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Selling to Executives: Who is Getting Their Attention, You or Your Competitor?
By Jeff Thull, President & CEO, Prime Resource Group

How many sales have been lost because your competition had inroads with the senior executive and you didn't. How often did you find out, too late

How many sales have been lost because your competition had inroads with the senior executive and you didn't?  How often did you find out, too late, that the middle managers you had been talking to didn't have the power to make the final decision to buy?

The hard truth is, many times it's very difficult to get the executive's attention and connect your products and solutions to their priorities and business agenda.  

Initiating and developing relationships with executives requires more than getting in and presenting your value proposition. It requires you to be able to answer several critical questions before you even make your initial call:
  • How can I establish unique value that is relevant to the CEO's most pressing issues?

  • How can I create alignment among the executive team? 

  • How can I ensure that the value they will expect will be the value they can achieve and measure?
 The bottom line is, ill-prepared salespeople will continually be pushed back down to support levels if they don't keep in mind the five key steps to engage the executive and increase the value they can bring to them.

1.    Establishing an Executive Team Mindset.

Many salespeople believe executives will not see them because they are not on the same level as other members of their leadership or advisory team. Let's start with the premise that the executive will see you because you can help them accomplish their agenda. It's important that you see yourself as a member of the executive staff, assigned to manage a key value creation project, namely the investigation, purchase and implementation of the value creating solution you represent.

2.     Creating Relevancy for the Executive.

The first step in understanding the executive's key agenda is to look at the most critical objectives in their business plan that you can impact. A salesperson must recognize that the executive's priorities 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, employee satisfaction and in many cases complying with regulatory requirements. Finally, the competitiveness drivers are about creating a unique product to sell and being able to make that product or service available to as many customers as possible.

The larger the prospect company is, the more critical the preparation step and the more accessible the information is. Sales professionals have their homework cut out for them. They must become familiar with the company's objectives and strategy by culling through quarterly statements, annual reports, and stockholder meeting minutes. Understanding the executive's agenda takes research, time, commitment and dedicated work. This knowledge will help sales professionals learn to speak the language of the executives and begin to position themselves as adjunct senior staff members.

Being able to position your solution as a contributor to the executive's agenda item and positioning yourself as ready and able to guide the investigation and implementation, takes you out of the realm of seller and into the world of trusted advisors.

3. Creating the Incentive to Change.

As the salesperson discovers the agendas and priorities of the executive, they develop what we refer to as the value assumption. It represents a hypothesis as to the amount of value that may be available to this prospect via your solution. The key point is that it is a hypothesis, not a statement of fact, and the objective is to join with the prospect to prove or disprove the hypothesis of value. The value assumption summarizes three key elements: 1) the business objectives are understood, 2) there are physical indicators that verify the absence of the value you could provide, 3) the potential dollar amount of the value that is at risk is due to the absence of the solution you could provide.

The best case scenario is that the executive believes the value assumption has merit and decides to support your efforts to investigate it further within their organization. He can then either prove or disprove the hypothesis.

It is in this stage that the salesperson tests their research and conclusions of the customer's situation by connecting symptoms, causes and consequences to the customer's business. You will involve the right cast of characters,

Jeff Thull is a leading-edge sales and marketing strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. As President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, he has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies like Shell Global Solutions, 3M, Microsoft, Intel, Citicorp, IBM and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies. Jeff is a compelling and thought-provoking keynote speaker for corporations and professional associations worldwide. He is also the author of the #1 best selling books Mastering the Complex Sale, and newly released, The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. For more information contact: Prime Resource Group,, 1.800.876.0378.

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