Sales: Take the lead

I’ll let the cat out of the bag: most salespeople wish their execs would stay away from customers and most execs would rather have a root canal than make customer visits with salespeople.

I was reminded of this recently when I was doing some simulation exercises with a client executive team. We were practicing how they were supposed to carry out their role when conducting joint “knowledge calls” with their salespeople. In this case, they did a great job.

Nonetheless, it was a reminder for me that it might be time to revisit this subject because most don’t. But rather than direct my comments to executives (as I have in the past), it occurred to me that I should be addressing the salesperson: It’s your customer, your contact, and your meeting…so you have to own it!

That’s why you and your exec must choreograph these meetings well so they yield their desired results. Here are five guidelines to help you:

Don’t let your executive unwittingly neutralize you

Execs are used to running the show. So you need to sit down with your exec before the meeting and tell him or her what you need them to do and say. This is your meeting, not the exec’s…make sure he or she knows that before the meeting (using the right words, of course)! If they want to suggest a next step they should suggest it to you, not directly to the customer.

Make sure there’s a purpose for the exec being there

Don’t let yourself think, “I gotta get (my exec’s name) in to see (customer exec’s name).” If your exec says to you, “You gotta get me in to see (such and such account)” you must demand that they spell out the reason for you.

Educate your exec before going in

Make sure the exec spends some time on the account’s website. Most importantly, pre-brief with the exec on the current and historical relationship between the two companies. Make sure your exec understands exactly how the meeting has been positioned and exactly what expectations the customer might have coming into the meeting. Whatever you do, don’t let your exec get blindsided in the meeting.

Use the opportunity to increase your credibility and clout at the account

One of the easiest ways to make this happen is for you to say, “I’ve asked (exec’s name) to join me today because…”  That positioning signals to the customer that their rep—you—has the internal clout to command resources at your company.   Don’t say, “(Exec’s name) wanted to come to the meeting.” And make sure you start the meeting, not the exec. You also need to avoid deferring to your exec excessively during the meeting.

Use the meeting to learn about the customer, not to pitch your company

Salespeople and execs alike assume that what the customer really wants is for the exec to come in and tell the company story. Yawn! Sure, there are specific circumstances that can demand this. But the best way to leverage customer meetings is, as we like to say at Stapleton, “to leave the product at the door, step back, and go into homework mode.” Then both you and your exec alike proceed to do just that.

Traditional salespeople have traditional “like-rank-selling” meetings with their customers and lose credibility at the account. Business resource salespeople, by following these guidelines, approach executive visits much differently and strengthen their prestige and credibility with their customers as a result.

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