In Part 1 of this series, we learned how our salesperson, Monica Rostoni, lost a potential sale to a multi-national bank in part because she failed to qualify and work the opportunity at the proper level in an organization. What happened to her has probably happened to all of us… I know it has to me! My sponsor told me that he had a budget and selection authority, only to learn later that the real person with budget and decision authority circumvented my sponsor and made his own decision.
I’ve learned through experience that if I am not connected and communicating at the highest possible levels of an opportunity, I am placing my opportunity at risk. If you are an experienced salesperson, you understand how important executive contact is to your success. Your sales process training has reinforced this for years. However, a transformation has taken place during the past three years whereby our clients and prospects have shifted from valuing and respecting relationships, to needing insights and value (in the form of return on investment) from a salesperson. Sales methodologies cover the “why” but not necessarily the “how”. This installment will discuss how you connect at the highest levels of an organization and stay connected throughout a selection process.
First a definition on Executive Insights. These are ideas, thoughts, or facts that an executive would feel is useful and insightful at helping them: Achieve their strategic objectives, resolve their critical business issues (CBI’s) or, improve their financial measures.
Think of insights as the executive’s objectives. Identifying any or all of the three is the crucial first step. This is accomplished through research. Common research tools include organizational observations, competitive comparatives, a prospect or client’s peers, press releases, website disclosures, analyst calls, and business intelligence services (like Hoovers and Finlistics). Throughout your research, continually focus your investigation on seeking their strategies, CBI’s, and measures. The result will be the foundation of your executive contact.
I understand the time pressures of sales. Accordingly, you may not be afforded the time to perform this much research on a number of your opportunities. The good news is you don’t need to! Choose the opportunities where you believe you need this level of contact and where the opportunity has a substantial return. This won’t be every deal.
Now that you have uncovered this executive’s objectives you can begin the work of aligning your offering to his or her desired results. Think of it as a bridge. At one end is what the executive is trying to accomplish, at the other end is your offering. Truthfully, the only thing a high-level executive cares about is their end of the bridge. You have to go to their side first and only discuss your product offering in those business terms. Bridging the large gap in the middle is what is often overlooked. For example, if Katarina our executive in our opportunity is trying to increase credit card sales and reduce expenses in order to grow this group’s profits she will be considering a variety of improvement strategies. These improvement strategies are her end of the bridge. One improvement strategy was for Katarina to task Hans to investigate a software solution like Monica had to offer that would help her achieve her objectives. However, as we learned, another improvement strategy was to outsource the services. If Monica had been realistic about possible improvement strategies she might have realized earlier that her primary competitor wasn’t “traditional” like a competitive software solution but rather outsourcing.
In order to build this bridge between your solution and the strategic initiatives of the executive, you need a strategy map. Think of one side of a strategy map as the executive’s strategic initiatives, and the other side as your product capabilities. In between are the areas of impact your solution can have on the executive’s objectives. For Monica, these areas of impact would have included: improved customer communication, increased credit card issues per customer service representative, etc. Note how important it is to state your areas of impact in their terms.
The final segment of your strategy map, your journey across the bridge, is how your product’s capabilities align with each area of impact stated in business terms.
If Monica had performed this exercise and research, she would have had competitive clarity and a foundation for her sales process. She would have had a basis for insight research that she could have approached Katarina with in order to head off all competitors.
After Monica established clarity of Katarina’s objectives and a plan for how to build a bridge from the solution to the objectives, she needs to find support for her business case in the form of insights. Think of it this way, if Monica put herself in the role of Katarina, what would Katarina consider insightful information that supports her strategic objectives?
The insights you need will and should come from a variety of sources. External (to your company) sources of insights include industry analysts, technology analysts (e.g Gartner), press releases, social media, and competitive comparisons (e.g. Finlistics). Internal sources of insights include organizational observations from your team, client peers, internal experts, case studies, and reference letters.
The key to finding insights however is knowing what to look for. For this reason, it is critical that you perform a strategy map for every key prospect or client. This will determine what insights to look for in each of your insight sources.
Centering your team on a value proposition and client strategy map is key to winning competitive opportunities. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that you are always competing with your traditional competitors. Your landscape of competitors has changed dramatically over the past three years and relationship selling will not overcome non-traditional competitors. Insight selling combined with value-based sales campaigns will.
In Part 3 of this series, I will present the secrets of how you can leverage insights during executive meetings and secure consistent contact with executives throughout a sales process.