Or…How to Avoid Getting Delegated Down to Whom You Sound Like
For a long time, you have been hearing… “You have to sell higher.” But, just telling someone, “sell higher” doesn’t mean salespeople know what they need to say when they actually get in front of an executive. Or have the guts to go there.
In fact, a company we work with recently looked at the titles associated with all of the opportunities in their CRM and discovered only 10% have a VP or higher contact. At the same time, analyst firm IDC says 80% of B2B decisions now require VP or higher-level sign-off.
That math doesn’t add up to success.
What executives want to talk about
The problem is that most sales training and preparation is focused on the exact opposite of the things executives want to talk about.
Meanwhile, these executive buyers report that 88 percent of salespeople are proficient on their products and services, and only 24 percent add value around business issues, market trends and related industry insight (Forrester Research).
In effect, executive buyers are four times less likely to get the thing they value four times more!
I call this the “business value gap” and it is having a detrimental impact on your business. Another study from TrainingIndustry.com found that high-performing companies place three times more emphasis on developing executive selling skills, and four times more emphasis on developing their team’s financial acumen than do lower performing companies who spend the majority of their time on traditional product training.
To be relevant to an executive audience, and to overcome the three main causes of executive conversation failure, salespeople need training that makes them proficient in the “three Cs” of great executive conversations:
- Competence – Salespeople need to excel at five key competencies if they want to speak to the concerns that matter to executives. Those competencies are business knowledge (know the external factors and performance issues driving customer investment in your solutions), customer insight (interpret available customer and industry information to prioritize potential business alignment), financial acumen (describe how your solutions translate into financial performance gains), executive engagement (illustrate how customers will operate differently after investing in your solutions), ROI (employ relevant customer performance metrics to justify investment in your solutions).
- Confidence – To sell business value to executive decision-makers, salespeople need to get practice time in front of executives in a risk-free environment, gaining experience and feedback from real-world executives who have made these types of buying decisions before. From a training point of view, you should make sure your reps are engaging with C-level executives who can facilitate application workshops, while providing specific, in-depth coaching and feedback to prepare salespeople to engage executives with confidence in the field.
- Compelling – Salespeople need to be able to build a compelling business case that justifies customer investment in your solutions. That means they need to be able to conduct focused research—and interpret it—to prepare for an executive audience. They need to be able to adopt a buyer’s perspective to understand key business challenges and initiatives. They must address “money flow,” clearly linking your story to real line items in a company’s balance sheet and income statement. Reps must also show executives how a business change, from their current state to a new and better future state, will help them improve how they operate. Finally, salespeople must justify their value by making an ROI case for your solutions, specifically demonstrating how you can influence the performance metrics that matter most to them. To do this, focus on the “three Rs,” or three key areas of returns: 1) The returns you can fully quantify (“hard Rs”); 2. The strategic advantages that can influence the investment decision (“strategic Rs”); and 3. The subjective returns that are more difficult to measure but which you may be able to convert into quantifiable values (“soft Rs”).
Great salespeople know that selling to executives is a make-or-break proposition – one you can’t afford to squander by being unprepared to go toe-to-toe on the business issues that matter most to them. If your training doesn’t help reps speak confidently and competently about executive-level business issues, and to make a strong case for your business value, your reps may find themselves getting delegated down to whom they sound like.