Sales: When sales professionals should approach executives

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

A few years ago in these pages, we ran a series on executive access. We addressed the three key dimensions of this oft-misunderstood weapon in the sales professional’s arsenal: Why approach executives, how to approach them and what to do once there.
Since that time, and as a result of our ongoing work in the trenches with sales organizations, we have broken some new ground on the fourth dimension of executive access: when to approach them.
Sorting out the when question requires first defining just what type of sales campaign your salesperson is in. There are five types of campaigns, and each has its own set of guidelines on how to navigate through that particular type of sales campaign, especially as those guidelines relate to when is the best time to try getting to "Mr. Big," if at all.
Here they are:
Sales campaign type: Win a defined
A new prospect or existing customer has decided it is going to make a purchase. It is seeking prices/proposals/alternatives from two or more potential suppliers, and you’re one of them. Your goal in this sales situation is to outsell your competition and win this particular deal. In most defined opportunity sales situations, the prospect has defined a buying process that they expect – in some cases, demand – you to follow.
When to attempt executive access: Early or late in the sales cycle, never in the middle. In this classic, win-the-deal type of sales situation, senior management will often be involved with a buying decision early in the process as the buying company defines the strategy for the purchase. They then pull away while the designated buying team evaluates vendors. After a short list is arrived at, they usually pulse back in to check out the finalists. Because of the often tightly controlled buying process, your salespeople must be very careful to avoid stepping on toes of lower-level people who can hurt them (but often can’t help them).
Sales campaign type: Retain a customer.
You have an existing customer that you would like to keep as a long-term customer. This customer is NOT currently looking to make any particular purchase and there is no identified growth opportunity you’re looking to cultivate. Your primary goal in this type of sales situation is to protect your base of business with this account. There may or may not be a specific competitive threat to your business with this account.
When to attempt executive access: Any time the executive isn’t distracted by some other major issue. Some of our clients conduct periodic business reviews with customer executives. They do this to make sure the power players at the account appreciate the value the supplier is bringing to the table. These business review meetings are outstanding executive access opportunities.
Sales campaign type: Cultivate growth in
an existing account.
You have a customer with whom your company is currently doing business (even if only a minor amount). You suspect-or know-that there is additional business you could be doing with this account and you are trying to harvest that incremental business. The account is not soliciting alternatives from your competitors.
When to attempt executive access: Any time the executive isn’t distracted by some other major issue. Like the customer retention situation your salespeople can approach executives in an existing account, even if it’s to directly pursue an opportunity, at almost any time. However, they must always manage the request with their everyday contacts, lest they get the impression that your salesperson is going around them.
Sales campaign type: Displace an incumbent
at a targeted account.
This is the classic, crack-an-account situation. You are trying to capture the business of an account that currently uses your type of product or service, but they’re not currently getting it from your company. In most cases, the targeted account is buying the product or service from one of your competitors. Alternatively, the targeted account could be producing or performing the product or service in-house, in which case, the opportunity is one of the account outsourcing to you. Either way, the targeted company is NOT actively seeking suppliers of the product or service at this time.
When to attempt executive access: Before you appear on the account’s radar screen. Here your salesperson has the element of surprise. If he can approach the executive before the lower level contacts – who usually are gatekeepers – get wind that he’s snooping around, he can avoid being told, "We make those decisions, there’s no need for you to see our executives."
Sales campaign type: Create demand at
a targeted account.
Your company is looking to provide a solution to fill a need the targeted account doesn’t know it has. Currently, the targeted account is neither buying the type of product or service your company sells (or is proposing) nor does the targeted account produce or perform it in-house. Demand creation occurs when you are trying to sell a totally new concept to an account, such as might be the case with certain new technologies.
When to attempt executive access: Any time your salesperson is ready, but make sure he or she is ready, because there will only be one shot at this one. If your salesperson can capture the attention of the executive with an access letter, he or she may be on the way to truly creating demand. Fortunately, this is the situation type with the fewest natural barriers (gatekeepers) to your access.

You want your salespeople to remember that a good meeting with the right executive, at the right time can be a life-changing experience for them. But, a bad meeting with an executive is worse than none at all. This is truly high-stakes poker. Play that hand carefully, starting with knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

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

March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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