Earlier in the week I wrote about the need for sales people to be “multilingual” in order to better understand and communicate with the types of buyers they may not have prospected or sold to in the past. A common example of this is when sales people accustomed to selling to users or front line managers, are instructed by their leadership to go ‘upstream’, and sell to senior decision makers, executives or the ‘C’ suite.
It is important to remember that language and meaning are not the only thing that differentiates these two groups. While I am sure that many understood that “language” was a metaphor for a number of differences that need to be balanced and managed by sales people throughout the cycle. But there is one that is worth expanding on, specifically, time and the perception of time by some buyers.
Based on their role, different buyers will have, or more accurately, live in, different time frames. Front line folks, sales people, factory workers, database analysts, etc. tend to be in the here and now. Their targets and measures tend to be near term, which in turn drives their planning and execution. Their decision to execution to result cycle, is generally short in nature, using sales as an example, a sales person is more likely to focus on their current cycle, and partially into the next. So when we sell to these folks, we need to align our time frame and “language” accordingly.
Executives, those tasked with the strategic success of the enterprise, are operating way in the future, minimum 12 – 18 month into the future. This is why they built the layers below them, the front line discussed above. The front line is tasked with executing the strategic plan the executive developed last year. The reality is that the executives have delegated the present to the front line, because they are too busy dealing with the future, making sense of the uncharted. So if you hope to engage with these, you need to get past the how, and deal with the why; you have to speak their language, and you have to be in synch and aligned with their time line, the future.
If you go in there and talk about the here and now you’re more than dead, you’re history, because today, is part of their history, again, they have delegated it.
It is for this reason that one my favourite questions is “If we were sitting here 18 months from, and you were telling me you had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?” Now you’re where they are, someone they can talk to. Let them tell you, make sure you take it all in, and then ask “so why aren’t we there now?”, That’s when they tell you what they need to make that future happen, and what you can sell them.
So if you want too sell higher up, you need to stop living in the past!