Enterprise Selling: How to insulate against the competition by leveraging your executive
Within the very best enterprise sales organizations you will hear a common refrain: “Never win alone and never lose alone.” From the earliest sales execution machines (IBM/Xerox), to the latest sales execution leaders (Salesforce.com/Oracle), you will find that a key theme is ‘connecting the dots’, meaning that any opportunity plan will include executive access and relationship strategies for anyone who can impact a transaction.
If you have experienced any of the following, then this post is for you:
– Deals going to a competitor at the last minute (and you aren’t really sure how it happened)
– Budget going away or a ‘no decision’
– Deals stretching out due to the need to get buy-in from a broad stakeholder set
– Getting crushed on price negotiation
The strategy behind connecting the dots
Connecting the dots relies on sketching out all the players, documenting their motivations, alliances and operating style, which is a topic for another time. Assuming you have this in place, you should have a deal review session with your team to determine the following:
– Who already knows whom
– Who would be impressed by whom (Do you have a rock star on your team who would be a drawcard for your prospect)
– What is your relationship objective for each person with who you are connecting?
Key roles that you should ensure you have coverage with include:
– Any approver
– Anyone who has the ability to reallocate the budget for an alternate purpose
– Decision makers and Influencers
Getting access to executives
Gaining executive access can be daunting, but drawing from the following tactics will cut through in most situations:
Option 1: Higher authority for resources
If you are in a deal where you have been asked to provide additional resources (e.g. engineering, consultants, free trial etc) then this is a great opportunity to introduce an executive into the mix: “John, I will be pleased to get this organized, but I will need some help from you. In order to get approval for [resource request], I will need to get [my executive] engaged with your team so that she is familiar with whomever is sponsoring on your side and will approve what we need.”
Option 2: Executive outreach
This is the technique to use where you have a contact who is blocking access to higher ups. Draft an email for your executive to send to a prospect executive for a call. Here is a hierarchy of approaches beginning with the most likely to succeed, through to the least likely (Which happens to be the one I see used most often):
1) Rock star executive on your team reaches out to a peer on the prospect’s team to discuss the project in the context of providing some valuable advice based on their experience.
2) Peer executive reaches out to a prospect executive to share perspective based on what other comparable customers have done with these types of initiatives (Bonus points if they can share proprietary data that impacts the business case)
3) Executive reaches out to a prospect peer and invites them to lunch with other executive peers who would have relevant experience, with bonus points for being networking draw-cards.
4) Peer executive reaches out to prospect executive for an ‘executive sponsors’ introductory meeting to ensure that there is a mutual escalation point for alignment during the process.
A final note – If you are getting price pressure early in the deal, this presents the perfect opportunity to gain executive access – It can be explained that your discount approval matrix will require that your [CxO/VP] will need to offer approval, in which case you can use the ‘higher authority’ explanation for access.
Keep your powder dry: Be wary of introducing an executive to your standard contact, who may be a gatekeeper. If access to your executive is perceived to be standard faire, then it is likely you will have limited success in getting higher up the totem pole at your prospect by using them as a drawcard.
Use your internal experts: An oft overlooked resource within enterprise sales is the peer role within your own organization – EG. If you are selling to CTOs, then review your opportunity plan with your own head of technology first! It amazes me that sales executives often make all sorts of assumptions, when they could be validating approaches with an in-house expert.