We often are asked questions about getting to executive Power during a deal and making a real connection. In other words, building a relationship that lasts because the client sees value in you and your interactions with them.
Let’s start by quickly identifying what we mean by executive “Power”. Power is anyone that can say yes or no to a potential opportunity. Executive power is getting to the C-level or VP level in your opportunity. This power rests with individuals who set the business direction and are in charge of the critical business issues that create urgency and direct funding (budgets).
In writing this article, I did some research and came across recommended questions to ask people in power which I thought were completely useless. So here – in no particular order – are some of these useless questions:
- “If you had a magic wand and could fix one problem, what would it be?”
- “What is working and what isn’t?”
- “What is the biggest obstacle to adding new customers?”
- And my favorite – “What keeps you up at night?”
What keeps me up are bad sales people and, if I had a magic wand, I would beat them with it! What makes these questions useless is that they do nothing to establish your individual credibility and value to the potential buyer.
If you are going to make an effort to meet with executive power about potential opportunities available to them, don’t waste it, establish your value and the value of your company and its products. I say waste because the questions above do little toward providing value to the buyer. Some sales professionals say they like to begin by explaining “who we are and what we offer.” Such as, “We are the marketing leader…” or, even worse, by asking the prospect “have you heard of us?” – so what? Again, that is all about your company and nothing about them. Again, that is all about your company and nothing about them.
I suggest three actions to make your interaction with executive power more successful:
- Do your homework and research the company, industry, market, etc. The higher you go up the organizational ladder the less time they have to educate you. Can you bring an understanding of who they are, the challenges they face, and how you might be of value to them by the way you have addressed similar challenges for other clients? Prove your worth by studying their business/industry and sharing your conclusions based on related experiences.
- Prepare an anecdotal story for reference or a value-based story to share that will capture their attention. You don’t have to be right on the money but you do need to establish some credibility that makes it worth their time to speak with you. And it will demonstrate that you understand their business/industry and that you have helped others similar to them with a track record of measurable success. Plan out what reference story you will use to capture their attention. Additionally, plan out some probing questions that demonstrate your understanding of the market. For example, you might ask something like, “One area I see as a challenge in your industry is X, due to the upcoming regulatory compliance. Is this something you are experiencing as well?” or, “In listening to your most recent analysts call, your CEO mentioned a commitment to Y, is this project part of that effort?”
- Practice, practice, practice! I know we’re all busy and have too much on our plates these days, but, the most successful athletes all practice and I’ve noticed that the best sales professionals do as well. Practice the delivery of your reference stories and questions. You are selling yourself as much as you are selling your products or company. You only have a few seconds to make that first impression and it will take a long time (if you even get a second chance) to recover from a bad impression.
Take the opportunity to impress executive power with your own knowledge and experience. Once you establish a relationship based on their seeing the value you represent as an individual, you will have that true relationship throughout the sales campaign and beyond.