-by Shamus Brown
The fastest way to get a decision made is to speak directly with the decision-maker, right? OK, so you knew that. Often times, the decision-makers are not easy to get to. There are dozens of salespeople who would love to pitch to the CEO, President, VP, or Department Directors if given the chance. And the purpose of middle management is to filter communication to executives, and oversee the execution of plans and policies so that the executives don't have to.
Executives make it hard for salespeople to get to them on purpose.
So what do you do when you get pigeon-holed down with a lower-level staff person?
In a perfect sale, you would avoid talking to the low-level people from the beginning. By going directly for the decision-maker, you will have the opportunity to make the sale the fastest.
There are techniques for penetrating the executive ranks at the beginning of your sale, but I am not going to discuss those today. Instead, I will answer the question, "What do I do when I get stuck down with a low-level staff person?"
Here's the best strategy that's best most of the time: treat your contact as an ally. Have him help you to get an appointment with your target decision-maker. You can do this in one of three ways.
Your contact has been "empowered" by her management to do a specific job. To go higher in the account, you must make it valuable for her. Show her how you can help her reach her business goals. If the business is considering making a major investment in a new product of yours, you can be a big help by offering to write a cost justification for them (or assist her in writing it).
Now of course to do this, you will need to speak to the senior management who will be impacted by this decision (which of course you'll be happy to do). You will need to have a series of brief conversations with each of these people, in order to determine the relevant factors in the cost-justification. In offering to do this, you will be helping to make your contact look successful. By framing your request this way, your contact will likely want to help you get to her senior management.
Another way to secure a meeting higher up the food-chain is a variation on the above technique. Low level people are good at answering "how" questions. They can tell you all about how something works today, and how something should work, and how something needs to work. These people know the nuts and bolts of the business. Management knows the answers to the "why" the business does what it does, and what the impact of change will be.
As you ask more questions about why a new purchase is important and what the consequences of change or no-change will be, your lower-level people will be unlikely to answer all of these questions. Be firm, and gently insist upon answers to these questions as a condition of going forward with the sale.
When you know why they might buy, and what the consequences of this decision are, you'll be best able to help them solve their problems. If you get challenged as to why you need answers to your questions as a condition of moving forward, then use the following line of reasoning. If you determine that your product cannot help them solve their problems, then you will advise them to look elsewhere. You will be doing them and yourself a favor.
Sometimes the best way to leverage yourself up is the old standby of bringing in your manager, Sales VP, or CEO to meet their executives. Your management offers a perceived stature that we often don't have as salespeople. Also, the greater the seniority of management that you bring in, the more he can discuss issues like your company's strategic direction (which could be of great value to your prospect).
Key tip - when you bring your CEO, President, or Sales VP in, do not to diminish their authority by having them call on mid-level management. Save your most influential people for the highest level meetings that you'll eventually need to get.
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