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Executive Calling

The Wisdom Behind Calling Higher

By David Yesford

For several decades, sales leaders and managers have favored the practice of calling higher in customer organizations. Over the same time span, this idea has persisted but the business environment has undergone many changes. Technology has changed the way we sell and the way our customers shop and buy. Recessions have given way to recoveries, and yet we still take it for granted that calling higher leads to larger sales, more revenue, and more profit.

Senior executives, the target of these elevated calls, report that sales representatives who truly bring value into these meetings are few and far between.

In a sixty-hour work week, there are only so many thirty-minute increments” “. . . it is amazing how many representatives call to get acquainted” . . . “I see them all once; then I select who I will see again.

Still a Good Idea?

Is calling higher still a good idea? How does it work in practice? What does it look like when it works? What can go wrong? What supporting practices must be in place in order for executive calls to be effective? And, most importantly, do your customer executives see value in the practice?

We Asked Executives

Wilson Learning interviewed senior executives about their role in their organization, their role in purchasing, and their experiences working with vendor sales reps.

“In a sixty-hour workweek, there are only so many thirty-minute increments” “. . . it is amazing how many representatives call to get acquainted” . . . “I see them all once; then I select who I will see again.”

The results of these discussions offer strong guidance about when calling higher works, when it doesn’t work, and how it works when it works well.

Executives Don’t Buy Products

Senior executives do not make buying decisions; they empower and support others to purchase products or services. Senior executives are, however, very interested in making sure purchasing decisions and processes fulfill the strategic aims of their organization. While they don’t make buying decisions, they do define the context in which those decisions find meaning, demonstrate purpose, and drive performance. Senior executives tend to have an adverse reaction to a meeting that starts to look, sound, and smell like a sales call.

Two Key Messages

  1. Senior executives meet with sales reps for their own reasons. They are quite clear about their criteria for getting involved at this stage, and they have high expectations the meeting will meet these criteria.
  2. Senior executives take meetings when trusted colleagues ask them. Executives coach their management teams to make decisions about when to involve them. These trusted managers are your best access to discover what senior executives are concerned with and what their expectations are when meeting with vendors.

These two messages have profound implications for sales representatives seeking to call high in their customer organizations.

Know the Customer Organization: Multiple Points of Contact

Sales representatives need to build and explore a network of multiple connections within their customer organizations in order to gain a full understanding of how the organization’s strategy plays out vertically and horizontally across the organization. Salespeople who can bring a thoroughly informed perspective of the customer organization find that senior executives welcome their insights.

Calling Higher: Elevate the Focus of the Conversation

When calling higher, the focus of the conversation needs to be higher as well. Instead of focusing on discovering needs, matching features to needs, or comparing specifications of competing solutions, salespeople need to be prepared to deliver business-level value when they meet with senior executives. This means they need to be prepared to demonstrate a broad knowledge of the customer’s industry and a deep knowledge of the customer organization’s strategic focus and short- and long-term goals. Senior executives expect you to know all of this walking in. They expect you to be familiar with the industry-wide issues they face every day and, to some extent, with current successes and shortcomings in executing their strategy. In short, senior executives have specific requirements that a meeting with a vendor representative will provide significant business value.

Create Business Value

So where does this business value come from? As it turns out, experienced salespeople can provide a valuable “consultant-like” perspective that is distinct enough from an executive’s own perspective to provide value. Salespeople who can successfully represent complex products or technical services and solutions most often have considerable experience across multiple industries. At a minimum, they know their own industry, their client organizations’ industries, and quite a bit about the customers of their client organizations. In the same way that binocular vision allows for depth perception, the salesperson’s perspective when added to the senior executive’s perspective can make sense of complexity and provide new insight into business activity.

In the same way that binocular vision allows for depth perception, the salesperson’s perspective when added to the senior executive’s perspective can make sense of complexity and provide new insight into business activity.

David Yesford

David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. and Managing Director of Wilson Learning APAC, has more than 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings valuable experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Mr. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in our core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He has also held managing director positions in both China and India.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He has also been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Mr. Yesford frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation.