Monthly Archives: May 2014

C-Level Sales Management — Helping Salespeople Handle Gatekeepers

As a manager, you know your salespeople will always have trouble getting to C-levels and other influential executives. So you’ve got to help them with ideas, your example and a push.

c level salesThe first rule of gatekeepers is “Always assume they will be blocked,” and with this in mind have discussions with your salespeople before upcoming sales calls and pursuits that go something like this.

“Who’s your prospect?

Who’s will you be meeting or calling?

What will you be prepared to say when this person resists introducing you to others on your way up and out?”

This set of questions has many benefits.

  1. It reminds the sales person that his or her contact is not the final stop. Salespeople tend to stick with their main contacts for many reasons which will discuss in future articles.
  2. It will signal your sales person that you expect him or her to keep moving up and out to those with more authority and influence.
  3. It gets the sales person conscious of the fact that they’re probably going to be blocked. Now, if she or he hasn’t considered the idea of being blocked this will certainly get him to realize it’s a distinct possibility.
  4. It forces the sales person to prepare what he or she can do to avoid or handle the block if and when it happens.

Salespeople usually don’t think about being blocked and usually feel comfortable going along with their main contacts.  Therefore, you must coach them that no matter who their contact is – high level or in between, and no matter where they are in the sales cycle – they will be blocked and they must be prepared to avoid or handle it. This applies to B2B sales, selling to doctors and other professionals, and even selling capital goods to consumers.

So let’s get you as a manager prepared. Suppose you’re reviewing prospects and sales opportunities with one of your salespeople.

What will you say?

What will you listen for?

Then, what suggestions will you give if your sales person argues that there will not be a block, or when he fumbles on what to do if there is one?

See, it’s important for you to be just as prepared as it is for your salespeople to be prepared. Take a moment and think about this.  Write down your ideas.  As you’ll see later, they will become very handy.

For example I was talking with a manager today and telling him about this article. He said, “That’s all well and good man, but what should we do about voicemail?”

Well, if you think about it, voicemail is a block. So I asked him, “Before you make a phone call, do you think about what you’re going to say, or do, if you get a voicemail?  What if you encounter an admin and she is resistant to put you through to her boss?”

“Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I figure out something to say in the moment,” he said.

So I asked him, “Give me a few examples of what you would do knowing you were going to be blocked by the voicemail or an admin.” He then quickly rattled off three or four things he would do.

So I told him, “Write these ideas down and keep them close by.  Review them before you make your next call. Better yet, go over these with your salespeople so that they get prepared for the blocks they are sure to get via voicemails, admins or their contacts.”

Now let’s apply this to you. You make sales calls either with your salespeople or for your own accounts. You know intuitively you’ll frequently get blocked by your contact or an admin or the voicemail. Make a list of the things you might say and do in those situations. Again, preparation is the key.  Having a list ready to look at is an easy way to get prepared. It’s an easy way to become more successful. And it’s an easy way to coach your salespeople.

Salespeople tend to charge ahead until they get stopped. Then they try to figure out what to do on the spot. Some can pull it off and some can’t. However even the best will be served if they stop and put their gatekeeper game plan together before they encounter the gatekeeper. The only way this will happen is if you help them get prepared.  I guarantee they won’t do it by themselves.

So share your ideas with them. Role-play with them. Follow-up with them after a call to see what success they had getting past the gatekeeper. Ask them what worked, and what they would consider doing differently in the future.

This is one step along the way to becoming a great coach and manager. Once your people see you’re serious and persistent they will start preparing their blocker strategies before they encounter the blockers. And, you know if they can prevent the block and can handle gatekeepers, they will be far more successful closing sales.

However, it starts with you, the manager.  Practice what you’ll say to each of your sales people when you reviews prospects and forecasts.  Write down some ideas to give them and keep adding ideas to it.  If they see you’re prepared, they will get serious about getting themselves prepared.

Keep visiting our special series on C-Level Sales Management.

Selling to C-Level Executives: What’s in your basket?

selling-to-c-level-executivesYou sell products, services or both. But buyers don’t want things or services. What they really want are solutions to problems (stating it negatively) or desired results (stating it positively.) These solutions and desired results can sound abstract or intuitive when initially talking, but they are very poignant and constantly sought after.

Your Solution Portfolio

Your solution portfolio is the array of benefits you offer – not features or services. You can’t show pictures of them. It’s hard to guarantee them, but it’s what people want. And to make it more difficult, different people want different benefits even in the same company and/or department.

Let’s say you sell software. Well, what does this software offer – speed of record keeping, information for decision making, algorithms to calculate and predict events, etc. No! This is not your offering. Your offering is more sales, better quality, more profits, more market share, motivated workers, more throughput, etc. – desired results. Notice I didn’t say cost savings, less downtime, fewer mistakes, etc. That’s because these are negatives. C-level executives don’t warm to negatives.

Get rid of the term Value Proposition. It’s dated, overused and limiting. Yet, sales people and marketers love to charge with it – like it’s some kind of net that can capture anyone’s and everyone’s attention.

You provide a portfolio of value propositions, but the only value that’s of interest to a C-Level or a manager or an operator is what each individual values.

Now if you’re calling on lower levels – managers, supervisors, operator/users then these people don’t really warm to the business offerings. They are focused on doing their jobs and are looking for solutions to help them. But even then, speed of record keeping and information for decision making is not what they buy. They buy what those two features do for them – quicker responses to the boss, better decisions and forecasts,… , happier bosses, recognition, excited workers, etc.

And here’s the catch. If these managers have to seek capital authorizations, budget approval or purchase order sign-off to buy, then you the seller and these managers have to focus on the business aspects of your solution portfolio for the C-levels and Profit-Center Leaders.

So your offering is not what your stuff is, or features it has, or what it does. It is what your stuff does for someone – personally. What benefits does it offer this person?

This difference may sound trivial, yet it is profound. A light bulb provides light and light allows someone to function in the dark, get where s/he wants to go uninjured, or read for entertainment or education, or see the people s/he’s with. So, one is not selling a light bulb or even light, but rather one or all of those benefits light can offer that someone

Make It Personal

Now that someone is a very important factor. Everyone has his or her own desires or problems. The best approach to capture interest and engage anyone is to discuss the specific wants of the individual. And the only way to do that is to have each person tell you (speak the words) what that desire or problem is. The biggest mistake is to assume everyone in the same company or realm thinks alike. The group may have common goals, but each has his priority and spin. Ignore this and you will appeal to some and bore others.

So to prepare for anyone and everyone, write all the solutions and results your products and service provide, categorized to the job responsibilities that you’ll encounter, from C-levels to receptionists. Keep it on you for all sales calls. Vinyl coat it and review it before each sales call. Then when you’re with a buyer, lead with a question to see if the person is interested in attaining one of the benefits that just so happens to be in your portfolio. If not, select another until you hit one. Then, let the discussion begin.