We’ve been taught too often in sales training workshops that access is everything.
It’s often a given that getting to speak to someone at the C-Suite (i.e., executive decision-maker) is the panacea from which all sales certainty flows from. And to be sure, getting access and selling at the C-Suite does have its advantages.
That said, having sold B2B complex products to large corporations in the past, I can attest to the dark side of starting at the C-Suite. Let me give you a real-world example.
Years ago I was selling enterprise software solution that would allow different parts of the company to be on the same page when it came to knowing where their assets were scattered throughout their fiber optic network. I approached the C-Suite and got an immediate thumbs up on the idea. “Victor, I love it. I need you get with my Director of Engineering and let’s see if we can get this done.”
I was giddy! I was already starting to count my commission on the deal. That was until I sat down with the Director of Engineer who immediately shut the idea down.
“But this is something your top management wants.” I exclaimed.
He responded with “They know what they want, but I know what I need. They have no clue.”
This was the beginning of the end of the sale. For the next few months, I couldn’t get the Director of Engineer on board with the concept even though he agreed they needed something like it.
I realized over time that his resistance had little to do with my solution and more to do with being dictated from above what he ‘should’ to do. His lingering impression of me was that of a C-Suite flunky. He didn’t see me as an ally but as a messenger from above which in any other context might be a good thing, but not this one.
I would love to report to you that we got the deal, but we didn’t. I learned a valuable lesson that has since shaped my B2B sales approach and the mindset that access to the C-Suite is ideal.
Here are two more reasons, in addition to the one I’ve described, to avoid approaching the C-Suite first:
- Starting at the C-Suite may not be ideal because the C-level executive may not appreciate the ramifications of what’s being presented if their view of the world is more strategic that tactical.
- C-Suiters may be too removed from the day-to-day operations to really appreciate what they’re signing up for. When it comes to introducing any type of disruption in the ability to deliver products or services, the impact (or the ripple effect) throughout the company can only be appreciated by those who are on the frontlines managing the business unit.
Access does have its privileges but it’s also loaded with downsides. I no longer look at a title; I look for ‘responsibility’. I’ve learned to look for the person who owns the P&L (profit and loss). Every business unit within a large organization has a person who is in charge of making sure that the entity is profitable. That person could be the Director of Engineering, a Project Manager or Vice President of Sales.
So what should you do?
- Find the person in charge of the P&L and get their buy-in. This person will become your champion or Chief Influence Officer (irony intended).
- Then move up (Directors, VPs, C-Suite) and down (Users, Operators) the organizational rungs and get more buy-in.
Screw the C-Suite…at least initially.
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