PROBLEM # 1- NOBODY "gets" it all, let alone DOES it all.
Yes, establishing presence and building executive-style relationships are important. Being able to understand and address executive KPIs is critical. And being able to effectively converse in executive language to communicate the unique business value you can bring is crucial. But no one of these things is nearly enough. And frankly, the "training" you get from most of these companies, while sufficient for lower to upper-middle management sales, is not equally applicable at senior/executive levels.
WHY? Largely because the vast majority of "sales trainers" have little or no real business experience, let alone account-level and higher sales experience. And even MORE significantly, they have never BOUGHT anything. Which leads to....
PROBLEM #2- They're teaching you from the WRONG side of the table.
You've heard me say it before--
”If you want to know why John Smith buys WHAT John Smith buys,
you have to see the world through John Smiths eyes.”
Most sales trainers are great trainers. Some were even sales professionals themselves at one time-- though that's no guarantee they were successful. But very, very few were ever C-LEVEL BUYERS. There names may be Zig Ziglar or Brian Tracy, but almost NEVER are they the fore-mentioned "John Smith."
In my "sales" career, I have successfully carried over 1/2 billion dollars of quota and hit or surpassed my quarterly target 48 out of 50 consecutive quarters. But of more value to you as a sales professional targeting the upper tier of executive sales, I have PURCHASED over 1/2 billion dollars of goods and services over the course of my "executive" career. I AM John Smith.
Corner Office Conversations has been a place for me to share my thoughts primarily about how to "talk" to a C-level executive, understanding his or her KPIs and communicating in the appropriate "language" to enhance your value and credibility. I'd like to expand our conversation a bit to address the overall challenge of achieving true credibility with the C-Suite-- based on an insider’s perspective. NOT what some trainer or even another successful sales professional has researched, experienced or observed, but what my colleagues and I are actually thinking on the buyer's side of the table-- and what we say about you amongst ourselves after the meeting is over (it’s not always pretty).
In my next post we’ll begin to really see "why the CEO buys what the CEO buys-- through the CEOs eyes."
Especially when it comes to Executive-level sales. At the C-level, yes-- I expect you to bring me insight. Otherwise, why am I wasting time listening to someone parrot back to me something I already know? But I still expect you to have done your homework.
The only thing that will get you banned from the boardroom faster than pathetically commenting on my "snazzy" tie or asking me "what keeps me up at night" is for you to pretend you’re bringing "insight" into my business-- something with which I am intimately familiar, thank you very much-- when it's obvious you haven't put any real effort into understanding my specific needs and don't have a clue about the metrics/indicators that matter most to me. If your precious "insight" goes above and beyond issues, challenges and opportunities I've already identified, that's awesome. But not likely. Don’t count on being smarter than me or knowing my business better than I do. And dismissing my perspective of my own needs in favor of your opinion in an attempt to show how "insightful" you can be is a recipe for not just failure, but disaster.
I recall an experience where a well-meaning "insight"-driven sales rep for a well-respected global IT supplier was pitching top executives at one of the world’s largest “brick and mortar" book resellers with over 1300 retail outlets and 40 million customers. The rep used his precious 15-minute audience with the customer's CFO and CIO to introduce the "insight" that they could put kiosks in their stores to allow customers to place online orders while in the store.
The numbers? "Take a look at this spreadsheet showing that if you could increase your Internet sales at the same rate of growth as e-Commerce in general, you would more than pay for the system we're proposing!" Wow.
When asked where he got the data used to generate his assumptions, he proudly pulled out the business section of the previous day's USA Today.
Meeting over. Rep is blackballed from ever working with the firm again. And SOMEONE probably got fired for setting up a meeting that wasted so much valuable executive time while simultaneously insulting everyone's intelligence with such a brilliant "insight."
In the lazy search for simplistic models for improving sales performance, it's easy to take the naive approach that "insight" trumps or even obviates the need for the hard work required for truly consultative selling. But it can often just be an excuse for going back to the "good ol' days" when we could just tell the customer what’s best for them.
The risk of always going for the "big play" can be substantial.
While the 1926 World Series is famous for Babe Ruth's promise to hit a home run for seriously-ill Johnny Sylvester, it is also notorious as the only World Series lost on the last play by an ill-advised stolen base-- a misjudgment by the same Babe Ruth.
“Swing for the Fences” ALL the time, and you’ll hit some homers, but you’re also going to strike out MOST of the time.
C-Level Executives are Smart. And Busy. C-Level execs look at a potential purchasing decisions the same way as anyone else-- WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). And frankly, they couldn’t care less about what YOU have to sell. There are only a small handful of things that they really care about. If you have something to contribute on those issues, they're all ears. If not, they last thing they want to hear is another self-serving “pitch.”
So what does a CEO or CFO care about? I’m not talking about on a personal level, but as part of his or her job. And to get there, he or she must have been pretty good at it. Pretty focused. And 95 times out of 100 the CEO, COO and CFO are going to be most highly focused on the financial performance of the company relative to the goals and objectives serving the shareholders.
So that should be easy, right? More sales, more profits—what else is there?
If it was really that simple, do you think those execs would be pulling down the big bucks? First of all, depending on current status, investor/shareholder/market expectations, different organizations will have totally different financial objectives. Market leader in a mature market? Protecting profit margins probably is a high priority. Well-funded start-up in a new and promising space? Growth may be more important for the time being. Capital-intensive, low margin megabusiness? Reducing debt ratios might be high on the list.
To gain the credibility necessary to a) get a C-Level exec’s attention and b) keep it for more than 30 seconds, you need to do better than that.
First of all, you have to truly have a desire to help them succeed personally and professionally. No, really. I’m serious. The superficial, “who loves you baby, let’s do lunch,” approach will not work at this level. They’ll see right through it.
Secondly, you have to be able to let them know how you’re going to help them succeed-- in the context of what they care about and in the language that they understand. If you can summarize that in 30 seconds-- and if you’re lucky-- you’ll get another 10-15 minutes to go into detail. Once you actually get that golden opportunity to meet the "top dog," you'd better know what to say, and even more importantly HOW TO SAY IT.
And that’s what Corner Office Conversations is all about.
- Basic Sales Training. Corner Office Conversations is NOT another “sales training” blog. There are a lot of good ones out there, and from time to time I may even refer to a few of them. We won’t be covering “tie-downs,” “overcoming objections,” “takeaways,” and the myriad tricks and tactics of typical sales training. No “SPIN Selling,” “Little Red Books,” or even “Solution Selling.”
- Presentation Skills. Figure out how to dress for success and create PowerPoint slide animations on your own. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are or how snazzy your presentation is if I (as a C-level executive) don’t understand what you’re talking about or even worse, couldn’t care less.
- Decisionmaker Matrices. Yes, in typical sales situations it is sometimes difficult to figure out who really makes the decisions, and ever harder to get to them. In our world, it’s not that difficult. We may drop a few hints along the way as to how to get there, but for the most part I’m assuming you can figure that one out.
- Sales “Tools.” Don’t get me wrong-- I’m a huge believer in leveraging technology and other tools of the information age. And I will point you towards specific resources that support my particular perspective here. But you’re not going to get tips on maximizing the efficiency of your SFA system or implementing solutions for a distributed mobile workforce.