Who’s on first?

Figuring out where to start as you migrate
from a “tell mode” to a “seek mode” in sales – Part III
JERRY STAPLETON
For SBT
Two months ago, in the first installment of this series, we talked about the “whys”: Why curiosity is the salesperson’s greatest weapon and why it’s smart business to channel that curiosity into a Knowledge Call.
Last month, we talked “whats”: What a Knowledge Call is and what it isn’t. Intended to gain insight into the customer’s organization and business, a Knowledge Call is not a needs-analysis meeting.
We also talked “how”: How Knowledge Calls fit into your overall sales strategy. Assuming that they do (and is too much knowledge really ever a bad thing?), the next question is, of course, “who.”
Knowledge calls don’t need to be rationed
You can and should request a Knowledge Call with almost any contact – from a person you’ve never met who represents a company that your own firm has never done business with, to a long-time contact at a well-established account.
In selecting contacts for Knowledge Calls, follow these guidelines:
1. Let me in, coach
A true coach is by far your best Knowledge Call contact. Remember, coaches are more than “friendly contacts.” Coaches want you to have an advantage over your competition. They give you information that they wouldn’t give your competitors. Just beware the ubiquitous friendly gatekeeper masquerading as a coach.
2. Movin’ on up
Start with the least powerful, most talkative people first. This is the best way to avoid gatekeepers who try to block your ascent. It’s also how you prepare yourself as you move to more powerful contacts in the customer company.
3. Familiarity breeds content
If it’s an existing account, start with your day-to-day contacts. Just be alert to a tendency on the part of some contacts to act as gatekeepers. Sometimes you’re stuck with a contact whom you might otherwise not have chosen.
4. Don’t go there
Never attempt a Knowledge Call with someone who might be considered “off limits.” Secretaries fall into this category. With any prospective Knowledge Call contact, ask yourself if there’s any chance that your contact-or others in the company-might get the impression that you’re snooping.
5. So close, yet so far away
Don’t forget former employees and non-employees. Depending on your relationship with them and their relationship with the targeted company, such individuals can be buried treasure.
Tony discovered that when he snagged Mike, a new contact at one account, who had only weeks earlier left another of Tony’s key customers. Their 45-minute Knowledge Call turned into two hours, and gave Tony the insight he needed to save a $250,000 deal that was being torpedoed by someone working for Mike’s former employer.
6. Working at higher elevations
When your initial entry to an account is through an executive, and you have no good lower-level contacts, make a mini-Knowledge Call part of your introductory meeting with the executive.
Contrary to popular selling notions, it’s a bad idea to do Knowledge Calls with senior executives. However, if your first meeting at an account is with an executive, you should ask a few high-level, strategic questions as part of that meeting. But never try to conduct the same kind of in-depth Knowledge Call that you would with a good coach.
Making contact with your contacts
OK, we’ve talked what, why, how and who. Now it’s time to call your contact and set up the meeting. You know what you want to accomplish, but you need to explain it to the person on the other side of the phone or e-mail. And you need to explain in a a way that’s both professional and non-threatening. That’s a whole ‘nother topic, I’m afraid-one that we’ll explore next month.
(Part I of this series appeared in the July 6 issue of SBT while Part II appeared in the Aug. 3 issue.)
Jerry Stapleton is president of the IBS Group and author of “From Vendor to Business Resource: Transforming the Sales Force for the New Era of Selling.” For more than ten years, he has been showing companies of all sizes, from start-ups to Fortune 500, how to sell to large accounts. E-mail: jstaple@theibsgroup.com Web site: www.theibsgroup.com
August 31, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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