In last month's excerpt from "Selling to the C-Suite," the book's authors, Nicholas A. C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz Ed.D explained the value of understanding which executive to call and what message to send. In this month's excerpt, they reveal when to time the executive call. The book is now available from online booksellers, and hits in-print stores mid-September.
Salespeople who want to build relationships with executives must enter the picture early in the buying cycle because this is when 80 percent of executives usually or always become involved in significant purchase decisions. The executives' motivation at this stage is to understand current business issues, establish project objectives, and set the overall project strategy to deal with what might be termed a breakthrough initiative: something that is critical to the client's success because of significant payback from its implementation or serious consequences if action is delayed or not taken.
According to one executive from the office furniture industry: "I get involved in the what and why, not so much the how. At the beginning, I put in a lot of personal time making sure the project's on the right track and moving in the right direction."
Another executive from the airline industry told us: "I'm planning now for how my business will look 10 years from now. It's difficult to forecast on our own, so we depend on the ideas of suppliers and partners in the same industry, on the belief that separately we might be wrong, but together we're probably right. Vendors who can't engage in that forward thinking don't get off the ground with me."
Comments regarding executive involvement in the early phase of the buying cycle were consistent in each of our three studies. During the middle phase of the buying cycle, executives tend to reduce their involvement and delegate decisions to subordinates or committees. Executives in the survey said that once a clear vision is set, it's time to empower the people below them. Most of the executives never or only occasionally involve themselves at this stage.
However, all three research studies confirmed that executives get significantly involved once again late in the buying cycle to evaluate whether the vendors can deliver the original vision and to measure the results of the implementation. They want to understand whether the vendor delivered the value that originally was committed. They also told us that the closer they get to the contract being awarded, the less they are likely to supersede the recommendations of the evaluation team; the purchasing decision usually already has been made in their minds, if not on paper.
Do you see the problem here? The middle to late phase of the buying cycle is the period when senior executives in medium-size to large companies are least likely to open their calendar to a salesperson. But this is when most invitations to quote and submit proposals happen. Salespeople who get their first scent of a deal at this stage and expect to "meet the boss" usually are frustrated by the difficulty of doing so. If you are able to gain access to the right executive early enough in the buying process, your efforts are likely to be rewarded.
Here are three of the many "executive-validated" tips contained in the new book, "Selling to the C-Suite:"
1. Get in early.
Executives get involved in purchasing decisions early, when the original vision is being set and before the task of finding suppliers is delegated. They use the Internet to inform their thought process about the problem they face. Most marketing fails to help them find you at this stage, so you need to rely on your selling skills. However, if your marketing department sends out problem-focused messages that attract the executives who face those problems, and sends a series of repetitive wake-up calls to help them recognize that (a) they have a problem and (b) you can solve that problem, then your ability to plug into the start of the executive decision process will improve.
2. Focus on their breakthrough initiative.
Use your knowledge of the executive's business drivers to identify her breakthrough initiative—the single most important problem or opportunity she needs to invest in where your products or services can make a demonstrable difference. Breakthrough initiatives typically are identified only at the executive level, meaning that people at lower levels of the organization may not even be aware of them until they are formalized as a project. By the time they become formal and other suppliers are invited to bid, the executive's views of both solution and vendor often already have been set if one supplier has demonstrated thought leadership from the start.
3. Meet with executives to measure the results of the implementation.
Our research told us that senior-level executives want to meet with salespeople and review the value the salespeople's solutions have delivered to their organization—so take advantage of that opportunity. Don't assume executives always have a clear understanding of the value you delivered—make certain you communicate that value directly to them in a succinct manner. In addition, consider conducting annual meetings with senior-level executives to review the value you deliver to them on a recurring basis. This could elevate their view of you to either problem solver or trusted advisor status.
SMM's coverage continues next month with "How to Gain Executive Access."
Nicholas A. C. Read is founder and president of SalesLabs (www.salslabs.com). For more information on the book, "Selling to the C-Suite," visit www.cxo-selling.com.