Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm
At a recent panel discussion on selling to executives (among the most in-demand topics in all of sales and of readers of this column), someone asked the chief executive officer of a large manufacturing company what he thought about the salespeople who came to visit him.
"I don’t have much experience with them," he said. "Not because I won’t see them. But very few ever attempt to call on me."
His remark echoes what we hear consistently from executives: they do want to meet with salespeople. But few salespeople make any effort to see them, while those who do often go about it the wrong way.
The most important, most far-reaching and strategic decisions in any company – decisions about operating philosophy, policy, strategy, budgets, significant changes in employee count or major purchases – will always be made at the top. They determine the very fate of the enterprise.
Yet many salespeople still resist the notion of calling on senior management. Their objections may sound familiar: "We’re already calling on the decision-makers." "We’ll alienate our regular contacts." "It’s a rubber stamp at that level."
Those commonly heard objections sound reasonable on the surface, but they’re really smoke screens, masking the real reasons your salespeople balk at seeking meetings with senior management. If you could inject them with truth serum, they’d tell you, "Executives don’t want to see me, I’m just a salesperson."
Executives want value, not information
Salespeople use the word "value" much of the time, but deep inside, they see their role as a conduit of information. Information transfer is the domain of the vendor salesperson, and that is why the vendor concludes, accurately, that executives don’t want to see salespeople.
By contrast, the business resource salesperson sees his role as a conduit of value.
What follows from this self-perception is the logical result of these two very different ways of viewing one’s role as a salesperson: The vendor seeks to identify a solution fit
with a target company, while the business resource attempts to identify a business fit. Executives relate to the latter, not the former.
When executives consider a supplier relationship, they are acutely aware of ensuring compatibility of the two companies’ values, strategic direction, technological orientation and core competencies. They look at total cost of ownership, not just purchase price. They consider the overall risk equation (here’s a hint: executives like predictable outcomes and will pay dearly for them). Like the business resource, they look beyond just the solution fit.
trumps solution fit
A salesperson for a client firm of ours put this understanding into practice superbly. Janna was a strategic accounts salesperson for a financial software company. Her prospect, a mid-sized retailer, was looking to replace all of its financial applications, and Janna had gotten onto the short-list. Her competitor, the dominant player in Janna’s market, was firmly in the lead going into the final presentation. Indeed, the competitor company had hers beat hands-down on features, functionality and ROI. Janna had learned that this competitor was the top choice of the prospect’s chief financial officer.
But Janna knew that the CEO would be in the presentation. She had done her homework well, and she knew that the CEO was all but betting his company on offshore sourcing and distribution. She built into her presentation a discussion of her company’s strategic plan to migrate its entire applications package to a "global economic platform" (She was even clever enough to give it a 3-letter acronym: GEP). This was the only time that the CEO had made any comments during the presentation. He asked Janna a few questions about her company’s GEP direction, and she answered them knowledgeably. He left the meeting before the solution overview portion of the presentation had even begun.
A few days later, much to the dismay of the CFO and the bewilderment of her competitor, Janna received the good news: She had slain Goliath with a sling armed with business fit, rather than the ostensibly superior solution.
It’s a lot lonelier in the executive suite than many salespeople know. "Conduit of value" and "business fit" mark the path that will lead you through that door.
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at www.stapletonresources.com.
May 13, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI