By Al Case, Principal Analyst and Research Fellow, ES Research Group, Inc.

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Do you have an organization chart for your client/customer? If not, you should. For complex sales, you must.

The organization chart is an indispensable tool for understanding not only the organization’s formal hierarchy, but also for mapping and understanding the formal and informal (political) organization structures. Once you have developed a formal organization chart with the help of clients inside the company, official publications, or other means, the real work begins.

Within the organization, aside from the official management structure, there are at least two other informal organizations which are typically hidden within the client. Successful salespeople are generally aware that these exist and are continually seeking to deepen their understanding of them.

The first hidden organization is the power player organization. These are the people in the organization who act independently on behalf of management. For example, many executives have a personal assistant, secretary, or administrative assistant who, officially, has no decision making authority. However, by controlling the flow and timing of information to and from the executive, these individuals exercise a great deal of control over the decision-making executive’s work agenda and decision implementation process.

Another example of this type of power player are the purchasing department personnel, ostensibly responsible for negotiating terms and pricing details on products and services of which formal management has already approved for acquisition. In fact, these purchasing personnel often exert a tremendous amount of control and influence on vendors and products that have already been selected.

There are many more examples of such power players within the organization who act with the authority of, and on behalf of, management. Theoretically, the decisions they communicate are those of their management. Quite often, in reality, they are decisions made on behalf of management by the power player. In most cases, the power player is operating with the tacit approval of his or her responsible manager or executive. (It is rare that these are rogue operators. If they are, they don’t last long.)

Then there are the hidden influencers. They are known to executives and power players, are extremely influential, but may not have much authority according to where they are in the formal organization chart. It may be a well-known fact within a smaller customer’s company that their accounts receivable manager’s wife is a medical doctor. No decision on an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) that covers the company’s employees would ever be considered without consulting the accounts receivable manager. Everyone in the company knows this.  Or, on the weekends, a personnel manager and his son race a high-performance car at the local drag strip. Everyone in the company knows this. Before a decision would be made to acquire a fleet of half dozen delivery vehicles, the personnel manager would be consulted.

What about that organization chart you got from your customer? Update it. Use dashed lines to represent power player relationships and dotted lines to represent, outline, or connect hidden networks of relationships. Or use some other convention that suits you. You will be amazed at how much information this organization chart now reveals.

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