It drives me crazy when people perceive the sales process as glad-handing or wining and dining. Salespeople are skilled professionals. Yet as a company president and business owner, I see sales from a different perspective.
I've been contacted by salespeople for just about every product or service imaginable and seen excellence and disasters. The best salespeople not only know their product or service inside and out but have also taken the time to study my company and its culture. The odds of success are so much higher when the sales pitch is tailored to how the company operates. Here are six tips:
1. Understand the organization.
Many sales professionals assume that approaching the CEO is key to making a sale. In most cases, that assumption is wrong.
If a salesperson goes right to the proverbial top of my company, he or she is bypassing the people who will make or break the relationship.
As CEO, I am not going to usurp the decision-making authority vested in my employees. If a purchasing decision is made that circumvents these employees, this is certain to demoralize and deflate them. I am more concerned about employee respect, empowerment and morale than any product or service.
If salespeople understand my company enough to find the relevent decision maker, their chances of success increase dramatically. If I receive a positive recommendation from my decision makers, then they have my attention.
2. Understand that organizations change.
When a company is of modest size, a certain senior executive might confer with the salesperson directly. As companies grow and responsibilities change, though, stay tuned. Don't bank on yesterday.
For example, I used to handle my company's benefits. Over time, I transferred that responsibility to another executive better suited to the task.
Despite several attempts to inform a certain salesman of the change, he refused to recognize it. He continued to bypass the right party, thinking he'd be OK as long as I was around. A competitor studied our organization, went through the correct channels and built credibility with the right people. Who do you suppose is handling my company's business now? I am running a business not a country club.
Never rely on a relationship with a company executive as a long-term sales strategy. People change and roles change.
3. Become a strategic asset.
My company is relocating and building a new office building. I'm very involved with the new office planning and have met with several prospective vendors. All but one immediately began to promote their furniture, prices or service. Only one salesperson came in with a different game plan.
He asked, "Why do you have an office in the first place? After all, you could perform most things remotely. So, why are you spending the capital on an office?" These questions led to a discussion about teamwork, the need for communication and tearing down silos. All these are core values at my company.
This value-based discussion led to some strategic thinking about my company's office design including the limitations of the space and the organization's vision for the future.
The sales representative offered to prepare a preliminary design that was aligned with my company's objectives and values. He indicated that my company was free to use the design and choose another vendor if he could not meet our objectives when it came time to buy furniture.
This ranks as textbook perfection for positioning a product or service for a sale at the executive level. This salesperson took a commoditized product (office furniture) and approached it as a strategic sale. The vendor showed how his products support my company's values and strategic goals.
4. Respect my time.
Take the advice of President Woodrow Wilson. When an official congratulated the president on introducing the vogue of short speeches, he inquired about the preparation time involved.
He said: “It depends. If I am to speak 10 minutes, I need a week for preparation; if 15 minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
Be prepared. Be concise. If there's a need for background, do research before the meeting. Don’t use the meeting to probe for a value proposition that I want to hear. Instead using the meeting to investigate what's giving the company pain (consultative selling), do the homework. Arrive at the meeting knowing with reasonable certainty about the company's needs.
Be prepared to put a best foot forward based on the strength of the product or service. Do this by networking with the people in my organization who would be closest to the product or service involved.
5. Know whom I trust.
Cold calls and letters are not likely to land a meeting. The most effective salespeople operate within a network. The odds of a meeting soar if a referral comes from a trusted business associate or advisor (not just some friend of a friend on Facebook or LinkedIn). The odds of a meeting are increased if a salesperson has served as a value-added resource inside a network. If a trusted source raves about a certain product or service, I will want to ensure that a meeting with the appropriate salesperson occurs.
Don’t try to get around my company's gatekeeper. The gatekeeper is there for a reason. A salesperson pretending like he and I are old friends does not work. My gatekeeper knows my trusted network quite well. Treating my company's gatekeepers with disrespect means zero chances of doing business with my organization.
6. Leave the gifts at home.
At a previous company I worked for, a box arrived at my office with a beautiful Mont Blanc pen set and a request for an appointment. Needless to say, the vendor was banned and the gift returned.
Know and respect a company's vendor gift policy. I don't allow any sort of entertainment or gifts during the courtship. It makes me feel like a salesperson is trying to buy my business. Once a vendor is selected, then limited, reasonable entertainment (such as a lunch) may be appropriate. Never violate written or commonsense integrity principles. There's no faster way to kill the chances of doing business.