13 Sep Selling Up
Question: Because of downsizing, rightsizing and a number of other factors within my accounts, many of my traditional contacts have been eliminated. I feel the need to sell higher in the organization, even to CEO and president level. However, this hasn’t been my usual contact and I am a bit uncomfortable selling to this level. Do you have any advice?
Regardless of economic conditions, you’re wise to “go deep” in any account. Gaining exposure to more than one contact will decrease your risk of vulnerability. However, there are additional reasons to “sell up”.
Why Sell Up?
Most salespeople avoid selling to the CEO/president level, simply because they have never done so before. Yet, it is at this level that strategic decisions are made. If you deliver the right message, you receive more attention and better treatment when connected at the top. Here are some reasons to sell to the top:
- It at least doubles your chances of getting the business.
- The partnership will be based on bigger, broader issues and will last longer.
- The high level executive is more accessible than ever as flatter organizations move senior executives closer to customers and to the people performing the company’s value-added work.
What Does It Take To Sell Up?
Because high level executives do not receive sales calls, they are typically open to new ideas, as long they are executive level ideas. When you approach top executives, you can’t use the same approach as when you call on purchasing agents or any other contact. Don’t think of yourself as a salesperson. Instead, think at the level of your new contact. CEO’s are concerned with issues affecting the growth of their company. You increase value for the CEO by identifying opportunities that will increase profits, expand market share or enhance competitiveness. These are benefits that the executive wants to discuss.
For high level executives, benefits are almost always translated to results. Be sure you talk about how you can affect the results that they are looking for in their specific organization. Here are some examples:
Examples of “Hard Dollar” results:
- Increased efficiency
- Measurable increase in revenues.
- Increased sales.
- Greater market share.
- Substantial decrease in fixed or variable expenses.
- Reduced time to market.
- Reduced cost of sales.
Examples of “Soft Dollar” results:
- Reduced risk and worry.
- Greater convenience, ease in completing daily tasks.
- Ability to set new trends.
- Ability to be the first to recognize a new marketplace.
- Recognition, praise, esteem in industry, peers of community.
- Increased customer loyalty.
- Improved employee morale and motivation. Improved labor relations.
Contacting the High Level Executive
Contacting a high level executive requires a different approach than reaching any other level. Don’t think or act like a salesperson. One salesperson was a little unnerved during a recent sales meeting with a CEO. The CEO did most of the talking. We simply listened and asked high level questions. When we left the meeting, the salesperson said she was disappointed that she wasn’t able to tell more about her company’s capabilities. She was even more shocked, however, when she won the client’s confidence and a large project! Perhaps the hardest adjustment for salespeople when selling to executives is to stop selling! Spend most of your time asking strategic questions and listening. Don’t try to lead or hard close the top executive. If you demonstrate that you are a strategic thinker with valuable ideas for growing their business, they’ll help you make the connection for necessary action steps.
Do your research to understand what’s important to your customer in terms of strategic objectives. Begin by understanding the customer’s vision, identifying their values and focusing on their core competencies. If you don’t know, extract the information from the company’s annual report and include a statement in your cover letter. Establish the connection between its vision and your proposal.
If you are nervous about selling up, consider contacting the CEO out of context. Don’t arrange a typical sales meeting. Instead, meet the executive at a function such as a CEO round-table, breakfast, golf outing or other more social environment.
Here are some additional tips for preparing for and meeting with higher level executives:
- Ask questions to determine what your prospect’s senior executives use as a measurement of success (units sold, profitability, inventory turns, etc.)
- Sell at a high level. Avoid technical terms or asking questions that the executive can’t answer.
- Before an appointment or call, check the stock price of your prospect’s company. Congratulate your prospect when it is up. Ask why when it is down.
- For each client, begin a list of company vernacular. Refer to it before each call or appointment.
- Read industry journals relating to the issues in your client’s business. The Wall Street Journal is a must for all salespeople calling on top-level execs.
- Listen carefully to executives. Most salespeople who successfully “sell up” avoid a data dump of features and benefits.
- Begin your cover letter with a quote from an admired company.
- Design a one-page newsletter filled with information on business trends. Fax it to the executives on the morning of an executive meeting.
- Collect stories of business successes, unusual ideas or different approaches.