Sales and Sales Management

Selling at the Top

Imagine this: Frenzy, Inc. has a great product. Frenzy also has a great sales force, trained on the features and benefits of its product. But Frenzy’s sales people are always in a frenzy – working extra long hours, frantically making sales calls, especially at the end of the quarter, when revenues are perhaps close to, but not quite at forecasted numbers.

Your company – Coolness Personified, Inc. – Frenzy Inc.’s biggest competitor – also has a great product and a great, well-trained sales force. But, while your sales representatives are working hard and diligently, they are not only easily meeting quarterly goals...they are often exceeding them.

While, Frenzy’s sales representatives say things like, “I just can’t get Joe Middleman to sign off on this order - he says I have to see the boss upstairs, but she’s not available for another month,” your sales people are saying things like, “Guess what! I just came from Ms. CEO’s office, and she wants the complete suite of our products delivered at once!” This is a nice picture, isn’t it?

What’s the difference between the sales representatives at Frenzy and those at Coolness Personified? It’s not intelligence, formal education, wardrobe, product knowledge or even product. It’s much simpler than that: Coolness Personified’s sales reps know how to sell to top executives and Frenzy’s sales reps don’t.

Why Sell to Top Executives?

The bottom line reason to sell to top executives is quite simple: selling to them means more business for less effort.

The truth is, most sales representatives spend a lot of time pitching products and services to middle managers or end users in companies who may interested in them, who may even want them, but who cannot approve purchasing them. Even worse, sales representatives may also spend a lot of time with managers who may be able to approve the purchase of the product, but whose job it is (whether or not they or the company would willingly, or officially, admit it) to find reasons NOT to make purchases.

Selling to top executives doesn’t mean completely forgetting or bypassing middle managers in a corporation. They can, in fact, become important allies in helping your sales representatives get access to the top. What it does mean is getting to the people who have the power to approve the sale – sooner, rather than later.

This approach reaps numerous benefits for your sales representatives, who can:

  1. Find out quickly if they are wasting time by trying to sell to a particular company.
  2. Distinguish themselves, and their company, by building long-term relationships with the top executive and the company.
  3. Close sales faster.
  4. Gain opportunities for bigger sales.
  5. Differentiate themselves from the competition.

Business savvy, with sales representatives serving as business consultants for the product or service they represent, is what senior executives want.

Building a strong relationship with senior level executives will result in more than just meeting quarterly sales goals. It will ensure a long-term, stable and loyal connection between your company and your clients. In fact, according to David Peoples, author of Selling to the Top, selling to top executives, through relationship building, is key if your product or service:

  1. Costs big money.
  2. Involves getting the approval or input from multiple decision makers.
  3. Requires a long sales cycle (such as giving demonstrations or on-site performance tests).
  4. Requires top management approval.
  5. Demands an on-going relationship (such as service agreements or customer service support).

Overcoming the “R” Factor-Resistance

In this case, the resistance we’re discussing is not from the top executives; rather it’s from your sales representatives! In fact, Anthony Parinello, in Selling to the Very Important Top Officer, states that prospecting and selling to top decision makers is the most unpopular topic in sales training.

If your representatives are used to selling to end-users or middle management, rather than to the “C suite,” then they may quickly give reasons about why they can’t sell to the top:

  • Top executives are too hard to see!
  • Top executives wouldn’t want to spend time with someone like me/on my level.
  • Top executives won’t really care about purchase decisions for products or services used on lower levels of their companies!

Guess what? These reasons are really excuses…understandable ones, because most people resist change, and most people are nervous about dealing with others they consider “higher” in status or title. But helping your sales representatives overcome their own resistance will increase their morale, which will increase their motivation to build more relationships with top executives, leading to even more increased sales. Success begets success!

Warning: Selling to Top Executives Differs from Other Sales Scenarios!

The last thing you want to do is simply send your sales reps out with a mandate to call on top executives, with the hope that applying the same old sales skills will work. Selling to top executives is not just a matter of adding a little polish to a favored pitch. Attempting to approach top executives in this manner will only lead to failure, doomed morale, and lowered revenues.

Your sales representatives need a whole different mindset – and skill set when selling to top executives.

Remember the list of excuses your salespeople might have for why they can’t sell to the top? There’s some actual truth to them, but understanding the truth will enable your sales people to succeed.

Excuse: Top executives are too hard to see!

Truth: Top executives are very busy – that’s why, once your sales representative gets an appointment with the top executive, he or she can’t apply standard sales techniques like “breaking the ice.” Your sales rep must be trained to get around blockers, to get the appointment in the first place. Then they should be well prepared for the meeting, with an understanding of the client’s key industry issues. They must know how to ask questions and present information that will bring value to the executive.

Excuse: Top executives wouldn’t want to spend time with someone like me – on my level!

Truth: That’s only true if your sales representatives go in with a standard pitch and standard closing techniques! If your sales representatives learn how to present themselves as Business Consultants, the attitudes of top executives change dramatically, because they recognize – and appreciate – business relationships where they are receiving value in the interaction.

Excuse: Top executives won’t really care about purchase decision for products and services used on lower level companies!

Truth: Top executives don’t care about nitty-gritty details, or feature functionality, or the specifics of how end-users will apply a service or product. In fact, they simply don’t have the time to care about the details.

That’s why they have middle managers and others to advise them. What they DO care about are benefits – to their company, their employees, their bottom line – and the value a service or product can provide.

Your sales representatives also need to understand that top executives have different worries than other prospects. They worry about stock prices, earnings ratios, revenue generation, return on investment, profitability. With all these thoughts, their attitude when meeting with your sales people will be “what can you do for me today?” Your sales people must be able to answer that question, and address those top executive worries, or the executive’s attitude will quickly change to “if you can’t help me, move on!” But with the right preparation, the right understanding of top executives needs, your sales people will be able to show how they can help...and that ability will quickly garner an attitude of “great, stay and help! That view from top executives sets the stage for increased sales opportunities!

How to Reap the Bottom Line – and High Morale – Benefits of Selling to Top Executives

If you want your sales representatives to sell to top executives, so they (and you) can benefit from quicker sales, higher loyalty, and long-term business relationships, make sure they can:

  • Gain access to top executives
  • Present themselves as business counselors
  • Present their product or service from a value-added perspective that impacts what top executives care about
  • Develop long lasting relationships with top executive
  • Avoid costly, often irreversible, mistakes of applying traditional sales techniques in sales situations with top executives

If your sales people can establish themselves as business partners the rewards will be shorter sales cycles, bigger business opportunities and more loyal business relationships.

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