In many organizations, 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 the natural skills or training to do. 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 four simple guidelines to ensure an effective meeting that positions the relationship and YOU correctly for the future:
- Research, Plan, & Practice
In a sales cycle of six months in duration, there will be many meetings that are 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, an executive (or 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 preparing for these important meetings, invite your executive and apply the 30/30/30 rule:
- 30% of the preparation time should be spent researching the individuals that are going to be present in the meeting. Understand their political connections and their personal agendas so that they can be leveraged accordingly.
- 30% should be spent creating the materials for the meeting, whether it’s a 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. Make sure each participant understands their specific role and responsibility.
The remaining 10% of preparation time should be used to plan for potential negative surprises— things that could possibly go wrong or take you off track.
- Understand the Respective Roles
When an executive is engaged in a sales call, they need to bring value over and above the value brought by the salesperson. Therefore, an executive should rarely be used to sell a specific product/service or attempt to close the sales cycle. In short, the executive’s role is to position his or her company in a manner that the salesperson would be unable to do. The customer needs to not only believe in the product or service, which is the salesperson’s responsibility, but also believe in the company behind it, which is the executive’s responsibility. The executive is able to hold discussions in areas such as corporate strategy direction, commitment and expansion in research and development, mergers and acquisitions, etc.
- Maintain Control & Your Currency
If the executive takes control of the meeting and allows the conversation to creep into the salesperson’s domain, then the executive steals currency from the salesperson. Once this takes place, it becomes difficult for the salesperson to regain credibility in the customers’ eyes. Rather than stealing currency from the salesperson, the executive should be focused on building it. The executive needs to make it very clear that this is the salesperson’s meeting and that they were invited as a guest. The salesperson must be seen as responsible for the orchestration of the meeting and the account. Even the simple throwaway line from the executive that invites the client to call them if there’s a problem immediately destroys the currency of the salesperson. Why would the client continue to communicate with the salesperson when they have direct access to the executive?
- Establish Effective Communication Lines
Sometimes it’s necessary to play in an account where executives are matched with executives in the client environment, creating a parallel set of communication lines between the organizations. This is a construct I’m not fond of as it limits the currency of the salesperson to the same level in the client’s organization. If not executed correctly, the executive may start to focus on lower levels in client’s organization and reduce 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 and a higher degree of coaching and trust that the salesperson can execute “above their weight.” Establishing a single point of contact for an account is critical to the success of the relationship. Without it, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
One of the key responsibilities of every executive is to continually increase the currency of their salespeople in the client environment. They are not there to talk about products/services or to close the sale; that’s the your job.