Know Your Decision Makers and Build Your Community of Support

Having trouble getting a project or initiative in motion?  Are people your biggest challenge? Regardless of your level or position within a company, you need to gain support for your effort and get the commitment to the next steps. Knowing how people respond to change and how they make decisions is paramount to getting the critical mass of support needed to influence change.  Mastering this ability will provide you with the means for leading across an organization, not just up or down.
There are many methods for influencing, but let’s focus on the different ways that people make decisions to examine how you can increase your chances to get the desired outcome.  According to the article “Change the Way You Persuade” by Warren and Miller, decision makers possess certain personality traits which influence how they approach the decision-making process. Warren and Miller believe that a decision maker can be further classified into the following categories:

  • Charismatics
  • Thinkers
  • Skeptics
  • Followers
  • Controllers

Each of these categories has a process for making a decision and requirements that you must meet to get their buy-in.


These people are typically high-energy, high-emotion players. They are known to be captivating, talkative and dominant.  If you think about people you know and have worked with, you can probably think of at least one person that fits this category.  To influence this type of person you need to avoid getting caught up in their emotion and drive brief and concise arguments to make your point.  Focus the discussion on results and use visual aids to make your point, as too much text will make this group impatient.  Visuals that make the point and can be easily understood can earn their buy-in quickly.  Be sure to highlight the benefits and features of your pitch. Research shows that charismatics make up about 25% of decision makers.
In practice:  You are accountable for delivery, and your CEO is very energized about a new consumer engagement strategy that he/she feels will drive high adoption rates of your new mobile application.  It’s your job to create a realistic expectation, layout the tangible steps for moving forward and identify what it will cost in terms of time, resources and dollars.  For this group, you need to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of the new initiative, and drive focus toward the straightforward steps and supporting visuals that show how this new engagement strategy will come to fruition.  Using this strategy for this group can provide a more realistic path that the organization can support.


Thinkers are known for being logical, cerebral, intelligent and academic. You need to have extensive data ready for review and discussion with these people.  Case studies, market research, cost-benefit analysis, etc. are all examples of data that these decision makers are likely to request from you to understand all perspectives of your proposal.  Thinkers make up about 11% of decision makers.
In practice:  The organization is overcommitted on the number of projects it must complete in a given fiscal year.  You are the portfolio manager and must recommend and influence the Executive Leadership team to choose which projects should be progressed and which should be deferred.  With this group, you must rely heavily on research and data, including market research (what others are doing), surveys, case studies and a cost-benefit analysis. Thinkers will use the data to validate your recommendation against what they think is the best path forward.


These people are known to be demanding, disruptive, disagreeable and rebellious.  When dealing with a skeptic, you need to gain their respect and be viewed as credible.  Having that credibility is your clout with these decision makers.  If you cannot get the credibility you need, you need to find someone who the skeptic trusts and have them endorse you. This group can be tough and often require time to get to know you and understand how your agenda reconciles with their beliefs of what is the right thing to do. Skeptics make up about 19% of decision makers.
In practice: You must implement a new labor management system that will automate employee time entry, task management and labor cost management.  The Chief Financial Officer has sponsored and supports the effort, but the Chief Operating Officer feels it provides no real benefit, as Operations feels the tools will create an additional burden on the employees.  The COO will not be swayed by cost-benefit data, case studies, etc. which he or she does not trust. Your best opportunity for success is to find a respected individual from within the operations team, or someone external to the organization, that the COO trusts, such as a respected peer or an experienced consultant within the industry. You need their help to influence and gain the support for the effort. In my experience, this is the toughest category to influence.


These people are known to be responsible, cautious, and brand/bargain-driven.  Followers tend to focus on proven methods and need data to show how others have fared while attempting the same approach. A follower needs to feel confident that they are making the right decision, so information on how others have approached a similar decision, and their outcome, is key.  Followers make up about 36% of the population of decision makers.
In practice: Your Payments department has identified an opportunity to migrate from an in-house proprietary credit card settlement system to a 3rd party developed solution.  To gain the support of the follower, you must highlight peer company testimonials and identify proven methods to reduce risk and ensure a successful project. Data, such as a cost-benefit analysis from another organization that has successfully completed a similar project, is key.


Controllers are known to be logical, unemotional, detail-oriented, accurate and analytical.  To appeal to these types of decision makers, the structure of your pitch must be both well designed and credible.  The controller wants details, but only if presented by an expert.  You must be careful about being too aggressive in how you present the data. Often, the best strategy is to leave the information with the controller and hope that they will review it and that it will be sufficient to generate buy-in and support for your effort.  Controllers make up about 9% of decision makers.
In practice:  You feel your company has an opportunity to consolidate the multiple channels of trade (in-store, eCommerce, mobile, etc.) into one omnichannel focused environment that will streamline costs, improve efficiency and create a robust one-to-one relationship with your customers.  When dealing with a controller, you must ensure you are viewed as a subject matter expert (SME) within your organization. If you are not, you should leverage an internal or external SME to present the business case. Similar to dealing with skeptics, the data is less important than the individual presenting it.

Parting Thoughts

Estimated Breakdown of Decision Makers

Now that you know the various types of decision makers at an organization, and what influences each type, you are ready to craft perfect proposals, right? If only it was that simple.
It is important to remember that the decision maker types presented here exist at all levels within an organization. The advice presented above is as relevant when presenting to the C-Suite as it is to interacting with an internal department. In addition, it is important to realize that people do not fit into one single category. Decision makers can be a combination of the above decision maker types but tend to lean more heavily towards one style.  You can use this information to make the best guess at what type of people you are dealing with and create a strategy for generating buy-in. This is not an exact science, but if you consider the characteristics of each decision maker type, you can make an educated guess, and at least have a plan for building your community of support. If you are presenting to an executive team, remember you’ll have to consider an approach that leverages multiple techniques.  According to Warren and Miller, in crafting your pitch, consider that over 50% of sales presentations or pitches fail because 80% are focused on skeptics and controllers, which comprise only 38% percent of decision makers.
Remember, know your decision maker types, as you will need to appeal to their values and priorities to be successful.  Network internally from your organization or team, and if necessary, develop external contacts, to build your community of support.  Finally, remember that to successfully influence others, you must allow yourself to be influenced as well, so people will support you when you support them.
If you would like to learn more, you can reach out to Loren at [email protected].
Warren and Miller (2002). Change the Way You Persuade, Harvard Business Review, 80(5): 65-73

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