Everyone who has ever worked in sales has had to deal with a blocker before.
These are the folks who circle around the real decision-makers, like pioneers around a covered wagon, each pretending to have the-buck-stops-here decision-making authority.
There are many varieties of blockers: Purchasing department representatives, personal assistants, boisterous team members who project a put-on air of authority. Most of you have encountered such blockers before, and some of you have probably been stumped by one or two of them.
To the decision-maker himself or herself, these blockers have real value. The circle of protection they elect to provide creates a filter that keeps out bad pitches and time-wasters. Thus, blocking behavior gets at least tacit encouragement in many organizations.
Now, part of your job as a negotiator is to identify and circumnavigate any attempts at blocking. You always want to speak directly to the decision-maker.
To get to that point, however, you need to first understand what motivates blockers to behave as they do. As our System is rooted in the fundamentals of natural human behavior, understanding the needs of blockers is key to deftly avoiding them.
And, really, their acting as an obstacle is very much in line with expected human behavior. Let me explain why.
A Minimum Degree of Control
There are a handful of things a human needs. Food, water, shelter, social interaction and a sense of being in control of one’s life all belong on that list. Those first four items should be self-explanatory.
The need to feel in control might not be quite as self-explanatory, at least to anyone who has never really experienced a total loss of control. When people feel completely unable to steer or influence the directions of their lives, they begin to feel anxious, depressed and fearful. We feel we are at the mercy of purely chaotic forces.
So, we take certain steps throughout our lives to avoid putting ourselves at the mercy of chaos. For example, we go to school so we can become valuable members of society, i.e. to ensure some level of financial stability in our lives.
And where we lack control, we often compensate. The secretary who gives a caller the run-around or the purchasing department representative who tries to block any potential deals is really trying to prove to his or her importance.
Feeling important helps us feel okay. That’s just how people work.
What to Do With Blockers
You must understand that blockers are simply responding to basic human needs, and many such people are not even consciously aware of how their behavior appears to others.
This understanding will inform your judgement as you deal with blockers the only way you can: With respect.
With that being said, blockers must also be given the opportunity to be effective. For this reason think very critically as to the decisions you will be asking the blocker to reject or embrace. If we’re looking to secure a meeting with those they are blocking, what agenda will allow them to move us to the next step?
Keep in mind, if they are able to reject what we’re asking one of two conditions exist. They either can’t validate the decision we seek, meaning we have failed to create the appropriate vision as to the benefits they and their company stand to gain. Or, they have a hidden agenda and are putting their decision makers and organization at risk.
In the latter condition, you can’t take responsibility for their decisions. If they don’t have the capacity to operate in the most effective manner possible, be sure to let them know very respectfully what they can expect from you as your next step. If you set the agenda up front in a very nurturing manner, you will then be safe to move past the blocker and continue accordingly.
In some cases you’ll have no choice but to steer as widely as necessary around the territory they guard, but in all interactions remain respectful and nurturing. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to plant your own blocker (ie the people you report to who are counting on you to deliver). Recognize your shared humanity, and allow them to feel as okay as possible in your dealings with them. But do this in a way which requires mutual respect and avoids subservience.