Extrovert, Introvert or Ambivert and How it Impacts Sales Performance

Those of you who have read any of my previous posts will know that I believe the role of B2B salespeople is in a period of transformational change, the behaviors and traits valued so highly by Sales Leaders and the Executive Suite in the past are evolving to be replaced by a set of behaviors built upon the foundation of curiosity, insight and a deep desire to help customers achieve their desired outcome. (Take a look at my post here to see what I believe will be the cornerstone of skills for salespeople of the future.)

In this post I’d like to explore personality style and the impact it has on results in the new world of modern, professional selling.

Firstly, lets spend a few seconds thinking about the traditional persona of a successful salesperson, chances are you are using adjectives such as Personable, Friendly, Gregarious, Funny, Energetic, an Ideas person. You may also be using Demanding, Egotistical, Craves Attention, Shoots from the hip, focuses on new bright shiny objects etc. It will come as no surprise that the traits being described are those of an extrovert. In the old world, where information was scarce and the seller held the balance of power in the buyer / seller relationship, an extrovert, pumped up and energised by engaging with many different people, was often most successful. The persona of the brave, macho, selfish salesperson leading the charge and driven to overcome the enemy is one that many sales leaders continue to search for when hiring talent today.

Since my earliest days as a sales professional (over 20 years ago) I’ve personally struggled with this persona. I would not describe myself as an extrovert and if you needed to be strongly extroverted to be successful in your sales career then maybe I’d made a poor career choice. Experience is a wonderful teacher and over the years I’ve studied and learned what makes a salesperson successful. I’ve gained the confidence to go my own way, not follow the accepted route and ignore the general belief. Finally, science and research, has now vindicated my gut decision not to focus on hiring extroverts all of those years ago, the correlation between extraversion and strong sales performance is effectively ZERO (see Why Extroverts Fail, Introverts Flounder and You Probably Succeed).

I am a big fan of Dan Pink, his book “Drive” is one of the most insightful business books that I’ve read and I’m pleased to say his most recent book has had a similar impact on me. “Drive” confirmed, with science and research, that some of the counter-intuitive beliefs that I hold to be true, actually are. In “To Sell is Human” he’s repeated the feat and compiled data on the personality styles with the greatest correlation to sales success.

So here’s the good news … the personality style with the greatest correlation to sales success is that of the ambivert, the style that sits dead centre on the Introvert / Extrovert scale (see the chart). The people who are introverted in some situations and extroverted in others with the ability to flex between styles, this is where the greatest correlation exists. The bad news … the further you move away from the centre point the lower the correlation to sales success and as I explained at the beginning of this post, many of today’s sales leaders are still focusing on hiring extroverts.

Customers have changed, buying cycles have changed, salespeople are transforming and now sales leaders everywhere have the research to help guide their hiring decisions. It’s high time sales leaders evolved the traits and behaviors that they look for when hiring future stars.

When hiring sales talent in complex B2B environments avoid the extremes of personality. Prioritise and search for those people who are finely balanced, they have the curiosity and well honed listening skills associated with an introvert combined with the confidence and energy associated with an extrovert. Hiring is such a critically important aspect of building a successful sale team, all of the training and coaching in the world won’t help if you’ve hired the wrong people. You owe it to yourself and your team to spend a little more time searching for the traits that are scientifically proven to correlate with modern sales success and not those associated with the old world.

Five Skills that Define the Outstanding Salesperson of the Future

If you have a spare minute today, do a quick search of social media and take a look at the volume of articles posted discussing the future of selling and how the role of the salesperson is changing. Headlines such as “1 million B2B Sales Jobs will Vanish by 2020” grab your attention and strike fear into many. There is no doubt that the role of a salesperson is evolving but are things really as bad as the headlines suggest ?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that buyers have changed, the buying process has changed and the balance of power between the buyer and salesperson has radically shifted towards the buyer. Buyers are more informed, have faster, easier, access to knowledge and are well-connected to experts in their industry. All of this ensures that buyers are much farther through the buying process before they even consider engaging a salesperson and when they do, they often know exactly who they intend to engage.

In this context it’s easy to understand how the historic persona of the salesperson who is a brave, hard charging, lone wolf capable of breaking down doors to find and close the deal is no longer relevant. The days when salespeople where able to engage buyers in discussion around commodity products sold in a transactional manner are gone forever to be replaced by fast efficient technology that enable buyers to self-serve and complete the buying process without ever engaging a salesperson. If you are a seller in this type of commodity, transactional market then I’m afraid you will either change or become extinct. My advice, take steps to develop yourself and find another role soon, before the decision is made for you.

At the other end of the seller spectrum the future is very bright. I believe the need for professional salespeople who are thought leaders, able to add value throughout the buying process and take pride in helping their customers be successful will continue to grow. The traits and skills of individuals who operate successfully in this context are however very different to those that have proved successful in the past. So what are some of the traits and skills needed for future success :-

Collaborator : the successful salesperson of the future will be an outstanding collaborator, someone who thrives on working WITH their customers, in sequence with the buying process and helping enable the customer to buy. (Note: while I said working WITH customers that does not mean that you always agree with their point of view.)

Thought Leader / Educator : expertise in content marketing, an active presence on social media and a willingness to participate in networking discussions are a prerequisite for today’s salesperson. The ability to create a close partnership with colleagues in Marketing is important. The successful salesperson spends more time educating and developing their thought leadership to engage potential customers very early in their buying process, sometimes years before they have an active requirement.

Curious & Knowledgeable Business Coach : Salespeople will have a deep understanding of their customer, their customers industry and issues effecting their customers business. They will have specific domain knowledge, be curious and capable of asking insightful questions that drive their customers business forwards. A coach is someone who is accountable for helping the individual being coached develop and perform at a higher level, this is a great description of the successful salesperson of the future.

Generates Referrals & Recommendations : Salespeople of the future will pride themselves on collecting recommendations and referrals from delighted clients. Word of mouth and introductions from happy customers will be the pre-eminent method of lead generation. Traditional “Cold Calling” morphs into “Warm Calling” and proves to be far more effective.

Closing is the Natural Conclusion : Great Closing skills that manipulate a client to buy outside of their buying process are no longer deemed a strength. Salespeople of the future will close deals as the natural conclusion to the buying process where knowledge and insight has delivered value from the start and differentiated the salesperson from their competition.

The profession of selling is going through a period of radical change brought about by technology disrupting traditional processes, like many other professions. I believe that we are at the “tipping point” where selling will become regarded as true profession and the standards, skill levels and ethics of those employed in sales roles will be of the very highest level. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” quote describes the salespersons current predicament perfectly It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Five Behaviours that Characterise the Very Best Negotiators

Negotiating is something that most of us do every single day, either in our personal or business lives. Negotiating with customers is core to a salesperson’s role, it’s a skill that will help or hinder your quest to beat quota, so you’d imagine that as a profession we are highly skilled negotiators, I’m sorry to say that this is often not the case.

I’ve had the pleasure of observing lots of salespeople negotiate over the years. I’ve witnessed all levels of capability, from salespeople who can deliver a really difficult message and still seem to finalise negotiations in a positive manner through to salespeople who struggle to say “no” and end negotiations with an angry customer. My goal with this post is not to teach you how to negotiate, there are lots of resources to help you with that, but to point out the behaviours that I have observed in the negotiations that reach a positive conclusion and seem to be missing from those that don’t.

The negotiating text books will tell you that you should be striving to achieve win/win situations in all of your negotiations and while this is true, let’s be pragmatic … both parties may be happy with the outcome of a negotiation yet I’d bet a large slice of my house on one party being happier than the other. That’s OK, a perfectly balanced outcome is rare. It’s also perfectly OK to walk away from a negotiation where there is just too much of a gap between negotiators or your counter party is being unreasonable. In one recent negotiation that I was involved in, a customer asked for double the level of service for a 50% reduction in spend and delivered the message with a “take it or leave it” ultimatum, it wasn’t a difficult decision to walk away.

Here’s five behaviours that strong negotiators exhibit, it’s not an exhaustive list but is a great place to start if you would like to develop your negotiation skills :-

  1. Prepare effectively : Sounds obvious but by doing your homework prior to a negotiation you will always conclude with a more positive outcome. Make sure that you understand what’s of most importance to your customer, you have a clear walk away point, you understand the items that you have at your disposal to trade and the relative value of the trade-able items for you and your counter-party.
  2. Practice the negotiation with your sales coach : If you are to deliver the strongest possible negotiating performance then you should ensure that you practice and role-play the negotiation. Finding a weak point in your position during the real negotiation is not helpful, much better to find it early, in the safety of your office and have the opportunity to iron out any issues before you negotiate for real.
  3. Be confident and decisive when saying “no” : Saying “no” is part of all negotiations, it’s the only way of determining the boundaries of the negotiation. Be comfortable and confident doing so. Don’t be half-hearted, don’t dither or be indecisive. Stand your ground and be very prepared to explain why the point you are saying “no” to is important to you and do so with conviction. If you are negotiating with a skilled negotiator they will lock onto indecision and you will find yourself in a tricky position.  
  4. Stay calm and balanced, keep your emotions in check : This is critical, work hard to disconnect your emotions. The best sales negotiators are the ones that succeed in staying very calm, they listen, question and challenge the customer’s point of view but do so in a very authentic, collaborative way. They accept criticism or challenge without showing their frustration and always remain positive.
  5. Be Comfortable with silence : I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a salesperson ask a question during a negotiation (or any other client meeting for that matter) and then, as they get very uncomfortable with silence, start answering the question for their customer. Please, please , please don’t do this, become great at feeling comfortable with silence. Wait, let your customer think and answer the question. Chances are it will give you insight to help the negotiation move forwards positively.

The Secret of an Accurate Sales Forecast

In my post “If you Want to Be Promoted then Correct Your Sales Forecast” I talked about the importance of not only hitting Quota but doing so in such a way that you become regarded as being highly consistent and predictable. CSO’s, VP’s and Sales Directors will look for this trait in salespeople who aspire to management. Please don’t underestimate it’s importance, the consequence of missing a sales forecast can be severe and if you don’t get it right you could find yourself being dragged into the downward spiral of micro-management and spending far too much time on forecasting to the detriment of coaching your team. Therein lies the secret … effectively coaching your team.

The balance of power between the salesperson and customer has changed significantly in recent years, it’s swung heavily in favour of the customer. Technology is acting as an enabler, buyers are much further through the buying process before they engage with you and they are much more informed than in the past. The result creates a situation where salespeople are unable to assert control over the sales cycle, the customer will always follow their buying process whether you like it or not (and rightly so).

This is what creates many forecasting challenges, salespeople simply don’t understand the customers buying process well enough in order to truly know when the customer will be ready to buy, they either :-

  1. Believe that they understand the process well but have failed to validate it effectively with multiple sources.
  2. Make the naive assumption that the customers buying process will naturally mirror their sales process. Oh no it doesn’t !

The most successful salespeople in today’s environment are those who collaborate with their customers, they add insight and deliver value as part of the buying cycle long before whatever the customer is buying is delivered. They are supported by a manager who is an effective coach. Not only are these salespeople the ones who beat their quota, they are the ones who will also tell you exactly when they are going to do so. All the while their coach is supporting, testing, stretching and looking for ways to help the salesperson improve.

The secret of an accurate sales forecast really is not some magic equation, you are not looking through a “crystal ball” or reading the “tea leaves”. An accurate forecast is the result of strong qualification, a clear understanding of your customers buying process, their reasons for buying and a joint commitment to move ahead. You have gained a superior level of understanding of your customer and are moulding your sales process to match their buying process precisely. When you operate with this mindset then creating consistently accurate forecasts is easy, it’s a by-product of how you sell.

Here are five suggested situations that should exist with your customer in order for you to feel comfortable about forecasting accurately, make sure that your coach (manager) is regularly asking these questions of you, keeping you honest and suggesting potential ways that might help you move forwards. If all of these exist then your opportunity is in great shape :-

  1. Has your customer explained why they are buying from you in their own words, do you know and can you quantify the outcome they hope to achieve. Does you customer clearly understand the impact on them of delay or no decision ?
  2. Do you understand your customers buying process in detail. Have you verified every stage of the process with multiple stakeholders and spoken with all those involved ?
  3. Has your customer indicated their commitment to the sequence of steps required to conclude the buying process and the dates by which they are to take place. This is of huge importance … I said “has the customer committed”, that doesn’t mean have you assumed that the customer is OK with your sequence!
  4. Do you have access to and have you spoken with the ultimate budget holder or sign-off. Are they happy and expecting to make the purchase ?
  5. Has the customer formally agreed to a date in the future, following purchase, when some form of event will take place (Delivery, Training, Consulting Engagement etc.)

What are some others that I have missed, I’d love to hear your thoughts ?

Who’s Responsible for Your Personal Development ?

Let me let you in on a little secret … the answer to the question is “you“.

A 2014 research survey by Bamboo HR published in Inc. magazine states that the number one reason that people leave companies is due to lack of advancement or development opportunities. I’ve no doubt that you will also be familiar with the phrase “People don’t leave companies they leave managers”, a well-worn statement that is often substantiated in HR exit interviews.

These two points are undoubtedly connected and the uncomfortable truth is that unless you work for a great leader who believes in you and consciously invests in your future, you are unlikely to be afforded the development opportunities that you crave. It’s a crying shame but that’s the reality for many of us in today’s workplace.

Now given this situation each of us have a choice to make :-

  1. Accept this unfortunate state of affairs and while frustrated with the situation, it’s outside of your control. Although you know the frustration will chip away at your confidence and reduce your motivation, there’s nothing you can do about it other than complain and moan to anyone that will listen.
  2. Accept the unfortunate state of affairs but as you’re so frustrated by the situation you decide to take things into your own hands and be accountable for your own development. You are buoyed by the fact that you have taken control and are steering your own development, you can overcome the frustration because you know where you are heading.

Again, the harsh reality is that the majority of average salespeople, either consciously or subconsciously, choose option one.

Those of you who are determined that you will be one of the few to make choice number two then read on, there are a number of simple steps that you can take to support your own development and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here’s three tips for those of you looking to develop yourselves on a budget :-

Develop a Reading List

Pound for pound, a book is the most valuable investment that you can make in yourself. Ensure that you consciously read (don’t speed read taking little in) and apply the teachings into your day-to-day work. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn for a few pounds and a little investment in your time. Here’s my top 5 to get your started :-

  • Drive – Daniel Pink : The secrets to human motivation (and it’s not what you think)
  • How to Lead – Jo Owen : An incredibly valuable resource for people new to Leadership, if you are a new manager get this book.
  • Perform – Keith Hatter, Chris Shambrook and Jim Constable : How to get better at what you do by obsessing over the right things.
  • Winning Teams, Winning Cultures – Larry Senn and Jim Hart : How culture impacts individual, team and operational effectiveness.
  • Switch – Chip & Dan Heath : Simple methods on “How to change things when change is hard”

Get Active on Social Media and Use Evernote

There is a huge amount of material available via Social Media Channels that can help you learn and develop knowledge of just about any subject. Spend some time searching Twitter and LinkedIn for the experts who publish material on subjects you want to learn about, follow lots of them and spend 10 minutes each morning saving articles to Evernote for you to read at a later date. This is so easy to do, simply add the Evernote Web Clipper to your web browser and a single press of the button will save the page/s for you to read at a later date. If you add the Evernote app to your Mobile Device then you can catch-up on reading during your commute each morning or evening (that is if you use the train, please don’t do this if you drive!)

Put your Headphones on. Watch, Listen and Learn

Hearing different perspectives, sharing and learning from others is a great way of developing yourself. YouTube, TED Talks and PodCasts are just three remarkably simple ways of learning from others. Again, spend a little time searching for the people with something valuable to say, follow them and then watch TV – who thought learning could be so easy !

Finally, the most important tip of all, TAKE ACTION … put some time aside every single week and block the slot/s in your diary. It’s too easy to let deadlines and the pressures of beating quota take precedent over developing yourself. But as I said at the beginning of this post, you’re responsible, so stand out from the crowd and make sure that you take control.

Home Office or Sales Office : Where Should your Team be Based ?

Here’s a debate that divides opinion and it’s raging like a wildfire inside many businesses today. Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban home working when she joined Yahoo fanned the flames of the fire and brought the question into sharp focus.

Advances in technology have made it very easy to for salespeople today to work from almost any location, pervasive access to low cost devices and communications infrastructure keep them connected wherever they may be. You don’t have to look back too many years to recall salespeople keeping customer records on 6×4 cards, or a few years later by dial-up access to centralised systems on painfully slow laptop’s. These days almost everyone is mobile with real time access to customer information stored in their CRM in the cloud and accessed via a device that sits in the palm of your hand.

So what’s the answer to the question “should the sales team be home or office based?” The answer is … it depends!

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s put Inside Sales to one side for a moment and focus on external, field based sales people.

I believe that salespeople, at least those who are sufficiently motivated and engaged in their roles, can be more productive if supported and enabled to work from their home office. They are in the privileged position of having control over their environment, are able to use their time more flexibly and are often more efficient as they don’t have to endure a painful commute every morning and evening. All really positive reasons to support home working.

Yet working from home can be tough and there are some really positive reasons why you should consider having your sales team based in the company’s office regardless of how easy technology has made things :-

  1. Working from home can be lonely, it takes a strong, confident, motivated salesperson to be disciplined enough to focus on the job in hand and not get distracted when the going gets tough. After a series of rejections where things just aren’t going their way (everyone has these periods) will the salesperson find themselves taking a break with a cup of coffee sitting in front of “Homes under the Hammer” !
  2. On-boarding new team members is more difficult, especially in a complex organisation with lots to learn. There is little difference during the initial on-boarding stage but once the classroom training is over then they start to fall behind peers who are office based. If new sales team members are not closely connected to their peers and colleagues throughout their ramp period then it’s more difficult for them to learn and share knowledge. They can find themselves in a situation of not knowing what they don’t know. Non office based sales people almost always take longer to become productive and the propensity for failure is higher.
  3. Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker). Well it’s far more difficult to create a cohesive, positive culture if your team works from their home office. The bonding that happens around an office, the beer or two after work, the lunchtime table tennis competitions etc. all help to create a truly supportive team, home workers miss out on all of these and unless specific actions are taken to include them in culture building activities they are in danger of turning into Lone Wolves.

The answer to the question is that a one size fits all solution does not exist, experienced sales team members who are well connected within your organisation could well find that being home based adds to their motivation and delivers an upswing in performance. Salespeople who are less experienced and still learning the ropes within your company will find themselves learning faster and being more productive if they are closely connected with colleagues every day.

My advice if you’re a sales manager grappling with this question is critically assess each person or situation independently against a predetermined framework. The framework should include data points on role, experience, knowledge, capability, performance and behavioural traits. Make your decisions consistently using the framework with your teams performance as the defining factor and you should find yourself being able to navigate your way through the conundrum.

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 !

If You Want to be Promoted then Correct Your Sales Forecast

Just the mention of the word “forecast” brings many salespeople and sales managers out in a cold sweat, it’s the greatest source of tension in the sales team and has far more time spent on it than is productive.

For a moment let’s consider the objective of the sales forecast. It’s simply the leading indicator that shows how the business is performing vs. the sales target set in the financial plan. Are you on track vs. plan or do you need to make corrective inputs? What salespeople don’t often consider is that expenses are also forecast in exactly the same way, often much more accurately, and this enables the Profit & Loss forecast to be calculated. The P&L is the key financial document that management use to steer the business and investors/shareholders use to track progress.

Here’s where the tension starts … salespeople hate forecasting, they love to be the hero, keeping opportunities nicely hidden up their sleeve until the very last-minute and then producing a sale seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a way for the salesperson to manage the pressure and keep the spotlight away from them. See the image of the shell game, that’s exactly what’s happening.

You also encounter the exact opposite behaviour although less frequently, salespeople who are too bullish or simply don’t understand their business well enough to forecast accurately. The classic over promise and under delivering behaviour is a Sales Managers worst nightmare and needs urgent correction. Be careful though, it’s very easy to swing the pendulum too far and end up back in the “shell game” !

Accuracy is the critical key. As a salesperson, you generally don’t consider the issues that both of the behaviours above create, if left unchecked it causes really thorny problems for whomever owns the P&L. There are severe consequences to an inaccurate forecast :-

  1. If sales finish lower than forecast then your business may need to cut expenses to balance margins and profitability, not a pleasant position to be in.
  2. If sales finish higher than forecast, then your business could be investing even more resources to help drive growth faster, again not ideal.

The moral of the story, do your utmost to forecast accurately. Work hard to strike the delicate balance between forecasting low and playing the hero, or forecasting high and over promising. The sales people who stand out as the very top performers don’t just beat their target, they are reliable and deliver on their forecast accurately. When they do encounter an issue (and everyone will from time to time), they communicate fast and early, looking for ways to recover whilst always having the customers best interests at heart.

If you want to grow, develop and be considered for promotion then show your Manager, Director or VP that you have what it takes to manage your business well. To be regarded as being “at the very top of your game” develop a reputation for “doing what you say you will do”. This is when the career opportunity doors start to open up wide for you.

Watch out for a future post where I’ll talk more about how to forecast accurately and point out some of the pitfalls to avoid.

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.