Aim High, Shoot High
Not a week goes by that I don’t have a conversation with someone leading a sales team focus on the fact that members of the team are reluctant to call high both within their existing base, and when they prospecting new and especially competitive business. While the need to call executive is accepted by all, it seems to be talked about more than actually executed. When we work with teams and they start getting comfortable with us, and we have had a chance to observe them, they begin to trust and tell us that indeed they spend more time calling at the implementation level than they do at the decision level. The underlying cause for this varies, and I guess if there was one sure way to solve it I would not be writing about it today.
It would be easy to say it was strictly a lack of will or effort, although attitude is a big factor in winning with executives. In workshops we hear things like “you can never get to them”, “whenever you do get to them they push you down to the director, so I start there use the director as my champion”. Champion, don’t you love that phrase, yet doesn’t it always turn out that your so called “champion” is an obstacle? When you explore growing the account, and ask who else they can talk to in the account, they say “oh, I can’t go around Harry, he is my champion”. You mean albatross don’t you, weighing you down while the competition steals the rest of the account around you.
Part of the problem is linguistics, combined with culture. Go and ask your sales team what they sell, and a vast majority will use the deliverable to describe what they sell:
These describe the “what you deliver”; most executives speak to why and impact:
Greater return on assets
These are the considerations they look at when they invest their time and money, the first list is just a means to an end. So if you are a sales professional who calls on an executive, speaking deliverables to someone used to dealing with and speaking in impact, what is the logical outcome? Either an abrupt end to the call/conversation, or a polite referral to user number 2.
What’s worst is this becomes a vicious circle, the more you don’t call executives or learn their language, the more time you spend with users and implementers, the further you get comfortable speaking their language, and accepting their views. Don’t get me wrong, this is not against that level within the buying company, the certainly have input, at times influence, but unless you are selling a commodity, they rarely make decisions, and these days less so without procurement involvement.
Changing this is straight forward, not easy, but straight forward. You have to get sales people to better understand the “why and impact” of what they sell in terms and language used by senior decision makers. Taking it even further, they need to understand the genesis of the decision, and speak in that language to those people. By the time a decision is mad, you are in the selection process, and ideally you want to be engaged meaningfully with the people who cased the chain effect that leads to a decision. This means being engaged in a meaningful way long before a decision is made, you need to be their when the requirement surfaces in terms other than those defined by your product or service; ideally you want to be or be there when spark that start the whole thing appears.
To do this you have to ditch the product, and learn the business. At the extreme I know some sales people who have taken business programs to improve their knowledge, I know one who just finished his MBA at the age of 40, all with a view to selling differently (big ticket item, at quota he makes more that two VP’s). But there is a simpler method (beyond hiring us), you can actually take some of your sales training dollars (Pounds, Euros) and invest in something that will help them understand how decisions are made, how business works, what they need to go out and play in that playground. I remember one of my former colleagues, nice enough fellow who could not sell a banana to monkey, who kept insisting that we spend money “on better lists, better brochures, and higher some script writers so the team has speaking points, that will help them with ‘C’ level conversations.” No it won’t.
When I am asked what is the best reading sales people can do to address this challenge I point them to two books, The Ten-day MBA by Steven A Silbiger, (there are others offering similar content), will give the reps a good grounding in understand some basics of things that happen long before the opportunity surfaces on their radar. Once they take this on board, they will discover that a sure way to spark things is to ask questions using their new found knowledge and confidence, to help with that, they can read 7 Powers Of Questions by Dorothy Leeds. This will help them take their questions to a level they need to succeed in engaging, challenging and selling to executives.
The pay-off is indeed worth the effort. The discussion that got me to write this piece, was with an executive, we’ll call him Bill, telling me that one of his teams just lost a significant (read million dollar plus) account to one of his competitors. His team was firmly entrenched at the user, purchasing, and IT levels. They were not however deep with the executive, and that is where the competition focused. There was nothing wrong with the service, product or any of the conventional measures. But the competition spent the last year focused on the executive, and when they saw the opportunity they aligned their story to strategies and directions initiated by the executive, things defined by cost savings, consolidation and outsourcing. They had input into the potential impact on the organization, why now was the time to do it, and options for how to best execute. By the time it got down to the level where Bill’s team was entrenched, the decision had left the building.
Again, I want to emphasis that the best approach is a complete approach, playing with all the kids in all the playgrounds in the buying company that is the best way to win. We call this approach “5 DEEP”, meaning have relationships with at least 5 levels in the buying organization. Sales, finance, IT, Service, etc. This means more that just knowing and calling on occasionally. Have you CFO call theirs, get to know them, have your VP of Sales get to know theirs. This will not only create deeper ties, but provide knowledge sales can use to ask the right questions in the right language.
What’s in Your Pipeline?