BD 101: Less Obvious Ways to Find A Decision Maker

by Scott - 12 Comments

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Pro-active business development is about finding decision makers and making it happen when you do.


LinkedIn is a pretty powerful tool for finding a decision maker, but sometimes it’s not enough. Let me illustrate an example of what I’m alluding to from my subscription commerce days.

As a budding sub-com warlord, I wanted to reach the person in charge of allocating sampling budgets for a large brand. My guess was that I needed to talk to someone in the marketing department, but there would be 13 marketing coordinators on LinkedIn. Of course none of them mentioned  anything about sampling in their job description. What’s a little known startup to do?

When I find myself in this situation, I’ve come up with some tactics that can be pretty effective.

Call and speak to 3 people who you know is not the decision maker:

It’s highly effective and pretty low risk to identify a few people in a tangingental departments and ask them who the point person is for what you’re looking for. In the example above, I might call an entry level marketing person or even someone in PR to ask who the right person to talk to is. It’s best to do this with more than one person so you can be confident that you’ve identified the point person.

Here is general script you can use that I’ve found to be effective:

Hi X – My name is Scott calling from AwesomeStartup and I was hoping you might be able to help me out…(intentional pause)…I’m trying to connect with someone who handles the sampling allocation. Do you know who that person might be?….Great that’s all I needed. Thanks so much for your help.

Once I’ve identified who the exact person I need to talk to is I’ll figure out their email address (if I didn’t ask for it) and shoot them a cold email. I think it’s best when going in cold to always start with email. This is why I don’t call the person I think it might be directly at first. It’s less obtrusive and can be very effective if you don’t write a impersonal, 15 sentence, cyborg form letter.

Tweet at the generic company handle

Sometimes all it takes is a tweet to a company’s generic handle to find out who the decision maker is. I’ts surprising how much this actually works. Here’s a template:

@targetco hey who handles the sampling allocation over there? I wanted to send them over something that they’re going to want to see. Thanks!

Search Articles and Press Releases

Quotes within articles are a great place to find decision makers. I usually google the company name and specific function/role I’m trying to find. Using the above example I might google company name and sampling 2012 to see what comes up. You could also google a few of the potential targets you’ve identified on LinkedIn to see if they’re quoted or decribed in any articles.

I find it fastest to just call, but if you’re gun shy to pick up the phone this is not the worst alernative.

Find Someone Who Used To Work in the Target Department of that Company and Email Them

Oddly enough people randomly don’t mind giving away information for companys they used to work for. Maybe its because they no longer know the company’s agenda (and whether you’re offering matches it) or they don’t feel like they’re creating work for themselves. Regardless this has been effective for me.

In order to identify these people, type the company name in a linkedin people search. From here, you want to filter by past company.


You want to find someone who had been at that company within the past year. Otherwise their information might be stale. Once you find this person, figure out their email. If you can’t send them a cold linkedin message. You can use this template:

Subject: Help: TargetCompanyName?

Hey X – I’ve been having difficulty finding the person in charge of sampling allocation at company x. I saw you used to work there. Any idea who this might be? Any help is much appreciated!

Ask Personal Contacts Who’ve Dealt With or Know the Hierarchy of a Company

Although the inner weavings of a company may be entirely opaque to you, there’s a chance that someone you know might have some insight into this. They might not know exactly who the decision maker is, but may have some understanding of how things work. For example, there is a large company that every startup would love to do a deal with that filters all incoming BD deals through this funnel: business development -> product team -> c-level. This insight helps me narrow down who I initially need to talk to.

Finding the decision maker is not only one of the most interesting challenges in business development, but also one of the most important. Emailing the wrong person can be fatal. When this happens, I’d like to think they’d forward it along to the right person, but maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe they don’t think someone would be interested in this when they actually are. The bottom line is its worth taking the extra effort to avoid this scenario at all costs.

These strategies don’t always work, but have more times than not for me. I’d love to hear any other unconventional ways of finding a decision maker if you know some!

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