Nobody wants to hear, “I'll check with my boss.” It usually means that sales loses control of the presentation and will be shut out of the Q&A session, if there ever is one. That's one of the reasons why every salesperson should strive to get through to the C-suite from the start. Then sales just has to sit back as the gravitational force of management pressure can work its magic on the procurement team.
How Salesforce Relies on Execs
That scenario is exactly why Salesforce has been so successful, according to CEO Marc Benioff. At an earnings call earlier this year, Benioff said, “When I look at the largest transactions... every transaction was done with the CEO. I think it's really unusual, and that's why we're really selling more enterprise software than Oracle or SAP."
The role of top executives as de facto brand advocates was outlined by Salesforce COO Keith Block, who made the point that budget considerations are secondary if the salesperson can make a convincing case built around the company's goals. "When the priority of the company is all about growth, they'll find the money to make that happen, they'll find the money to make those investments, and that's what we're seeing in the marketplace."
The Buyer's Perspective
That's not what most salespeople are doing, according to Forrester. Their research revealed that what makes a successful meeting from the buyer's perspective is when “the salesperson clearly shows they understand my business issues and can clearly articulate to me how to solve them.” Unfortunately, only 13 percent of executives agreed that salespeople were able to deliver on that front.
The toughest job in sales today is wiping away the preconceptions of executives based on their experience of past salespeople. The way to do that is to launch initiatives on three fronts simultaneously:
Front 1: Context
Unlike buyers, who typically want specs, execs care most about outcomes. Sales has to lay out the larger context of the rollout, such as what it will look like and how different departments are likely to react. This is a time for realistic appraisals, not sunny optimism. Execs don't want to be surprised by pushback from departments that see the solution as a threat to their way of doing things. Do internal research to see what problems customers had in rollout and how they overcame resistance to change. Context is also about what comes after the solution is in place. Think about how the solution changes the dynamics of the buyer's business relationships. It takes experience and social selling research skills to make educated projections about the implications this far ahead. Aberdeen refers to this process of thinking all the way through to the impacts on the customer's customers as B2B2C.
Front 2: Content
The world's best sales presentations will crash and burn if the content has not been sufficiently customized to solve the buyer's real world problems. This is normally what execs mean when they say that sales isn't prepared. It means the sales hasn't dug deep enough into what matters to the people in the room. In another report from Forrester, buyers said that 48 percent of sellers don't even understand what they are selling and 90 percent of sellers are unable to share any relevant information at all. After fighting so hard to get in front of execs, don't waste their time.
Front 3: Contact
The third front that successful sellers open up takes place long before the meeting. It involves building a web of interactions and connections. The days of sales handing off projects after the sale is over. Execs want to know that the person they are dealing with is the person that they will continue to deal with throughout implementation. A joint study from the University of North Carolina and business consultants found that executives buy from people, not companies. Around eight out of 10 execs said that they “usually or always” get involved at the very early stages of the buying process to set strategy and establish objectives. This is long before anyone in the organization is looking at vendor criteria or weighing their options. Around six out of 10 come back at the very end of the process to work through implementation issues and review metrics. The ones who win the sale have been doing the groundwork and shaping the discussion long before the pitch.
Consensus and Momentum
There's no question that selling to the C-suite is the smartest way to gain consensus and momentum for the sale. Top level execs know it as well, which means they are harder to reach and harder to convince.
This three-pronged strategy is designed to demonstrate that sales knows what they are selling, that they respect the exec's time and they have the relationships in place to make the implementation a success. Nobody wants to buy something unless they are certain that the plan has good chance of being successful. The challenge of coming to the attention of the exec in the first place, though, is a problem for another blog.