A dramatic shift in buying preferences of your C-Suite buyers is revolutionizing the marketing world. Savvy marketers are breaking through the noise, getting attention and building credibility that attracts buyers, by pushing out high value content and thought leadership. However, there’s ample evidence that sales is lagging significantly behind this trend. Marketing gets them in the door, and they are blowing it by not preparing to engage as peers and experts with sophisticated C-Suite buyers.
This trend is prevalent not only in small and mid-size firms but also large, global companies that have been well-trained in traditional sales processes. They know how to ask a series of questions that lead prospects through a sales process and guide them to close. The trouble is, it isn’t working the way it used to as buyers change the way they buy. Sales professionals should change with the times and be adept and confident in conversations with strategic buyers. They must know more than their products – they must understand their C-suite clients’ businesses, provide insight, and earn their places as trusted advisors.
A global sales team corrects it's course
A global sales team in the technology industry was losing market share to a formidable competitor in their space. It was not a marketing problem. It was a sales problem. Marketing had well established the company as a trusted brand. The sales team was losing far more head to head competitions than they were winning.
They consulted with us to evaluate how the sales team was handling three key phases of their sales process and to help them address the issues. Through facilitated discussion they concluded they were falling back on outdated methods that failed to engage C-Suite buyers.
Three specific indications that things weren’t right:
- Who – More times than not the executive sponsor – and economic buyer – was not engaged. They had no relationship with that key person.
- What – When they did engage with the executive, the content of the conversation was inappropriate for their level. They were price-oriented, tactical conversations. They were not peer to peer discussions that focused on business issues and strategic needs.
- When – Timing was a factor. The executive sponsors were engaged too late, sometimes not until close, when the only decision that individual could make was yes or no, and in the absence of context and connection to value, it was too often no.
The big aha came when they admitted they’d been blaming their failures on technical deficiencies with the product. Through the course of the discussion, they now agreed they owned it. This was a big breakthrough – the first step in making radical change. They became motivated to prepare differently and behave differently in the meetings. The goal was to get in front of more executive buyers and be successful conducting peer-to-peer dialogue.
Sales professional, or a subject matter expert?
Forbes Magazine recently reports this year that a top trend in business-to-business sales is the subject matter expert as the new rainmaker. They cite three types of people: a) order taker b) sales professional, and c) subject matter expert. As Ian Altman asked rhetorically, “Of the remaining two personas, which one would you want to encounter as a customer? Would you want the person with a mission to sell something to you, or the expert who you might be willing to pay to meet with because of their deep expertise?”
Through our work with sales professionals on C-Suite interactions, we’ve seen that common behaviors can damage perceptions and prevent smart sales people from demonstrating their practical wisdom to executive level prospects.
Here are some new ways of thinking about meetings with the C-Suite so you can overcome these common challenges and show up as an expert and trusted advisor.
- Prepare for C-Suite Meetings by doing an Audience Agenda. Leave at home that PPT or book that highlights your company’s capabilities. Go in prepared with questions on strategic issues by leveraging what you’ve learned from media and trade publications. Make it your goal to engage in a strategic dialogue within the first 5 minutes.
- Prime the pump by sending clients thought leadership relevant to their issues. Look at your role as providing C-Suite buyers with high value insights. Tell them something they don’t know – to get them engaged. Demonstrate you’ll have more to offer in a conversation than your competitors.
- Share your practical wisdom through success stories. Have at the ready examples of how you’ve solved similar client challenges and make the connection to the benefit your executive prospect can expect. Practice telling stories so they don’t come across as sales tools, but rather, practical wisdom.
- Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. Sophisticated C-suite buyers will see right through typical sales questions. Focus on getting to a better understanding – create simplicity on the other side of complexity. Be prepared to go deeper when you hit on issues that are highly important and relevant to the individual’s situation.
- Bring SME’s to the first meeting. Buyers need proof early on they should engage with your firm. However, don’t be a glad-hander who simply introduces your expert; think of yourself a partnering to engage. Even if you are not deep on a topic you must do your homework, be thoughtful and impress the buyer with the way you think. They will engage when they believe you have a strategic mindset. That’s when you get invited back to create a proposal.
Interested in a course on Strategic Conversations with the C-Suite? Learn more about strategies to get meetings with executive buyers and practice preparing for and carrying on impressive, productive, peer-to-peer conversation. This is a powerful way to gain a competitive advantage, land more meetings, build rapport, and create loyal, long-time clients.