Client’s Corporate Culture

In the organization to organization selling situation, buying occurs when an orchestrated seller team is in a synchronized process with the buyer team. Knowing the buyer’s organization culture will help you identify the working style of the buyer team you have to work with.


Four types of corporate cultures

The following four types of corporate culture have proven relevant when trying to answer two basic questions:

  • How are decisions made in this company?
  • How do the people in this structure gain and build power?

In a bureaucratic culture, communication is tightly controlled and flows along hierarchical lines. Silos are an essential element of this culture. The power of any one individual depends strongly on his / her hierarchical position. The probability that the final decision is made by a single individual is relatively high.


In an entrepreneurial culture, speed is of an essence and short decision paths are a characteristic. Power comes from being an entrepreneur or from being an individual enjoying an entrepreneur’s trust. For this type of culture, there is also a high probability that the final decider is one individual because the entrepreneur or the trusted individual has the authority to make decisions. In fact, decision making will probably happen even faster than in the bureaucratic culture as there is a flatter hierarchy.


The consulting culture is composed of partnerships with high territorial and subject matter expertise. The members are highly autonomous. This kind of structure is a prototype of the individualistic culture. Here the source of power is influence. In its turn, influence comes from the individual’s competence and performance. The decision maker depends on the type of purchase. If I want to sell to one partner I can expect to have one individual as decision maker. When I want to sell to the firm as a whole, I am confronted with many individuals having major roles in the decision process. These organizations also have little experience in finding consensus. They only do this out of absolute necessity.


The collaborative culture is based on open communications. Power source is influence which is determined by performance. As in the consulting culture, influence matters more than hierarchy. However, decision making style is different. In the collaborative culture the decider wants to assure a consensus among all concerned irrespective of the hierarchy before taking a decision. The decider deliberately does not want to use his or her rank.  Decision making can be “democratic” by majority vote. “The decider” is then the role of a spokesperson for the team vis-à-vis the seller.


Consequences for relationship intelligence

Although the above cultures might often not appear in their pure form, being able to understand the prevailing culture at the customer’s organization is the first act of relationship intelligence.

We must also consider that in large organizations separate specific cultures in part of the organization might coexist with a different overall corporate culture. In this case, the prevailing culture of the organizational unit involved or concerned by the decision is relevant.


The decision-making process associated with one of the four culture types then determines the relationship network I need to understand in order to be able to effectively manage influence and decision making.


Consequences for influence management

For organizations with bureaucratic or entrepreneurial cultures, establishing a relation with the decision maker or at least somebody with direct influence to the decision maker might be sufficient to influence a buying decision in favor of my solution. Contacts with other individuals in the organization might be necessary for the purpose of understanding the subject and the type of argumentation I must choose to persuade the decision maker.

To get to a buying decision in an organization where an individual or collaborative culture prevails, I need to establish relationships with all the people involved or considered in the decision-making process. My added value as the seller is to help the organization to find the consensus in an organization with an individualistic culture or help build the consensus on behalf of the “spokesperson” in the case of a collaborative culture.



Success in complex deals with large organization undoubtedly requires the involvement of multiple people. This is the first step and will ensure that there is no single point of failure for the relationship between the seller and the buyer organization.

If in addition, you pay attention to the prevailing corporate culture this will help you to understand for what purpose you want to maintain and establish these multiple contacts.