If you’re like the typical sales professional, you’re probably not targeting the senior executive. Why? Often, it’s because of a lack of access, lack of skills to sell and communicate at that level, and discomfort in relating. Consider these strategies to cut a quicker path to success in the executive suite.
Selling to senior executives can reduce the sales cycle dramatically. Executives have the power to say yes, carry the biggest checkbook, and can summon all involved parties to the table faster. Yet survey after survey reveals the typical sales professional does not routinely target that level. Why? Often, it’s because of a lack of access, lack of skills to sell and communicate at that level, and discomfort in relating. The following tips will help you to cut a quicker path to success in the executive suite.
Never Call on Senior Executives without Bringing Value to the Conversation
Decide why the executive should spend valuable time with you. This may not be as difficult as you think. Many salespeople feel intimidated about calling on senior executives, because they imagine the executive paycheck equates to brilliance in areas of business and the industry specifically.
Not so. By default, these economic buyers must be generalists. They must keep their eyes on the big picture and keep many plates spinning. They rarely know what’s happening on the loading dock of their own company, in the IS Department during a major platform conversion or in the Customer Service Department – unless at least 10 percent of the client base writes a complaint to their personal attention. Frequently, industry news that floats below the level of legislation falls off their radar screens.
If you have major surveys, statistics, news about new technological advances, research on market share or customer feedback for the future, by all means, that’s valuable to executives who must devote far too much time to socializing with VIP clients and far too little time reading.
Offer Ideas You Can Deliver in a Short Appointment
Don’t be mysterious; executives don’t have time for guessing games – will or won’t a meeting be worthwhile? Give them enough of the idea that they’ll want to hear more. If they are intrigued, they’ll invite you in to discuss the details because it will reduce their investigation phase.
Examples of ideas that will open doors:
- New product ideas (borrowed from another industry or feedback from market research)
- New channel of distribution to their customers that you can help them reach through your own suppliers, partners or other clients
- Testing that you can help do to improve a process
- Qualitative comparison data of the executive’s organization to others in the industry
- Case studies of successes completed in similar organizations, with documented evidence, and ideas of how the same approach could work in the executive’s organization
- Industry study about documented cost of certain challenges the executive’s organization may be having
- Industry study about the documented revenue-producing potential of a new business model
- New theory or model just published by a prestigious author, which you’ve applied to the executive’s business, using your solutions as well to achieve maximum results
Offer to Link Them to Someone Else
These have always been effective door openers when a sales professional wanted an appointment to sell something to our training company. For example, Mike, a business acquaintance, called to say he’d just sold his own business and heard I might be looking for a buyer for my company (this was 12 years ago). He might be able to offer a few ideas that he’d learned in the process of selling his business and possibly link me to the same organization who bought his company.
I ask you – did I meet with him? You bet, and in the course of our later meeting, I discovered that he was currently in a new business – selling employee assessments.
Do you know of someone the executive might be interested in meeting or doing business with? Consider your own strategic partners, your other clients, or a key supplier they need. Could you help link them to a source of more qualified executives they might want to recruit? Do you have an inside track to a community of industry leaders who might be valuable resources to them as a forum for idea exchanges?
Do you have connections with the media so that they or their organization and its product or service lines could possibly be spotlighted in upcoming features or stories? Do you know a think-tank group looking for an organization to do testing on a new product that your executive’s company might benefit from for little or no cost?
Send a Troubling Article Accompanied by a Vision or Promise of Solution
When you run across an article in the business or industry press about a current challenge or a promising idea for future growth, clip it and send it to the executive with a cover letter saying that you’d like to have an opportunity to discuss this idea in more depth. Mention that your organization ‘has a solution,’ wants to ‘partner with forward-thinking companies to position for future growth to take advantage of this trend,’ or can provide ‘data on success with this approach’ from other client organizations.
Leave the ball in your court. Tell the executive when you’ll call to follow up and verify interest in setting up a meeting.
Gain Access during Their Transition Period
Look for executives new on the job. They need a quick start and are looking for people with insights about new approaches, with experience from other industries that might translate to theirs. They have fewer people calling on them and haven’t yet decided who has the most credibility among their suppliers. The door cracks open slightly wider during this phase.
Provide Media Exposure for Them
Take advantage of marketing opportunities with the media. Seek out opportunities to contact senior executives to interview them, quote them, or highlight their organization.
Above all, make response easy, but don’t make it routine. That is, don’t make your questions something they’ll forward to the PR Department to handle for them. Pose only two or three questions that they must answer personally – something that their PR person couldn’t respond to without interviewing them first.
Give the executive time to think before responding. Unless your topic is time sensitive, the typical protocol is to send a letter or e-mail requesting the interview. Explain that you’re doing a ‘round-up’ article for X industry or business journal, and that you’ve selected three executives to interview and would like to see if Ms. VIP would be willing to spend about 8 to 12 minutes with you to answer the enclosed questions. Then list the questions. The administrative assistant will most likely call back to schedule the phone interview or appointment.
One caveat: Make sure the topic of your article and the questions you ask merit the executive’s time and pique his or her interest.
Gain Access by Serving Where They Serve
Senior executives typically contribute a good amount of time to community and charitable activities such as – fund-raisers, program committees, nonprofit boards, or membership drives. Find such places of services and go to work. You’ll likely get to know your prospects and build a personal relationship with them that will lead them to ask: “So what do you do?” “Who are some of your clients?” “Why don’t you come out and talk to us sometime?”