Happy Sales To You

Get on the right trail by connecting with your prospects' star players.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

"Hitch your wagon to a star." I don't know whether Ralph Waldo Emerson was thinking about business when he penned that phrase many years ago, but it seems appropriate. When you hitch your wagon to a star, after all, you propel yourself toward the highest reaches, you get the best view of what's below, and you can go anywhere from there.

As an entrepreneur trying to sell your product or service, you want to connect with other "stars." That means selling directly to the top-to the presidents, CEOs and other top decision-makers in the companies you target.

Too often it's fear that prevents us from placing calls to people at the highest levels, so just think of it as F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real). The assumptions we make about top decision-makers may or may not be accurate, but we let those assumptions make us nervous and hesitant. Why? Company CEOs and presidents are just people. And studies have even shown that more than 80 percent of CEOs were in sales at one time or another, so they know how hard it is for you to approach them directly. They have great respect for people who have the skills and the tenacity to make the calls.

There are numerous advantages to selling at the highest level from the start. For example, working top to bottom makes it easier to get a clear picture of the company's decision-making process. Even if you don't reach the top gun, you'll probably speak with his or her assistant, who can provide valuable information and direct you to the person who handles your type of product or service. Then, when you call that person, you can mention being referred to him or her by someone in the top-notch person's office.

Another advantage to selling from the top down is the establishment of important relationships. There's an old saying: "The bigger they are, the nicer they are." Oddly enough, it seems to be true. I've met a lot of high-level executives over the years, and they're the nicest, most genuine, most down-to-earth people, who appreciate others with those qualities and enjoy talking to people who exhibit the same enthusiasm they've had in their careers. They're usually secure in their positions (unlike people who lack similar authority). Plus, they don't have the inflated egos we've all encountered in business from time to time. And if you're straightforward with them, they'll reciprocate. Though they won't always do business with you, they'll usually take the time to guide you in the direction of someone who will.

Remember these pointers:

Do your research. Learn as much as you possibly can about the individual, the company and the industry ahead of time. There are so many resources available today, so there's no excuse not to do this. Most companies have Web sites that provide information about their products and services. Search the Internet for newspaper and magazine articles about key executives and the latest company news. Once you get that information, arm yourself with ideas on how to help the company improve or generate more business. Only then should you make your calls.

Remember the gatekeeper. Don't stumble into the trap of thinking the decision-makers are only the people with the big titles. And don't ever underestimate the gatekeeper's ability to influence the decision-maker. Show respect to assistants, receptionists and secretaries. Treat these people well, because they're often the ones with the most valuable information about the company and its employees. Moreover, they generally have enough influence to get you in to see a busy top executive-or keep you out.

Practice top-down selling whenever possible. You may not hook up with the main decision-maker every time, but remember it's always easier starting from the top and selling down than trying to push yourself uphill. When you hitch your wagon to a star, there's no telling how far you can go.


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