Sales and Sales Management

Selling to Give You an Unfair Competitive Advantage

Why training your sales force to sell to top executives will give you an unfair competitive advantage.

Imagine this: Frenzy, Inc. has a great product or service. Frenzy also has a great sales force, trained on the features and benefits of its product or service. But Frenzy’s sales representatives 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. – which happens to be Frenzy’s biggest competitor, also has a great product or service, and a great sales force, trained on features and benefits. Your sales representatives – while also working hard and diligently – not only calmly and easily meet quarterly goals... but also often exceed 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 unavailable for another month,” your employee, at Coolness Personified, say things like, “Guess what! I just came from Ms. CEO’s office – and she wants the complete suite of our products delivered at once!”

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 stationery. It’s much simpler than that: Coolness Personified, Inc.’s, sales representatives know how to sell to top executives and Frenzy Inc.’s sales representatives do not.

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 be 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 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 manager levels in a corporation. They can, in fact, become important allies in helping your sales representatives get to the top executives. What it does mean is getting to the people who have to approve the sale anyway – sooner, rather than later. And this approach reaps numerous benefits for your sales representatives, who can:

  • Find out quickly if they are wasting time by trying to sell to a particular company.
  • Distinguish themselves, and their company, by building a long-term relationship with the top executive and the company.
  • Close sales faster.
  • Provide opportunities for bigger sales.
  • Differentiate yourself from your competition.

Business savvy – with sales representatives serving as business consultants for the product or service they represent – is what top executives are looking for, more and more.

Building that relationship – with a top executive and his or her company – 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 Selling to the Top, by David Peoples, 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 ongoing 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 top executives (CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, Owners, Partners, Board Members, Presidents, VPs, etc.), 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 sales, which will in turn increase their morale, which will increase their motivation to build more relationships with top executives, leading to even more increased sales...Success begets success!

Another area of resistance you must deal with is not from sales representatives themselves, but perhaps from Human Resources, Training, or similar areas within your organization. Personnel in these areas may resist authorizing additional time and money invested in training sales representatives on how to sell to top executives, because they think, “All selling is the same.” As the sales manager, you know better – and you’re the expert in selling techniques, skills, and strategies. Share your reasoning for the importance of training your sales team on how to sell to top executives. Rather than wanting to cut back on your training budget, your organization may well want to add to it once it sees the return on investment, in not only increased sales, but long-term loyalty that can add to your organization’s ongoing revenue stream for years to come.

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Top executives...worry about stock prices...earnings ratios...revenue generation..., return on investment..., profitability...With all these thoughts, their attitude when meeting with your sales representatives will be ‘what can you do for me today?’ ”

Warning: Selling To Top Executives Differs From Other Sales Scenarios!

On the other hand, the LAST thing you want to do is simply send your sales representatives 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, lowered revenue, and your sales representatives saying, “See? I told you selling to top executives is next to impossible!”

Your sales representatives need a whole different mindset – and skill set – when selling to top executives. Remember the list of excuses your sales representatives 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 representatives to succeed:

Excuse: Top executives are too hard to see!

Truth: Top executives are very busy – that’s why others are in charge of protecting their time, and why, once your sales representative gets an appointment with a top executive, he or she can’t apply standard sales techniques like “breaking the ice.” Your sales representatives must be trained to get around blockers” to get the appointment in the first place. Sales representatives should be well prepared for the meeting, with an understanding of key industry issues. They must know how to understand the style of the top executive, and build on that understanding to create an approach that is relationship building, not just another sales pitch.

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 sales pitch and standard closing techniques! If your sales representatives learn how to present themselves as Business Consultants, for the product or service they represent, then the attitudes of top executives change dramatically, because they recognize – and appreciate-business relationships.

Excuse: Top executives won’t really care about purchase decisions for products or services used on lower levels of their 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, top executives simply don’t have the time to care about fine details – that’s why they have others to advise them. What they DO care about are the 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. For example, they worry about stock prices...earnings ratios...revenue generation...return on investment... profitability...With all these thoughts, their attitude when meeting with your sales representatives will be “what can you do for me today?” Your sales representative must be able to answer that question – and address those top executive worries or the executive’s attitude will quickly turn to “if you can’t help me, move on!” But with the right preparation – the right understanding of top executives’ needs – your sales representatives will be able to instead show how they can help top executives, and that ability will quickly garner an attitude of “Great! Stay and help!” And that view from top executives sets the stage for increased sales opportunity.

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 relation-ships – make sure you provide them with training that will enable them to:

  • Connect with top executives
  • Present themselves as business counselors
  • Present their product or service from a benefits, value-added perspective
  • Develop long lasting relationships with top executives
  • Avoid costly, often irreversible, mistakes of applying traditional openers, pitches, and
  • Shorten sales cycles
  • Close bigger business opportunities
  • Establish themselves as business partners

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