The Critical Importance of White Space when Selling to Complex Customers

Everyone’s aware of the old adage “it’s far more expensive to win new customers than to expand current customers”, it’s certainly true. It’s also true that lower than ideal customer retention rates will act as a significant brake on your company’s growth aspirations, you must stop competitors poaching your customers.

The solution to both of these situations is “White Space”, or more appropriately, filling the “White Space”.

What on earth is “White Space” I hear you ask ? It’s simply the area of an organisations structure that remains unchartered territory in your customer plan. The people, teams, offices or divisions that, so far, you’ve not engaged in any form of conversation or relationship. In the majority of B2B selling situations there is more white space in a customer relationship than salespeople realise. The best way of keeping a customer engaged and locking out your competition is to be constantly striving to add value (selling) into the white space and then to bring those peers across the customer together so that they realise the value delivered. Sounds easy I here you say.

Actually it’s far from easy and it takes a huge amount of time to amass the insight and knowledge that will help you build value. All of the reputable Sales Methodologies (Miller Heiman, Holden Powerbase, TAS etc.) have tools to help you map people across your customer and asses their power or influence. They all work very well but you can just as easily build your own visual map of the organisation and set yourself a goal of filling the white space.

Here’s how to get started. Build a spreadsheet that represents your customer, across the top of the spreadsheet (X Axis) list the different teams, divisions or business units. In the 1st Column (Y Axis) list all of the roles or job titles that you are able to sell to. Don’t just include the Executive Decision makers, add all levels of seniority. You need to cover them all (See my post : The Hidden Dangers of Selling to Senior Executives). Use as many cells as you need in order to build an accurate picture of your customer.

Now here’s where the fun starts. Add the names of the individuals that represent each role or title for each of the business units in the appropriate cells. Where you don’t know the name of the individual leave the cell blank. Where you do know the individual’s name, colour code the cell using the following key :-

1. Green : Open Access, regular communication and engaged with your company. Can be a coach to you.
2. Amber : You’ve met the individual but they’re not engaged and you don’t have regular access. Not a coach or supporter.
3. Red : No communication, access or engagement.

Once you’re complete, you’ll have an immediately recognisable organisation map that very quickly identifies where you should focus your efforts. I would hazard a guess that you have far more Red & Amber cells than Green and that the mass of white spaces was a surprise you too.

Now the most important step, TAKE ACTION, there is simply no point doing all of this work and not picking up the phone, it’s crazy, but believe me it happens ! :

1. Ensure that no white space exists, that you have names for everyone that you are able to sell to logged in your CRM and they are being marketed to appropriately.
2. Build a plan that turns the cells in Red, through Amber to Green ideally using referrals and introductions from other “green people” in your organisation map.

Disciplined execution of the plan will see you gain greater insight into your customer with a wider, stronger relationship base. Sales will grow, retention remains strong and you will be making the barriers to entry for your competitors much higher !

The Unseen Dangers of Selling to Senior Executives

If I had £1 for every sales person, sales team or indeed company that have challenged themselves with selling to the most senior executives then I’d be a very wealthy man. For many organisations selling to senior executives is regarded as the silver bullet, the remedy to all ills and the path to beating plan.

The reality is often very different.

Senior Executives are very busy people, often every minute of their working day is filled with back to back meetings. They run from one meeting to another without an opportunity to think, to grab a coffee or even speak to their assistant. I’m stating the obvious but their time is at a premium and if you are going to use any of a busy executives precious time then you’d best make sure that you use it well.

Salespeople are often buoyed by winning a meeting with a senior executive, they are so excited and eager to get started that they often fail to prepare effectively and the very important meeting with the executive turns out to be a big let down. Now, at this point, I fully expect you to be saying to yourself “that’s not me, I would never do that”. Really, can you say with absolute honesty that you always put the hours in to prepare effectively ?

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of senior meetings that turn out to be single, one-off meetings with the salesperson unable to ever gain face time again. Your strategy of selling to senior executives has just backfired big time, rather than strengthening a relationship and opening the doors to future opportunities, it’s probably slammed those doors firmly closed. There’s lots of research into why this happens (The Challenger Sale is one good example) but it simply boils down to value delivered, or rather the lack of it, to the senior executive in the meeting.

In order to be in with a chance of selling to a senior executive you must have superior knowledge and insight, about their business not yours, these are table stakes when selling high. You should aim to be so well prepared that you feel you know as much about the senior executives business as many of their team members (and if you’ve played your part well, you will). You should have read every piece of available material that you can get your hands on, be up to date and following them on all of the social channels and here’s the counter-intuitive crunch … have met with and learned all that you can from their teams, peers and business partners.

If you are to deliver value to a senior executive then you must have knowledge that can only be gleaned from diligently working with their teams, the exact people who you may be trying to avoid by your selling high strategy ! Meeting with the whole decision-making unit is the only effective way of having enough inside knowledge to be able to ask thought-provoking questions that lead to success when you eventually meet with the senior executive.

There are no silver bullets in sales. Yes, selling to senior executives can be a performance game changer, yet the stakes are extremely high. You will not be successful if you take short-cuts, don’t do your homework or are not sufficiently informed. If you use the correct approach having put in the necessary hours of work to deliver real value (both business and personal – that’s a different story for a different day), then you will be in a strong position.

Get this wrong and you are very unlikely to get a second chance. Senior executives don’t waste their precious time on activities that don’t add value.

The golden rule when selling to senior executives – do not, ever, mention product. They don’t care, you will bore them and they will switch off. They will be kind, they will show you the door in a professional manner but please don’t think that you will ever be granted face time again. Only talk about their business, if you feel that you can’t do that with clarity and authority then please take my advice, step back until such time that you can.