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
- 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.
- 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.