When you get a shot at the guy at the top the clock is ticking. Impress him or her in 10 seconds or rue the day forever. Sean Mallon tells us how it's done.
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I see a lot of salespeople. Usually they arrive under the guise of a cryptic job title from Business Development Manager to Associate Director of Sales. But they all have the same objective: for me to part with my hard earned cash.
Before even being given the opportunity to visit us at our offices, they must first navigate their way to the decision maker in the company. Me. Usually over the telephone.
This challenge is far and away where most salespeople fail, trying to speak to or arrange a meeting with a CEO or director. We have a strict 'no sales call' policy, yet occasionally the odd one will slip through the net and the luck rep gets to speak to me personally.
For them to stand any chance of staying on the phone longer than 10 seconds they need to ensure they do two things: 1) don’t let me say a word and 2) tell me what they have sorts out my current problem. For example, don’t call and say “Hi, how are you today? and the weather?.... It’s strictly business at this point and unless you can help my business grow then I won't have time.
CEOs and directors are time-short. So hit me fast with exactly what you have.
Don't be fooled by the pleasant smile, this fella will shut you down if your pitch is bad
A perfect instance was Friday last week when at 5.45pm a recruiter called me and without me saying a word he said “Sean, it’s Arfan [I didn’t know him]. I have seven front-end developers in Leeds who can be interviewed next Tuesday or Wednesday, does that suit?”.
I’ve never heard of him nor did I know where he was calling from, but he had already provided a solution to my problem – we didn’t need to talk about the weather. Subsequently we met on Monday and I recruited someone through him for a £5k fee on the Wednesday – all because he nailed it in the first ten seconds.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your leads provided for you, then you won’t need to be overly concerned about getting to the decision-maker. That said, when you are trying to sell to CEO or director level I would suggest following some fundamentals that will increase your chances.
"Absolutely never, ever try to make up an answer on the spot if you don’t have one"
First and most important, don’t be late. There is nothing more infuriating than someone being late for a meeting that they wanted. If you are late, humbly apologise and crack on, do not make up a lame excuse!
Too many times I get someone coming to see us who has done either none or very little research on our company. How can someone fix our problem or improve our business if they don’t know anything about it? Spend some time looking into what we do, the industry we are in and you’ll be better placed to advise us.
If you’re offered a coffee, take it – you will seem more relaxed and less uptight which will in turn relax your audience.
It may be old fashioned in a fast paced and tech driven world, but there is nothing that says “You can trust me” like a firm handshake and looking directly into their eyes. I’d even say that a wet handshake and introduction can be enough for me to hurry a meeting through from the off.
I’ll only ever buy from someone I like, regardless of how great their product is – the chances are I can find it elsewhere and give our business to someone else. At CEO and director level it is important you try to develop a rapport if possible, but if someone asks you to just tell them the facts, then just tell them what they need to know – they will likely be grateful that you’ve listened.
Hi, yeah it's Steve here from sales, yeah, great weather isn't it - hello? Hello...?
Whilst building a rapport can often be important (depending on what you are selling) remember to keep it professional, there needs to be an element of respect for your prospective client and let’s face it we all want to feel valued.
When selling a product or service, you will only ever close a CEO or director if you have clearly identified a need and provided a solution with your product or service. Take your time to identify what the need is, and don’t be afraid to ask probing questions if they will make you better informed.
Be clear, concise and don’t over complicate your solution when presenting it. CEO and director-level decision makers have likely made it to that level because they are intelligent and insightful; they don’t need spoon feeding.
If you are asked a direct question, give me a direct answer – absolutely never, ever try to make up an answer on the spot if you don’t have one. If you don’t know, say “I don’t know, but I will find out”. As soon as you lose credibility, you lose the sale.
I once had a web developer tell me how happy his clients were, but when I asked to see some of the work he had done he couldn’t as his server was down – which I knew was total fluff and he lost the deal. If he’d have been honest, I would likely have given him a chance as he was a good guy.
When it comes to closing a deal, don’t spend ten minutes explaining why it costs what it does, if your pitch was good enough then I’ll appreciate its value regardless. I just want to know how much it will cost and what my return on investment and benefit will be.
Last of all, don’t be afraid to ask for the deal from a CEO or director. We thrive on making good decisions and crave success, so if your product can help us deliver it then we will want it as much as you want to sell it. But if you’re told “leave it with me to consider” – then do just that.
You need to be a good listener and I said earlier, respectful, so if I say leave it with me, then don’t try to apply pressure as you won’t be invited back.