Einstein didn’t actually say, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler,” but the sentiment is still valid.
Yet in sales we often make a fairly simple process as complicated as possible. The vast profusion of sales methods, theories, tools, and approaches can be overwhelming.
This is partly because there’s no such thing as “sales.” That term encompasses many areas with limited commonality. What, after all, does selling multimillion-dollar software systems have in common with selling tickets to webinars or boxes of toilet paper? The prospects, salespeople, and methods in different kinds of selling are often worlds apart.
Salespeople often make one particular type of sale too complicated — selling high-value items to senior executives in big companies. These are complex sales with multiple participants in the process — recommenders, influencers, decision makers — but there are some opening steps that are pretty basic.
The critical keys to a successful sale are opening at the right level, understanding the customer’s strategic requirements, and knowing the benefits of achieving them and the impact of failing to meet them. If there’s a sales heaven, it’s when you have the uninterrupted attention of the ideal executive in your ideal prospect for 20 or 30 minutes to explore how your solution can help them achieve their key priorities. In order to do this, you must:
- Understand your ideal customer profile and identify the top 50 companies that fit
- Identify the role(s) you should connect with
- Identify the specific individuals to connect with
- Identify their top three priorities
- Work out how you can help them achieve at least one of their top priorities
- Develop a message that will compel them to talk to you
- Work out the best way to get the message to them
Let’s look at each priority:
1. Understand your ideal customer profile and identify the top 50 companies that fit.
Selling to senior executives takes time, strategy, and preparation. You have limited time so it’s better to do a good job in 50 companies or less (per sales person) than a mediocre job in more.
And you don’t sell to generic companies or personas — you sell to actual companies and human beings. So start by making a list of your top 20 to 50 targets — and prioritize them.
2. Identify the role(s) you should connect with.
Who should you initially approach? My preference is the CEO, but certainly no more than one level below. If you’re selling high-value items that the CEO must sign off on, then you want to understand that person’s perspective. Plus, the CEO takes a companywide view. The CEO can refer you to the person doing the actual evaluation while you can make sure you focus on the company’s strategic priorities.
3. Identify the specific individuals to connect with.
Make a list of the top three targets in each company — for instance CEO, CFO, CMO. You need to know what they care about — and, if you’re speaking to an EA and one of the targeted executives is unavailable, you know whom to ask for next.
4. Identify their top three priorities.
Your approach shouldn’t be about you, your value proposition, or your benefits. It should be about their priorities and how you can help them achieve them. So research and find out what they really, really care about right now.
5. Work out how you can help them achieve one of their top priorities.
Now you know what each care about a lot — how can you help them achieve their goals? There should be a way. If there isn’t, why are they an ideal prospect? If it’s a timing issue, move on to the next one, at least for now.
6. Develop a message that will compel them to talk to you.
Now you know their priorities and you know how you can help them. What’s a message that will achieve your first target — a meeting? Initially you shouldn’t be trying to sell to them, to tell them about all your wonderful stuff, or to build a relationship. Your first step is to get their undivided attention, either on the phone or face-to-face, for as long as you need.
Your message should tell them just enough to make them curious and think, “This person knows what my priorities are and says they can help me meet them. I’d better see them in case they can.”
The more you tell them over and above that, the more likely they will say “We’ve got one of those,” “We’re already doing that,” or “Go and speak to Joe, the deputy IT manager.”
7. Work out the best way to get the message to them.
You know what’s important to them, you have the message developed, now how do you get it to them? There are many ways — and the best depends on the circumstances.
The ideal method is a referral, either from someone at the same or similar level in the same company or someone of equal status to your target in another company. It doesn’t have to be a customer; it can be anyone whom your target respects who believes you have the target’s interests at heart and who is prepared to recommend that hey see you.
Failing that, there are multiple methods, some quicker than others. They include via the executive assistant (my number two preference), phone, email, social media, a handwritten or hand-delivered letter, a Fedex parcel, a visit to their office, and a number of other innovative methods. Usually you’ll need a combination — multiple channels communicating essentially the same message: “I know this is your top priority, I can help you get it, let’s talk.”
Obviously there are refinements, which I’ll discuss in another article. Once you’ve got that initial meeting, there’s a still a long way to go.
But follow these simple steps and you’ll have an unparalleled start.