Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Inside Guide to Reaching Higher (Part 1)

Last week I was reviewing some emails and found this from Jill Konrath's blog. If we are to reach higher levels of success, we need to be prepared and here's a good start:

Selling to the C-Suite: Interview With the Author

Posted: 01 Dec 2009 05:59 PM PST

S2CS Book Cover JPG I recently had a chance to interview Steve Bistritz, author of Selling to the C-Suite - a newly released book on how to successfully sell to the top. He & co-author Nic Read, studied executive buying habits to determine what it takes in today's business environment.

Q: Steve, tell us about research you did with senior executives prior to writing Selling to the C-Suite.

Some of the specific questions we posed to the C-Level executives we interviewed included the following:
  • When and why do senior executives get involved in the decision-making process for major purchases?
  • What is the most effective method for salespeople to use to gain access to executives?
  • How do executives screen or test salespeople?
  • What has to happen in meetings with salespeople for the executive to feel it was effective?
  • How do salespeople establish trust and credibility with executives, hereby gaining return access?
Biz women on phoneQ. Can you define specifically what you mean when you say C-Suite?

When we refer to the C-Suite, we are talking about executives who typically report to the CEO. These executives usually have titles like Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the like. In some cases, these executives are the CEOs themselves.

Q. When and why do executives get involved in the decision process?

We asked executives when and why they got involved in the decision process for major purchases and we asked them that question in the context of an eight-step buying process. Here's what they told us they typically get involved early in the buying cycle to:

  • Understand Current Issues
  • Establish Objectives, and
  • Set strategy

Then they told us they also get involved at the end of the buying cycle to review the Implementation and Measure Results.

Having senior executives getting involved late in the buying process was somewhat unexpected; however, it clearly represents another opportunity for salespeople to meet with client executives to both assess the solution implementation and review the value they have delivered.

CXO-level executives clearly told us they want to meet with salespeople at that time…so we suggest that salespeople take advantage of that opportunity!

Successful_manNow here’s another surprise: Senior executives told us they tend to delegate these areas involved with Exploring Options, Setting Vendor Criteria and Vendor Selection to lower level managers in their organization - and it turns out that it is in these three areas where most sales cycles take place!

So - if you've never met with the senior executive before your sales cycle begins, you may never get a chance to meet with that executive!

Q. In your research you say that "traditional wisdom" about selling to execs was often at odds with what the execs said worked with them. Can you give a couple of examples?

Here are some of the surprises we found. Executives said ....
  • They weren't opposed to receiving sales pitches or presentations - as long as salespeople listened and understood their major concerns and business issues before proposing a solution. From the executive's perspective, salespeople often came to their office with a solution looking for a problem and that was a significant turn-off for the executives.
  • They wanted a single point of contact to help them resolve problems that arose during the implementation of a solution. Executives understand that complex solutions may often involve multiple business partners, but executives wanted a single point of contact and accountability.
  • They still value responsiveness and often cited that characteristic.

In summary, their description of when they get involved in the buying process for major purchases was interesting and insightful. It also indicated to us that they want to meet with salespeople at specific times in the buying process and may also avoid meetings with salespeople at other times in that process.

Q. Lots of people would love to sell to executives, but few actually succeed. In your opinion, what are the biggest reasons that sellers are failing?

The major reasons that sellers are failing comes down to four key points:

1) Not prepared to meet with the executive. Usually this means that the salesperson has not done his or her homework as it relates to understanding the executive's key business issues, including the main business drivers - the internal or external factors that are creating the need for change.

2) Failing to listen before proposing a solution. Executives want you to understand their needs and requirements before you propose a solution for their problem.

3) Inability to develop and deliver a compelling value proposition.
Executives are seeking to get the best return on their investment and they want to understand how an investment in your company's solution compares with other investment opportunities.

4) Failure to communicate and articulate your value. When your solution has been installed and is delivering value to the organization, we strongly suggest that you communicate that value to the executive.

Don't assume that the executive understands your value or is even aware of it. In addition, make it a point to deliver your value message with some frequency to make certain that executives in the client organization are aware of the value you, your company and your solutions are delivering to them.

Part II of this interview will be published on Thursday.


Steve Bistritz colorSteve 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.

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