Over the years I’ve heard from many sales leaders who have been frustrated by efforts to get their salespeople to call wider and higher in their accounts. Although we all have a strong belief that there are opportunities outside the safe “green zone” of familiar contacts, many salespeople are particularly intimidated by trying to get appointments with executives.
And if they do get an appointment, they are unsure about taking the best advice—to “leave your bag at the door” and talk about the executive’s business. That seems to take them too far afield from what they know best—their products.
To overcome this type of call reluctance, I’d suggest building confidence by helping salespeople learn to “speak executive.” The biggest help is to provide some language and terminology to describe what is most important to a business leader. I use the term “critical success factors” (CSFs) as a way to zero in on the handful of things that keep executives awake at night—the things that have to go right for them to reach their goals. These factors are also where our solutions can have the greatest impact on the business.
Since there are CSFs at the industry level as well as the company and departmental level, I coach my people to do some research first to find out what’s critical to the industry. You can say, “Such and such is a concern for many companies in your industry. Is it a concern for you as well?” This is a great conversation starter and shows homework has been done. The next step is to ask about goals (which any executive can easily reel off) and follow up with questions about what is critical to achieve those goals. This has a double effect. The salesperson gets great information about priorities, and the executive gets something to think about. Executives often haven’t thought about their issues in just those terms.
There’s obviously more to a successful strategy for calling across the entire enterprise—people need a whole strategic calling plan, for one thing. But a few clear tips on what to say to get an appointment and what to say when you get there goes a long way toward building the confidence to really go after opportunities that can only be found outside the “green zone” barriers.
Have you found your sales team is hesitant about calling on higher-level decision makers? What seems to get in the way? What have you found to be effective in making successful calls on executives?