There are typically four ways to gain access to senior client executives.
- The Overt approach is a direct phone call or a phone call preceded by either a letter or an email.
- Using a Credible Sponsor in the client organization to help you secure access.
- Using a Referral (someone outside the organization, such as a consultant or business associate) to help you secure access.
- Treating the Gatekeeper as a Resource to help you get access.
In our research, executives told us that (from their perspective) the best way to gain access to them was by using a credible sponsor within their organization. 84% of the time, executives said that by using that approach salespeople would obtain a meeting with them!Q. How can salespeople quickly establish trust and credibility with senior-level decision makers?
When we asked senior client executives "How does a salesperson establish credibility and trust with you?", they gave the following answers (listed in their order of importance):
- Ability to marshal resources
- Understands my business goals and objectives
- Responsive to my requests
- Willingness to be held accountable
What they mean by "Ability to marshal resources" was that when there was a problem during an installation, for example, they wanted a single point of contact within the sales organization who has the responsibility and accountability for the solution.
Even if the installation involved multiple business partners, they wanted to be able to go to one person who could "marshal the resources" to solve the problem.Notice that factors like understanding their business goals and objectives, being responsive to their requests and willingness to be held accountable also show up as key factors.
Credibility is the intersection of capability - the ability to get things done - and integrity - the trust factor - and those two factors are the most important ones when dealing with senior client executives.
Q. If you could give sellers only one piece of advice for selling to the C-suite, what one it be?
My advice would to be persistent - but focus on developing relationships with credible players in the client organization who could help you obtain access to the executive you are attempting to reach. When that person helps you gain access to the senior executive, make certain that you do your homework before that critical first meeting.
Don't expect the executive to educate you - be prepared with questions that ask for the executives insight (something you typically can't get from the Internet). Then, make certain that you are consistently responsive to the client and demonstrate a willingness to be held accountable.
In the book, we talk about the need to get access to the relevant executive for the sales opportunity. This executive is often overlooked – even by the most experienced salespeople. We make the point in the book that you may not always need to get to the CEO of the client organization to sell your solutions.
In fact, in many cases, salespeople are better served by not getting to that level to try to close deals involving their solutions.You need to find the executive with the highest rank and greatest influence for the specific sales opportunity.
We identify that executive as the relevant executive – and we also point out that the relevant executive could be defined as the executive who stands to gain the most or lose the most as a result of the application or project associated with the sales opportunity.
If you can align with that executive you will find that s/he will be able to exert an element of informal power as it relates to the buying decision.
Steve Bistritz, founder of SellXL, a sales training and consulting company that helps sales teams gain access, describe their value, and ultimately, become perceived as trusted advisers, to senior executives in client organizations.
He spent more than 27 years at IBM where he managed and led the instructional design, development and implementation of numerous national sales training programs. In 1994, he left IBM and led the development of nationally recognized sales training programs and processes such as Target Account Selling and Selling to Senior Executives for Target Marketing System. He started SellXL in 2002.
Click here to download an excerpt from his new book, Selling to the C-Suite.