference between owners and employees

Posted by Liam Curley on 28 December 2018

Seth Godin, a marketing author, tells a story of iced tea on a hot day.

He’s at a festival on the weekend and it’s 30°c. He goes to a kiosk to buy an iced tea. The teenager serving at the kiosk says, “we don’t have any iced tea’. Seth asks, “Do you have any tea bags?” She answers “yes”. He asks, “Do you have hot water?” Again, she answers “yes”. Finally he asks, “Do you have any ice?” Again, the answer is “yes”. So Seth asks for a cup of hot tea and a cup of ice. The teenager serving is astounded when she watches Seth take his cup of ice and pour it into the cup of hot tea.

It seems incredible that the person serving at the kiosk didn’t show the initiative to serve the iced tea. It was easy to do and she had the ingredients to do it. The cost of the tea bag to the kiosk is maybe £0.10 to £0.20, and they’d probably sell for around £2.50. So, if a customer asks for an iced tea and it’s not on our menu, a business owner would forget the menu and serve the iced tea when they’re making that kind of profit.

But, the fact is most people would do exactly what she did in this situation. She isn’t a business owner, she’s an employee. It wasn’t her job to use initiative and increase profits when the opportunity arises. Her boss had instructed her to take orders from the menu, serve the order and take the money as priced. In her mind, the way to keep the boss happy was to follow the instructions. Employees don’t make decisions based on money and profit, they make decisions based on what their boss will think.

Who signs the contract?

In our environment of subcontracting, we’re working in Business to Business, and we rarely deal with a business owner. That means the decision maker is an employee, and if we want them to pick us for their next project, we need to understand how they are judged and measured by their boss. If you can learn this, you’ll learn what motivates them and what we need to do to give them everything they need to issue the contract to our company.

For example, is your key decision maker a Quantity Surveyor or Facilities Manager?

A QS will have different criteria against which they’re measured compared to a facilities manager. A QS needs to show that they are improving margin on a project and delivering on time, and the way you do that is by having the technical expertise to value engineer a project better than your competitors, and a management structure that ensures you will deliver on time. The key point here is they don’t just need to improve margin, they need to tangibly demonstrate that they are personally responsible for an increase in margin and reduction of cost, so you need to help them provide the evidence to their boss.

A facilities manager is measured on fire fighting problems as quickly as possible, and they primarily need someone who will deal with their problems quickly. If problems take too long to solve, they receive complaints (or their boss does) and they look bad, but nobody ever judged them for using a subcontractor that was 10% more than an alternative, because it’s not their job to save money. Maybe you create a company that can jump on issues within 24 hours, or you build a team and system that can handle working with clients in extremely challenging environments (e.g. Nuclear Power Stations).

Clearly identify the person that makes the decisions and how their performance is measured and you can craft a service and delivery which helps them get what they want, and therefore help you get what you want.

Join Propser

Step 1 of 2