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What You Can Learn from Disruptive CEOs

Shake things up in your search for sales.

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Last week in Chicago, I had the good fortune to meet for the first time with the senior vice president of sales for a major manufacturing concern. When I asked whether the CEO of his company made a habit of making sales calls, my new acquaintance's response surprised me. "Yeah, he does," said the VP. "And he's disruptive."

Disruptive? What a description! And yet.don't the best salespeople always function as messengers of change? Don't they always search for ways to change people's patterns?

Actually, when you get right down to it, it's no surprise that top CEOs have a lot in common with top salespeople. It's estimated that 85 percent of CEOs running companies today were once salespeople. Think of the most obvious areas of overlap between top salespeople and top executives. Members of both groups often have big egos; they tend to be brief, direct and to the point; and they are usually supremely motivated. (Actually, the top achievers in both groups are beyond being motivated; they're driven!)

The list goes on. Top salespeople, like effective CEOs, are decisive, intelligent and willing to take risks. They avoid getting into the details of anything that leaves them feeling impatient. They love to win, and they hate to lose. And they are, to use that VP's terminology, disruptive. They don't mind rocking the boat to get things done. Members of both groups tend to aim high, take massive action and ask questions later. If someone's feathers get ruffled along the way, so be it. The magic word for top-level members of both groups is the same: "Next!"

So here's the point. If you're a salesperson who would like to sell to a CEO, or a CEO who wants to ensure top-line growth by taking an active role in your company's sales efforts, you have to be willing to get disruptive. Let me be more specific. You must use your traits, beliefs and convictions to build and maintain something that mere mortals usually assume they can't have, but top achievers make a habit of assuming they already do have. I call that "something" CEOEBS, or Chief Executive Officer Equal Business Stature.

This has nothing to do with "dominating the conversation" and everything to do with changing people's patterns. Having CEOEBS means being ready, willing and able to play on the same level as the person sitting across the table from you. It means being disruptive in a good way-changing the other person's pattern by beginning new business relationships under the assumption that you are the functional equal of whomever you're talking to.

Having CEOEBS means assuming that you have or can easily attain an equal understanding of some of the problems a CEO might be facing. It means taking the initiative to articulate your problem-solving ideas in a way that the top man or woman in a company can easily understand. It means assuming the right to communicate in the way that CEOs do, regardless of whether or not chief executive officer is your job title.

I've been selling to top officers for decades now. Here's what I've learned: If a salesperson can make a habit of meeting with top people and assuming CEOEBS, he or she will sell faster and at greater volume levels than the competition. When we connect with the CEO on an equal level, we stand a better chance of turning the person who has the ultimate authority into our ally. After all, the CEO, by all rights, has the ultimate veto power for all the important decisions that will be made on any given day, week, month or year within the target company. So why not reach out to him or her directly?

Sell to the top. Assume you have the right to interact one-on-one with this person. Shake things up. By doing so on a consistent basis, you'll improve your numbers-and you'll get an answer faster.

This principle holds true for any size organization you target, and it's as reliable for CEOs who choose to sell as it is for salespeople. Who says you can't call the head of the target organization directly? You're a CEO, too! After all, how many times has a purchasing agent wasted your time? How many times has a CFO wasted your time? How many times has an IT/data processing manager wasted your time? And guess what? CEOs don't waste their time or yours. They cut to the chase, even if doing so means being just a little disruptive of old, outmoded patterns. They have to do that-otherwise they can't figure out what's really happening in the prospective customer's world.

By now, I'm hoping I've convinced you to assume you have CEOEBS. Pick up the phone and call the top person at your target company. Next month, I'll show you how to do just that.

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.

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Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.