One of the most frequent complaints I hear from sales people is the frustration of being held at arm’s length from the actual decision maker. In the course of my sales effectiveness consulting career, I have helped countless sales people overcome this challenge on a consistent basis, and many of my client companies have gone on to establish executive access as a cultural norm and competitive advantage. Access to power is a sales agility challenge. It takes an effort to tailor a message that will resonate with the power person, and motivate the sponsor to take you there.
Let’s break this challenge down into one simple concept. You will be taken to the person you sound like. If you sound like a technical person, you will be sent to the technical evaluator. If you sound like a VP, you will eventually be taken to the VP. If you sound like a CFO, your request to meet the CFO will be earnestly considered.
Your messaging should be crafted to interest the person you want to access. If you unconsciously repeat your sales messaging without crafting it, you will find yourself stuck at the same level of every organization you approach, usually an evaluator level.
Crafting a message sounds easy right? Unfortunately, most people get into a habit, and are not self-aware of their own behaviors. Let’s test our self-awareness and our agility in crafting a tailored message.
Here’s a simple test: Take a pen or pencil and jot down the most critical business issue facing your top prospect.
If you don’t know it, and can acknowledge you don’t know it, that’s the first step in self-awareness. Go to their website and look at their recent press announcements. Look for business problems. Next, go to your favorite search engine, type in their company name with an added word like “problem”, “issues”, or “challenges”. See what pops up. Then look at their operating statement. Are they any numbers that are worse than they were the year before? Do any of their numbers look worse than their closest competitor? Going through this five minute exercise will usually give you a better understanding of their business issues, find at least one business issue you can contribute to, and will prepare you to craft a compelling message that attracts more powerful stakeholders.
If you think you know the business issue, and the answer has any of your solution description in it, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Nine times out of ten, when I ask a seller to describe the business issues’ facing a prospect, their answer is a solution request, “They need our XYZ product…” or, “They’re not happy with the competitive solution and want to evaluate ours.” In either case, the seller is seller focused, not customer focused. Until they become self-aware of this orientation, they cannot craft messaging that will attract decision makers.
Let’s assume you found the most current business issues facing a company. Now write down the top three to five problems they have addressing this business issue. The unaware seller will usually describe the situation with answers that don’t specify problems, such as, “They have 50 offices.” or “their existing solution is out of date.” These answers might insinuate a problem, but they don’t explicitly disclose a problem. They need to articulate the problems more succinctly, such as, “They have so many offices, management can’t scale to cover them all effectively.” Or, “Their existing solution caps out at 50 users, and they have several hundred requiring access at the same time.” Most executive buyers don’t have the time or the first hand usage experience to be able to connect situational information to a problem that is impeding the resolution of their business issues. An agile seller is specific in the problem diagnosis.
Lastly, describe the business issue in terms of impact. Most sellers want to describe the quantified benefit of their solution through the eyes of other customers. “Research shows our customers’ produce 15% more widgets than their competition.” While this is a valuable proof statement, validating your success, it does not equate to their value proposition. Instead, quantify and confirm their business issue from their perspective. “From what you’ve told me, your cost of sales are 18% higher than your competition, creating a $75 million profit problem. Who would be interested in solving this issue?”
When you can string these three topics together, you’ll find doors opening to more influential stakeholders. Contrast Seller A and Seller B:
Seller A: “We have the fastest widget in the industry, used by 450 of the Fortune 500.”
Seller B: “I noticed your new product revenue is down 22% over last year, complicated by a lack of skilled talent, longer development cycles, and the currency crisis in Europe. Who in your organization would be interested to hear how we can address these problems?”
Seller B has crafted a tailored message that is customer focused and does not rely on a solution description. They have a much higher chance of being taken to more stakeholders than Seller A.
Access to power is an agility challenge that requires self-awareness, some research, and an effort to deliver a message that fits the customer’s issues and problems. Falling into the pattern of talking about your product without the context of the customer’s parameters, will box you into an evaluator level dialog.
Are you agile enough to learn how to create a tailored message and use it to gain access to decision makers?
Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.