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How to Gain Access to the Executive Suite

Posting Date: March 06, 2006

In today’s complex business environment, senior executives are often actively involved in the process of assessing the issues and options. Yet, many sales professionals are frustrated in their inability to gain access to decision makers in the executive suite.

Sales professionals need to overcome seven common challenges if they are to effectively engage top executives. Consider the following situations. Think about how often they occur within your team and how you would approach each scenario.

Hurdle #1: You can’t connect to the executive’s critical business issues and so are forced to deal with a support level person.

Brilliant ideas and valuable products and services fall to indifference if you can’t immediately establish credibility and connect to the executive’s most pressing issues. Your credibility comes via the relevancy you establish in your introduction by connecting your solutions or capabilities to the business drivers of the executive. By referencing challenges the industry is facing or objectives this company presents in its public records, the executive will recognize you’ve thought this through and you couldn’t have this conversation with anyone else.

Hurdle #2: You realize that your strongest contact in your customer’s organization no longer holds the power to make buying decisions.

In today’s highly competitive and volatile marketplace, globalization, consolidation and centralization are some of the reasons why some decisions move up to higher levels of power and influence. This movement is forcing even the most experienced sales professionals to expand their expertise and to compete at levels not previously required. Don’t expect that a single contact in your customer’s organization will carry your message effectively. It is critical that we translate the value we can create at the technical, operational or clinical level to the impact it has on the performance drivers on the executive’s dashboard and have those conversations with each executive. Recognize the dials they are watching and be able to discuss their current measurements and how your solution will impact them specifically.

Hurdle #3: Your competition is in the executive suite and you arent.

Can the competition swoop into the executive suite and steal your account while you believe your relationship is strong at the operations level? Absolutely! People typically spend more time preparing for a prospect visit than they do for a customer visit. Don’t let overfamiliarity lull you into understanding less about your customer than your competitor does. Gain advantage and pull ahead of competitive threats by establishing a broad base of relationships that will preempt and neutralize competitive moves.

Hurdle #4: You bought into the assertion, “I make the final decision,” when in fact, political moves and ego games aligned you with someone who barely has any influence over the decision.

Don’t let diluted messages sabotage your best opportunities. Understand how your solution affects each level of responsibility within your customer’s organization. It is only natural that you will interact at all levels to understand the full potential your solution will have, and after the sale to assure that the full value of your solution is achieved. Building these relationships as you gather information will ensure you are firmly grounded with those who are both impacted and influenced by the decision.

Hurdle #5: You finally reach the person who holds the checkbook, but you cant build the financial case he or she needs to make the buying decision.

The financial executive plays an increasingly central role in setting the strategy of the organization and deciding how to fund the implementation of that strategy. Do not place the burden of translating your technical advantages into its financial impact on your customers. Involve them in your calculations and adjust your assumptions accordingly. In the end, the customers must “own” the solutions. Be their advisor, not their sales rep. Position your solution as a strategic asset.

Hurdle #6: Third party consultants force you to compete on price when you know that the value you can create for the customer is not making it to the executive level in your customer’s organization.

Recognize that you and the consultant have the same customer. Build the case for mutual gains with the consultant by asking the questions they have not thought of asking and don’t have the answers to. They will recognize the value you add to their position and invite you into the executive suite. Help third-party consultants manage a quality buying process that builds successful outcomes for them, for you and for your customers.

Hurdle #7: Your convincing proposal wins the first round of approvals, but executive buy-in remains elusive. In fact, an upper-level person has criteria on the table that you never even knew existed.

Engage the executives early in the decision process to establish the criteria that create senior-level ownership. Build winning proposals that connect the business drivers at all levels of influence and decision. Ask the in-depth questions your customer has not thought of asking. Expose the risks inherent in a successful implementation of your solution.

Next Steps:  Three Strategies for Gaining Access to the Executive Suite
  1. Understand the executive mindset and be empowered to connect to top executives. Gain insight into how they think, what they expect, what makes them move forward and how they drive management support. They are looking for ideas and resources to execute their strategy and how to reduce risk and increase the probability of success.
  2. Create compelling relevancy that gains you access to the executive suite. Build a value assumption that will connect your capabilities to the executive agenda and ensure you have a strong executive-level sponsorship to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
  3. Know how to establish exceptional credibility with corporate executives. Expected credibility is what you know about your solution. Exceptional credibility is what you know about your customer’s business. Look at your words and your documents. Are they about you and your solution or are they about your customer and their business?

Executives are concerned about working with suppliers who truly understand their business, their customers’ demands and their competitive landscape, as well as the challenges associated with implementation. If you cannot speak to these issues, your time in the executive suite will be brief at best.

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