Let's continue our exploration of when and how CEOs involve themselves in the buying process-often without salespeople even knowing about it. (By the way, if you missed last month's column, "Understanding How CEOs Buy," it's a must-read-it will create a foundation for what we're about to discuss.)
There are a number of classic scenarios for this pattern of silent CEO involvement that stops the sales process in its tracks for no apparent reason; I call this cycle the "perched pen syndrome." For each of the scenarios, you must learn to send the right messages to the CEO, the person who actually has the power, whether it looks like he or she is involved or not. Last month, we looked at two such scenarios; this month, we'll look at one that belongs in a class by itself.
Situation No. 3: The potential exists for dramatically increasing revenue, either by exploiting new markets or by increasing the loyalty of existing customers. We'll look at new revenue generation first.
If there is one area of opportunity that instantly earns "top-of-mind" status for every selling and buying organization's leader, it is the prospect of acquiring new revenue from a new market. New-market revenue has a way of taking on particularly high priority when the competition is fiercer than usual, or (in a publicly owned company) when a board meeting is somewhere on the horizon. Revenue from previously untapped markets or market segments is rightly associated, among CEOs, with increased brand recognition and competitive dominance-key indicators that the person at the top is doing the job and doing it well.
If you're a salesperson, you'll find that, when a big deal in a new market is on the line, the CEO who sells is highly likely to get involved in some way. He or she will often make a subtle (or not-so-subtle) effort to reel the business in personally. The CEO of the buying organization, on the other hand, may assume the position of the "approver" of the procurement transaction.if the sale represents the establishment of a strategically important new partnership.
Count on it. Top officers will be quick to pick up the telephone and make the "top-to-top" call when new revenue from new markets is at stake. There is some good news for salespeople on this score. The kind of call I'm talking about is such a common occurrence, and CEOs are so used to playing both the selling and buying roles, that salespeople who learn to sound like CEOs can learn to move the process forward at the top level. The same goes for salespeople who have access to high officials within their own companies and can persuade them to make the appropriate calls.
In other words: If there is one idea a CEO hasn't heard of before that seems to relate credibly to revenue generation in new markets, that CEO will listen to the idea. And by the way, if your product or service is so new that you don't have any customers yet, the very best place to find an "early adopter" in any buying organization is at the CEO level.
You must make your appeal in terms of cracking an under-exploited market, and note that you (or someone else in your organization) must make this appeal to the CEO. Why? It's the CEO's responsibility to explore every single new idea that has to do with untapped or under-tapped markets. It's the CEO's responsibility to "look around corners" and see market opportunities that no one else has identified yet. If you address that responsibility, you will hear from the CEO or someone he or she trusts, and you can trust that he or she will carefully monitor the relationship from that point forward.
If you're enlisting the aid of your own CEO in reaching out to the CEO of a target, make absolutely sure that he or she calls the CEO with the offer, and not anyone else in the organization! If the appeal is made to anybody else, your sales cycle will drag on endlessly as all the "CYA" specialists gather all the "facts" under the sun before making a "recommendation" to some higher-up. Why jump through all the hoops? Why waste weeks, months or even years on reference accounts, testimonials, demos and financial extrapolations when you or someone within your company can place a call to the top?
The Current Customer
Another "hot button" has to do with current customers. Winning and keeping their loyalty is extremely important to CEOs.
The customer base is an asset CEOs will do virtually anything to protect! Existing customers are the equivalent of the legendary goose that has the ability to lay the golden egg. In this case, the "golden egg" is the precious high-margin, add-on business that comes like a reward from existing customers. It's often said that it's nine times more costly to get a new customer than it is to grow an existing one.
That's why CEOs on both sides of the buying equation are likely to get involved-overtly or covertly-in any initiative they believe will affect customer loyalty. CEOs will go to great lengths to secure the loyalty of every existing customer; initiatives range from expensive golf tournaments to "touch-points" via questionnaires and flattering interviews in company newsletters. Consider what might follow if you or your company's CEO were to leave a phone message along the following lines:
A word of caution: If what you sell has a chance of being perceived by a CEO as adversely affecting customer loyalty, don't be surprised if a mysterious pause in the buying process ensues. The best way to get around this problem? Get the two "approvers" (your CEO and the target company's CEO) together for a face-to-face or telephone meeting to discuss the matter. This won't guarantee success, of course, but it will speed up your sales process and get you a clear answer.
Next month, we'll uncover other situations that bring CEOs into the buying picture.
Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches, Sales Success Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.