Start With the Top Dog: A Sales Primer

Learn how to approach the bigwigs, forge lasting partnerships with them and make sales even in a tough economy from the authors of Five Minutes With VITO (Making the most of your selling time with the Very Important Top Officer).

In uncertain times, it's more important than ever to forge alliances with the right people, but with executive assistants guarding the gateway to the bigwigs, it takes a certain panache that can be hit-or-miss when it comes to making the grade and scoring a space on the executive calendar. That's where co-authors Tony Parinello and David Mattson come in with their time-tested techniques for getting a foot in the door, geared for entrepreneurs, salespeople and managers.

As Parinello and Mattson explain in Five Minutes With VITO (Making the most of your selling time with the Very Important Top Officer), a VITO is any person who carries a title like CEO, founder, owner, president or chairman. The pair emphasize that as long as three topics are brought to the table when approaching VITO--making money, saving money, increasing efficiency or effectiveness--VITO will be interested in forging an alliance.

Contacting VITO
Talking to VITO
Getting Past the Gatekeeper How can small-business owners benefit by contacting VITO?

Tony Parinello: If you're an entrepreneur, you probably have a title that's a VITO, so it's like to like and that makes a whole lot of sense. You can jump through all the hoops with everybody else in the organization, but at some point in time, it's going to go to the approver for the approval. So why not start where it's eventually going to end?

David Mattson: They're [VITOs] not trying to save nickels, whereas managers--they get judged on their budget expenditures [VITO does not]. You also can increase your cross-sell ratio if you call the VITO. You can bundle a series of products that get set end results because the end result is important to VITO, not one or two specific products. It's easier to go deep and wide with that relationship.

Contacting VITO What's the best way to first contact a VITO?

Parinello: Depending on the industry, it's probably best to have a wave of activity before you pick up the phone. Send a correspondence--be it a first-class piece of mail, a postcard, handwritten note, an e-mail or an electronic presentation of some sort--but the secret with any correspondence is that there's specific action that you are going to take that's very apparent in that document, whatever the document is. It has to be very specific about the date, day and time that you're going to call to follow up. Is there a tip for what should go in the subject line?

Parinello: There is. The first thing you want to do, in any correspondence, is you want to salute the uniform of the private assistant. The private assistant's name has to be in any correspondence you send to VITO. That's so important. Next, if it's an e-mail, then you should take a thin slice of the action statement and put it in the subject line. For example, the action statement in a correspondence might say something like 'P.S. I'll call your office on Thursday, May 14 at 9:30 a.m. If this is not a good time, please have Tommie inform me as to a time I should make the call.' Now, Tommie is VITO's private assistant, so that's how you work Tommie's name into the correspondence. If it's an e-mail, you take a piece of that and you put it in the subject line: 'Re: our conversation 9:30 a.m. May 14.' Do you think it's common for business owners or entrepreneurs not to try to contact VITOs at all?

Parinello: It's very common because they've been told or they've experienced in the past that it doesn't work. They've got gatekeepers. They won't talk to salespeople. They're never in. It's a bad day to call them. It's a bad hour to call them. Why bother when I'm just going to get voice mail? I mean the excuses go on and on, that's why during the last 21 years, I've trained more than 2 million people how to do this. So here's another secret: Focus on three words: equal business stature. You have the right to change VITO's thinking pattern, you have a right to show up on their doorstep with something they don't already have, or something that's better than what they already have. So as a seller or entrepreneur, I don't have to have an equal title or equal business structure or equal size company; all I have to do is have equal business stature.

Mattson: I think it is a common mistake. Most small-business owners, especially if they're calling on an organization that's larger than them, make a decision at some level that [they] don't deserve to be there. And I think that you need to go into it with equal 'personal presence': that you're a VITO of your organization; you could be a VITO of your own sales career; you need to talk to that other person as if you are another VITO. Because if I see myself as a 'small business owner' with a company of two and you're a company of 2,000, then you're going to act differently--your conviction is gone.

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