Every sales professional can recount a story from experience about a target company or account that despite their best efforts, was impossible to penetrate. There is no doubt that acquiring business from these organizations is difficult, but not impossible — after all, the current supplier got in! The real question is: what can you do when your standard approaches have all failed?
For those still searching for ways to win these accounts, there are many strategies to help us be more creative with our approach and keep us in the game. When a sales representative has made several outreach attempts and none of them have worked, the default response is to wait a few months before trying again. But ask yourself, how is this strategy different? Perhaps more importantly, does it make sense to simply disappear for a few months and then try to re-engage?
Although I have not run across any significant research in this area, I have spoken to many “quota crushers” who seem to follow a very distinct pattern. I’ve found that success in these cases is significantly higher when multiple strategies are used simultaneously. Interestingly, most of these sales superstars do not disappear for several months, but rather are relentlessly trying to move the ball forward. These professionals use social media to remain relevant and visible in the decision makers’ world, while they attempt several penetration tactics.
Here are three tactics you can use to when all seems lost.
Sphere of Influence
Typically, sales professionals target a specific decision maker in an organization and then try to connect. If this fails repeatedly, they may try another individual in the same department as a second option. But this too is not ideal since most organizations now have a “buying committee” tasked with managing a process that will lead to consensus. In fact, CEB research indicates that the average buying committee has 5.4 members, and most salespeople say that number is only growing.
For a salesperson trying to break into an account, these individuals present more opportunity to connect with at least one of the decision makers. Engaging with even one of these buyers can be very powerful in the long run if this relationship is leveraged properly.
In one of my previous posts, I cited research that showed that the highest conversion rates (from lead to sale) came from customer and employee referrals. This tactic becomes key when attempting to breaking into impenetrable accounts, as salespeople can leverage these relationships to get introduced to others across the organization.
But how do we know which departments are involved in the decision?
LinkedIn has already helped us to answer this question and found that although the number of departments involved in a buying decision varies by industry, there are at least three involved in the process in most organizations. The most common departments across industries are Information Technology, Finance, Business Development, Accounting, Operations and Administrative.
The good news for hunters is that most competitors don’t take steps to engage other departments once they land a new account. In these scenarios, a strategy targeting various individuals across departments becomes much more effective. Once engagement is established with one individual, the next step is to leverage introductions across departments that could find value in your product or service. Or at least have a voice in the selection criteria. Of course the preferred method in this case is to connect and engage with those in more senior positions, and let them refer you down (or across) the chain of command. Making new connections tends to move faster in this way.
Once you have established your contacts inside the target account, you will want to get their attention focused on a new insight or opportunity you are offering.
One strategy for getting everyone on the same page is to provide these individuals with new insights that your product or service can provide for tackling the challenges that are relevant to them. You already know what your organization does differently than the rest, so showcase that in more relevant terms for the buyer. Tie in recent developments in their industry, specific case study of your past clients in their industry, sudden changes in market conditions that make your product or service more favorable, or anything relevant that will make them at least consider listening to another point of view.
The key to this strategy is to use the Social Voicemail strategy to help create a conversation within the organization. As a simple review, the Social Voicemail refers to leaving messages that mention that an email has also been sent with content relevant to them, and that they can reply electronically if it is more convenient for them to do so.
In this case we can also mention that you have sent this invite to others in their organization that can benefit, and a more detailed presentation is available to them if they are open to a discovery meeting. What you are hoping for in this case is to spark an internal conversation that will build momentum. Your actions may result in a group meeting, or being referred to one individual who will evaluate next steps. Of course there is always the possibility that nothing comes of it, in which case you will have to move on to the next strategy for penetrating the account. But isn’t that better than the “Hi, it’s me again” approach?
Cultivating Junior Positions
It amazes me how many professionals avoid connecting with people that hold positions more junior than theirs. The belief that these connections hold little value not only flies in the face of networking best practices, but it is entirely short sighted. Most of us started at entry level positions and worked our way up, and some folks much quicker than others - have you ever heard of the Top 40 under 40? When people are promoted or move on to bigger and better positions, they maintain relationships and insights they gained along the way. One of those relationships could be you, or you could try cold calling them when they become the next decision maker – your choice.
Think of connecting and engaging one level below your target titles, as seeding the relationships that you can call upon in the future. Of course you will have to provide them with regular and valuable content, but well worth the small effort involved. As these people move up in an organization, so too does your ability to penetrate that account.
If All Else Fails
If all else fails, one option you can hope for is that one of the decision makers who refuse to engage with you simply moves on to another organization. The title search alert on LinkedIn is a default strategy that most should be using, in order to be alerted to any such changes. An individual in a new position is more open to listening to new ideas and solutions that will help them make an impact in their new role. Technology can do all the “heavy lifting” in this case and simply alert you when this event occurs, and then you can strike when the iron is hot.
Breaking into impenetrable accounts is difficult but not impossible. The key in these cases is to use a diverse set of strategies and approaches that will keep you constantly searching for opportunities to engage insiders. If you are interested in learning more about social selling tools and strategies join my network on LinkedIn and get in on the conversation.