The big three worries expressed by top executives in a recent survey are:
- Customer satisfaction — 73%
- Operational excellence — 70%, and
- Finding and retaining the right employees — 64%.
While they may vary by business or industry, they’re the concerns that drive most executives’ purchasing decisions — in fact, almost all of their decisions. So when executives meet with salespeople, their radar is tuned to how the salesperson can help them meet these critical business demands.
Executives get involved earlier
In years past, when top executives did get involved in purchasing decisions, it wasn’t until the late stages of the buying process. But now top executives are more frequently involved at the earliest stages, because making smart buying decisions is more critical than ever to a company’s long-term success.
So waiting until late in a sale to talk to a company’s top executives can be fatal when making a sale.
How executives define value
Unlike front-line personnel, executives don’t tend to make buying decisions based mainly on price. The value of the purchase to the company’s overall health and bottom line is what counts most.
So it’s important for salespeople to understand how executives define value in order to sell to them.
Here are the four key ways executives define value:
- Creating value means helping executives attain their business goals. That means your products and services need to be in tight alignment with the executive’s value proposition and business drivers.
- Building value translates to increasing revenues and reducing costs. This goes beyond selling the most features for the least cost. It means making sure the purchase helps expand the company’s overall revenue base or improves its overall cost structure. That’s something that simply selling the most for less won’t necessarily accomplish.
- Value is the ability of the purchase to deliver results reliably over the longer term. Most executives think long-term. They can’t afford either the time or the money to revisit a buying decision too soon. They’re looking for solutions that will last.
- Value means expert advice. Executives want salespeople to deliver proactive recommendations on how to run their businesses better. “I’m really buying people, not products,” said one C-level executive in the survey.
In the end, executives want to buy from salespeople who understand their businesses and who will work to help make their businesses better, stronger and more efficient.
They’re looking for salespeople who understand the way they think and can become their partners, not just order takers.
Initiating relationships with senior executives
Initiating and developing relationships with senior executives who are on the buying committee requires more than getting in and making a presentation. It involves the executive seeing you as a business advisory, understanding and diagnosing the customer’s situation at multiple levels.
Your salespeople should try to develop answers to these two questions before they even make their initial call:
- How can I establish unique value that is relevant to the executive’s most pressing issues?
- How can I ensure that the value I deliver is the value they’re looking for?
Three core drivers
Understanding an executive’s agenda takes research, time, commitment and dedicated work. The executive’s priorities usually center on three core business drivers: finance, quality and competitiveness.
Financial drivers center on increasing revenue and decreasing expenses. Quality drivers focus on customer satisfaction. Competitiveness drivers are about creating a unique product or service to sell.
Here are five key steps to engage executives on the buying committee and increase the value you can bring to them:
- Establish an “executive team” mindset. Some salespeople believe executives will refuse to see them because they are not on the same level. It’s a better idea to think that the executive will see you because you may provide the goods or services to help them do their jobs better.
- Create relevancy for the executive. Look at your prospect’s most critical objectives that you can impact. Being able to position your solution as a contributor to the executive’s agenda takes you out of the realm of seller and into the world of trusted advisors.
- Create the incentive to change. There are three key elements in this step: A) the business objectives are understood; B) you can verify the absence of the value you’re providing; and 3) the dollar amount of the value is at risk due to the absence of the solution you can provide.
- Create the confidence to invest. When you can quantify the impact of the solution and provide a through overview of the implications, it may become obvious to the executive that your solution makes for a solid business decision.
- Create measurable results. Try to explain how value will be achieved, measured and reported during the delivery proves, and then on an on-going basis. It requires a proactive process in which you track and report results, solicit feedback from those involved, and continue to identify opportunities as well as changes.
A different approach
The sales approach that works with lower- and mid-level managers may not work with top executives. Middle managers may think short-term.
CEOs, CFOs, and other C-level executives are more demanding and see things from a larger business perspective. To succeed, salespeople must re-orient themselves to understand top executives’ mindset.
Develop new strategies
Senior-level prospects are looking for salespeople who can help them achieve new insights and develop new strategies, not just identify solutions to predefined problems.
Salespeople who sell successfully to senior executives are able to:
- Engage the interest of executives and draw them into meaningful, in-depth conversations
- Educate the customer, not only about the sales organization’s products and services, but also about industry trends and business issues, and
- Enlighten the customer about new possibilities and act as a catalyst for innovative ideas.
The research shows that salespeople who succeed in establishing relationships with senior-level prospects do three things exceptionally well:
- They treat their initial conversations with the senior-level customer as if it were an interview for the job of business partner.
- They prepare a questioning strategy tailored to the organization and customer, and
- They offer information and insights oriented toward the future.
Superior execution in these three areas yields a great advantage but requires much work. Salespeople must develop a deep understanding of the customer’s company, its products, services and markets and its organizational strategy, mission and structure.
They must learn the industry issues and trends affecting the company, as well as the profile of the customer’s competitors.
They must also learn the major problems and issues facing the customer today and in the immediate future. Are margins healthy? Is capacity being fully utilized? Is customer satisfaction high?