The most under-leveraged and misused asset in a sales opportunity is the Executive Team. Correctly involving themselves in an account or sales cycle is an art that few Executives have mastered. Executive customer calls are frequently clumsy attempts to close a deal that the salesperson has been unable to do on their own. These types of calls often do more harm than good and are executed as an act of last resort.
Just like the addition of any other members of your selling team, an Executive’s presence and contributions can be an asset or a liability. But when a major sales opportunity with a prospect or client arises, a properly coached Executive may help demonstrate your company’s commitment to making the relationship succeed. When conducting your next sales call with an Executive, follow these five considerations to ensure an effective executive sales meeting that positions the relationship and YOU correctly for the future:
- Planning & Practice
In a sales cycle of six months, there will be many meetings focused on educating and assuring the potential client. There are far less meetings, typically between three to five, that provide the opportunity to significantly swing momentum in your direction. These few opportunities are often recognized as important, and, as a result, one or more Executives are invited to attend. Unfortunately, it’s common for no additional planning to go into these game-changing meetings than regular client meetings. That leaves the door wide open for the Executive to go in completely unprepared and take the sales cycle in an unplanned direction. When planning, it is critical to do the appropriate research for an important executive sales meeting. Invite your Executive and apply the 30/30/30 rule as you prepare:
- 30% of the preparation time should be spent researching the individuals attending the meeting. Use social media and your network to identify political connections; uncover their personal agendas so they can be leveraged accordingly.
- 30% should be spent creating the materials for the meeting, whether it’s a video, demonstration, PowerPoint, a call plan, preconditioning documents, or an agenda.
- 30% should be used to role-play and practice the dialogue and the sound bites for the meeting. Participants should be clear about their specific roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
The remaining 10% of preparation time should be used to provide context on the account and to update the Executive with critical data. Work together to set an agenda, identify what each person should and shouldn’t do, and to plan for any anticipated potential issues that could take you off track. Discuss expectations for the Executive’s participation before, during, and after the meeting. Confirm that he or she has time for a short debrief.
- Purpose of the Respective Roles
The Executive’s purpose in a sales call is to bring value over and above the value brought by the salesperson. Therefore, their role is not to sell a specific product/service or attempt to close the sales cycle. It is to position the company in a manner the salesperson would be unable to do. The customer needs to not only believe in the product/service, which is the salesperson’s responsibility, but also believe in the company behind it, which is the Executive’s responsibility. Your plan should include strategies for the Executive to discuss, such as corporate strategy direction, commitment and expansion in research and development, mergers and acquisitions, etc.
It is critical the salesperson maintains control of the meeting. If the Executive takes over and allows the conversation to creep into the salesperson’s domain, then they steal currency from the salesperson. Once this takes place, it becomes difficult for the salesperson to regain credibility in the customers’ eyes. Instead, the Executive needs to make it very clear this is the salesperson’s meeting and he or she was invited as a guest. The salesperson must be seen as confident and capable; positioned as responsible for the orchestration of the meeting and the account. Even a casual offer from the Executive inviting the client to call them if there’s a problem immediately undermines the credibility of the salesperson. Why would the client continue to communicate with the salesperson when they have direct access to the Executive?
- Preparation to Establish Effective Communication Lines
Sometimes it’s necessary in an account for your Executives to be matched with Executives in the client environment, creating a parallel set of communication lines between the organizations. This is a difficult construct, as it limits how high the salesperson might reach in the client’s organization. And if not executed correctly, the Executive may start to focus on lower levels in the client’s organization, thereby reducing the currency of both themselves and the salesperson. Salespeople should operate at higher levels within the client’s organization. This will require a higher degree of risk, coaching, and trust the salesperson can execute “above their weight.” Establishing a single point of contact for an account is critical to the success of the relationship. Preparing and discussing strategies together before the meeting is well worth the time. One of the key responsibilities of every Executive is to lend further credibility to their salespeople in the client environment. They are not there to talk about products/services or to close the sale; that’s your job. Salespeople should be the ones to close the meeting, thank the clients for their time, and control the planning for the next action step.
- Looking Ahead
Successful sales reps are always thinking ahead. After the meeting, take a few moments to debrief the meeting. Discuss with your Executive; What went well? What could have gone better? Reflect on how you might have prepared and guided your Executive in different ways. Ask for feedback. Most importantly, based on what you learned in this meeting, what will you do differently next time?
Personal Challenge: Employ the 30/30/30 rule for your next executive sales meeting. This is a valuable complement to the Encounter PlanTM Template that keeps you, your Executives, and others involved on the same page.