All “Hat” and No “Cattle”Years ago a good friend (and fellow board member) who ran an large tech firm in Texas used that phrase to describe sales professionals that, while having great relationship and consultative selling skills-- and even knowing the “buzzwords” of business-- really had no SUBSTANCE to back up the braggadocio.
Sure, they were "smooth" and knew just enough to think they could pull off executive level sales. But it was clear to any savvy exec looking for real business value that more often than not, they were just self-absorbed, manipulative “empty suits.” They didn’t care enough about their clients to really get to know their business. They thought they could just skate by on charm and a superficial “needs analysis” that was not only shallow and naive, but was usually self-serving as well.
From our last discussion we know that we have to develop Credible Communication skills through Connecting, Consulting and Conversing. But in order to have real credibility, you have to know what to connect, consult and converse about!
Much like the Credible Communication model we discussed in the previous post, we can look at the content expectations at various levels of the organization as follows:
Obviously, you must have everything about your product/service, its features and benefits down cold-- even to sell to a low level purchasing agent. As you sell to successively higher levels of the organization, you are expected to have a broader perspective of how your offering fits into broader market and industry trends. Obviously, product knowledge is still indispensable, but you also need to be know your competition as well as the competitive landscape your customer is facing. As you dig deep, research and consult with your customer, you will be prepared for meaningful discussions at this level.
However, at the highest levels, all of that is a given.
Just table stakes for being able to even get a meeting with the CFO, CEO or other top general management. If you don’t understand and speak the language of finance, you may as well just take a number. Without understanding and speaking the language of finance, without a reasonable level of business acumen, you are just a walking catalog-- regardless of how carefully you’ve “customized” your pitch based on what you think are your customer’s needs.
And why IS that?
Because while financial performance isn’t the only thing a CEO cares about, it is far and away more important than anything else-- maybe more than everything else combined.
Think that’s an overstatement? Just ask every CEO from HP since the turn of the millennium, from Carly Fiorina to present-day Titanic captain Meg Whitman. Given today’s earnings announcement, you can bet that EVERY senior executive (and most of the company for that matter) is focused on financial performance issues.
The truth is, for a P&L executive, financial performance buys you the opportunity to do the other things you want and need to do.
So how do we define “financial performance?”
I’ve addressed this several times in past posts, most notably What’s so HARD about Selling to a CEO?, and we’ll be exploring the finer points of that issue in the future.
What we haven’t discussed is the relative significance of each of these credible communication skills-- especially in the context of the customer’s roles, values and objectives.
Certainly, at every level of your customer’s company all three skills are critical. And being able to “connect” with your customer is at the core of every business relationship. But as you move up the “food chain” from purchasing agents through middle management all the way up to top executives like the CFO or CEO, the ability to identify customer business value-- and converse about it in an intelligent and insightful way-- overshadows the sometimes superficial impact of traditional “relationship” selling.
Compounding that effect is the fact that at higher levels in the company, the influence and scope of financial authority increases as well. Lower management SPENDS the budget and middle management MONITORS the budget-- but it is upper management that SETS the budget. And has the discretion to modify those budgets based on how the opportunities you present align with and enhance Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) including, profit, margin, growth, etc.
Thus, while recognizing the importance of connecting and consulting skills in the pursuit of credibility, the focus of this blog is discussing the skill of executive “conversation.”
And now that we understand how to use Credible Communication skills at appropriate levels of the client company, next time we will explore what exactly executives expect to be able to communicate about. In other words, “how do we ensure our CONTENT is as credible as our COMMUNICATION?”