CEOs and Sales Leaders! Is your Director of Inside Sales unintentionally sabotaging your growth efforts?

“They’re not our target customer.”

“They don’t buy what we sell.”

I’m paraphrasing – and, this is what I’ve heard from several leaders of BDRs, SDRs and inside sales teams (who do outbound prospecting) who have pushed back when I’ve advocated taking a top down approach – that is, prospecting to the CEO of that ‘must win’ or ‘named account.’

I get it. I do.

The CEO may not be the buyer or user of your service, product or solution – and after an internal referral or one call, you may never need to speak with that CEO again (although I strongly recommend keeping them in the loop).

AND, it’s the fastest way my clients know how to get conversations started with the account they want to do business with. Prospecting cycles get reduced from weeks or months, 7 to 15 touches to seconds, minutes and hours with between 1 to 3 touches.

Imagine the impact this approach would make to your business…

Here’s are a couple of typical outcomes.

“Using Matt’s methods the first week, I secured a meeting with a hard to reach client (CEO) in 26 minutes and had a meaningful pitch to another client I was trying to engage for 18 months! I highly recommend Matt to evaluate how you are selling as his methods have worked for me.” Sr. Manager, Business Development

“My Senior Enterprise Director has been trying to get into ACCOUNT for years. I just got a meeting with the VP Operations in 6 minutes…” Business Development Associate

When the CEO of a company decides that a conversation or referral is warranted it loosens the grip of “status quo” bias. Mid-level executives who are tasked with executing and operationalizing existing initiatives are suddenly made aware that this is, or could be, a new change initiative that is a high priority. And that is what sales is, introducing new process, technology or behaviour. So, start your sales motion with people who are change orientated (for avoidance of doubt, that is the C suite).

So why do many inside sales leaders tell their reps to start their prospecting cycles at VP, Director or Manager level?

In my experience, there are two reasons.

  1. Ideal Customer Profiles
  2. Generational behaviours

An Ideal Customer Profile typically describes the person(s) who may have bought your service, product or solution in the past. It tends to focus on VP and below titles and is often pulled together by marketing.

However most marketers have never prospected or had to set a cold appointment. Sorry marketing folks, I love you for a great deal of what you do. You get my drift…

In addition, most ICP’s don’t take into account the circumstances, reasons or trigger events that cause mid level prospects to contact your company or the 1 out of 100 contacted who take your reps call. 95% of mid level buyers are fine with the status quo…until they aren’t. That’s usually because they’ve been tasked by their C suite to fix or find something to do business differently. So ICP’s are at best incomplete.

Generational behaviours…many inside sales leaders have learned to call on mid-level executives because that is what their leaders did when they were reps and they simply haven’t considered “going high.”

While it may be counterintuitive to what they believe works,  speaking to the top level execs directly actually accelerates prospecting results; namely conversations with or referrals to people who can actually say “yes” (or “no” quickly) to what it is that you sell.

Without someone clearly showing sales teams why they need to start high and then show them how to do it properly, they simply repeat the behaviours of predecessors –  and perpetuate unproductive habits and processes that are passed on from one generation of prospectors to another.

Be a ‘transitionary’ leader. Break that cycle of generational dysfunction.

If you’re an executive reading this, ask your inside sales leader what the job titles they instruct their reps to call on – or just have a peek at the job titles of the people attached to the opportunities in your pipeline. If you see lots of VP, Dir and Manager titles, you may want to have a chat with your inside sales leader about that. Long sales cycles and low proposal to win rates lie ahead. Just sayin’.

(If you’re an inside sales leader reading this, contact me for some stats on the difference that you will make by going high: + show rates, + call quality, + number of calls/meetings, + number of opportunities generated from calls, + $ value of opportunities. It could lead to your next promotion.)

“Matt is the world’s greatest authority on teaching salespeople to prospect and sell to the C-level.” – Gerhard Gschwandtner, CEO Selling Power Magazine, Advisory Board Member Sales Enablement Society

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Convert more opportunities into wins with this one sales tip

Here’s a counterintuitive idea for the corporate world: empathy sells.

A coaching client of mine, an excellent salesman, told me he was feeling nervous about a sale. He was in the final stages, and the client had narrowed it down to his company and a competitor. They offered essentially the same services, and my friend’s services were marginally more expensive—so how could he be sure that he would win the deal?

“Well,” I said, “have you asked about the client’s personal win?”

Behind every purchase decision, there’s always two things going on. There’s the surface-level value, the logical considerations, i.e. does this make financial sense, will this save my company money, will it be profitable. That’s what you’re usually thrashing out in the early to mid stages of a sales discovery conversation.

But underneath that is an emotional decision, which is usually invisible to both the buyer and the salesperson. People do things, essentially, because it serves them on an emotional or unconscious level. And really skilled salespeople, at the top of their game, are going to tap into this underlying decision to serve their customer’s best interest and win the deal. They’re going to use empathy—that is, they are going to think from the perspective of the customer—to figure out the customer’s personal win.

Eventually, you should get to the stage where you sort out the business and financial side of a deal. The next question you need to ask your customer is—what do you, personally, want to get out of or stand to gain from this? What’s the personal win for you if you go ahead with this? And in my experience, this question is always followed by silence.

That silence is pure gold. Too often, sales conversations end up being a sort of casual, boilerplate patter on both sides – like you’re exchanging pleasantries at the water cooler. If you can break through that, and have a meaningful connection with your client, you’ll be rewarded with dead quiet—because, for the first time in that conversation, they’re really thinking.

Value is created when you take your client to places they’ve never been before, and introduce them to concepts they’ve never thought about. Just like that, you’ve differentiated yourself from your competitors.

The personal win could be anything, depending on who you’re talking to. An executive with a high-octane lifestyle and a stressful workday might want to buy your solution because it will free up more time so he can go sailing with his wife more often.

Whether it’s success, relaxation, or obligation, everyone has their underlying drives and desires.  And it’s your job as a salesperson to figure out what that is.

Most of the time the customer won’t even be clear about what their personal win is.  But when you can help them articulate it, you immediately differentiate yourself…and gain a new friend.

My client went back to his customer and asked her about her personal win. It turned out she needed to get a large project under her belt to get the promotion she wanted. When she awarded him the contract, he asked why she chose him. She said she gave it to him because he asked her what she wanted, what was in it for her. The other sales person hadn’t. One question made all the difference.

Remember, when you’re making deals, the numbers and business case are only half the story. Sure, ostensibly, you’re trying to increase revenues, or streamline, or halve operating costs; but you’re also dealing with a human being, not a spreadsheet. Being personable, discerning, and figuring out what your client wants as an individual: that’s the key to success in sales. Lock down the personal win, and you’ve got a happy client.

(Note for sales leaders: If your team suffers low proposal to win rates, start expecting and coaching for a clearly defined business case in your sales people’s proposals (ideally to the ultimate decision maker).

Also, ask your sales people what the personal win for each buyer is. And while the personal win may not be included in a proposal, particularly if several people are involved in the evaluation process, this is good deal hygiene. A business case and personal win are LEAD indicators for successful deals.)

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The classic sales mistake I made so you don’t have to

Do your SDRs prospect senior decision makers whose job it is to introduce change – or into mid-level executives whose job is to execute on already decided initiatives? Can they create budget, or are they assigned a budget by someone with more authority?

Here’s my story. Read it and take the lesson for your own sales team.

I sometimes partner with a leading-edge AI predictive analytics company that helps sales organizations improve pipeline accuracy up to 99% by running really sophisticated win/loss probability scenarios.

The clients I’ve introduced them to, really value the service they provide. So I’m always keen to introduce them to people who I think would benefit from their service and will appreciate the intro. It’s my way of adding additional value to my network beyond my own New Business Sales Advisory, Consulting, Training and Coaching services.

Recently I was on LinkedIn and came across a contact of mine who I hadn’t been in touch with for quite some time – because her job title, Director of Sales Operations, isn’t usually the level I approach directly for my core business. (I sometimes work with sales ops after I have been engaged by CEOs or Sales Leaders as part of wider sales transformation initiatives and I introduce my AI partner if I think my client will benefit)

Sales/Inside Sales Leaders and SDRs! Look at the pressure your mid level “ideal” prospects are under…and why they aren’t really all that ideal…

I decided to ping this Sales Ops Director and send a note about my AI partner and how she and her sales org would benefit from having a chat with them.

Now, for those of you who know me and my approach to new business sales, which is to always start at the CEO when prospecting, you’ll have spotted how I am already violating my own rule/not eating my own dog food. And, I was aware that I was doing that, because I wasn’t really prospecting, rather I was thinking how I could be helpful to her – and if you’ve had a prior relationship and already have trust, you can sometimes overcome status quo bias.

Silly me! This wasn’t one of those times.

I could and should have predicted the outcome…

“Hey Matt, great to hear from you. Long time! This service sounds amazing, but I am completely under water and don’t have a second to devote to new initiatives. Could you reach out in 6 months?”

Now this from a person who knows me, and has done so for several years.

What do you think happens when your SDRs prospect into a mid ranking executive – VP, Director, Manager who they don’t know from Adam/Eve?

The result is lots of drudgery…7 to 15 touches over months only to get involved in drawn out conversations, long sales cycles and proposals that don’t end in a win. And it’s because you’re prospecting to the wrong people.

Research from The Chasm Group shows that 85% of budgets are assigned to “existing initiatives.” So unless you’re speaking directly to the budget-makers everyone else rarely have the bandwidth or will to take on new projects without direction from their executive team.

Your team needs to be prospecting budget creators whose focus is on growing the business and who are open to change ideas/initiatives.

So, by all means keep your SDRs or salespeople prospecting to these mid level job titles if you want an anemic pipeline, long sales cycles and low win rates. And keep asking bright, motivated (for the time being) people to exert their best efforts and energy on low probability outcomes. Drudgery is part of life. Got to “respect the grind/hustle” right? Pah! Nonsense.

Learn from my momentary misstep.

Shift your team’s prospecting focus from middle to top executives. You’ll fill your pipeline with more, better quality opportunities, far faster. I predict less stress, a better quality of life and more success  for everyone.

If you want to have a conversation and explore some ideas on how you and your team could benefit from taking an Executive Access approach to prospecting, then get in contact.

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