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December 16, 2017

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Getting to Decision-Makers

Call on the President. Sell to "VITO." Get to the decision-maker.

You've heard the message before. And surely you recognize its importance. If you want to get your business out of the commodity game, and into delivering higher margin, value-added solutions, you must find the people with the problems that need solving. Your sales people have to get past the gatekeepers and order placers and on to the people who can most benefit from your services.

But are they?

Are your sales people successful at calling on decision-makers? And once they reach them, do your sales people know what to say? Unfortunately, all too often the answer to these questions is "no." Many sales people (especially less experienced ones) are reluctant to call on decision-makers. Either due to fear or inexperience they avoid the decision-makers and instead spend their time with the order placers-who ironically are the people that are often hardest to sell!

Which Door Will You Use?

Sit down with an experienced sales trainer and you can certaintly learn many techniques for getting the door open with decision-makers; however, before you reach for the doorknob, take time to get prepared.

The first and most important step in reaching decision-makers is knowing who you want to talk to. Often sales reps are pushed to call on the president, or some other "C" person (i.e., CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), but does this person really care about the solutions you offer?

Ideally, you should be targeting the highest level person who will directly benefit from the value you can offer. For example, if you sell strategic staffing solutions, like on-site programs, you probably need to call on the head of HR (since you're likely dealing with a large organization) and also the CFO, COO or Plant Manager. If you sell supplemental staffing solutions, then the appropriate decision-makers are likely the department heads and other hiring managers who will benefit from the quality of your services.

Please note that the "right" person will vary greatly depending on the size of the company you are targeting. Target a large employer and you may have to deal with the CFO, controller, department heads, and/or HR. Target small companies and the president should be on your list.

Once you've identified who you want to target (by name!), you then need a strategy for getting in the door. Here are three ideas:

  • The Front Door

    Use a targeted direct marketing approach to capture the attention of the decision-makers. You may try direct mail, telemarketing, or a combination of the two in your efforts. Ideally, your direct marketing should be highly tailored to each individual-with a message that matches the needs and interests of the decision-maker.

    At a minimum, your message should appeal to the needs and wants that you know this type of person is likely to have. For example, if you're selling to an HR manager, show how you can help save time, save money, or simplify their job. If you're selling to a small business owner, show how you can increase profits.

  • The Side Door

    Network, network, network. If you have established relationships in the company you're targeting, start by asking these people for their assistance in providing background information about the decision-maker you're trying to reach. Better yet, ask for an introduction.

    If you do not have established relationships within the company, find people outside the organization who do. This is where all those community service groups become valuable. You might start with local chamber of commerce meetings. See who can help you meet someone inside the company you have targeted, and then once you're inside, find someone who can help you get to the decision-maker.

  • The Back Door

    If you can't get directly to the decision-maker, and you can't network your way there, consider partnering with someone who is already there. You might be able to strike up an alliance with another vendor who is providing services to the target company, or network with professional advisors (e.g., accountants and attorneys) who might see value in recommending your services.

How to Say "Hello"

Congratulations! You've made it in the door, and have a meeting scheduled with the decision-maker. Now what's the most important thing you can say?

Okay, this is a trick question. There is no one right answer, and that's the point. The right thing to say will depend on the company and the decision-maker you're calling on. At Haley Marketing, when we talk to sales people, we encourage them to plan for sales calls using their "three minute MBA." What's a three minute MBA?

The three minute MBA is our "secret formula" for unlocking the key to your prospect's business. Would you like to know the formula? Here it is: R - E = P.

Well, maybe this formula isn't so secret. In case you haven't already guessed, the formula means revenue minus expenses equals profit. And while the formula is very basic, it is also very fundamental to sales success.

The key to using this formula is to apply it to the person you're calling on. For example, if you're calling on a small business owner, what does he or she care about most? Making more money. So if you can show how your services will increase profits, you're much more likely to advance the sale. And if you're calling on a Controller or HR manager, what's their top priority? Most often, its cost control. You must be able to demonstrate how you can reduce their expenses-you have to prove the economic value of your service process.

Successful conversations with decision-makers begin with the decision-maker's business. You must understand the rational and emotional benefits that you are capable of delivering. As you ask questions to discover the decision-maker's challenges and opportunities, position your services by demonstrating how you will deliver the benefits the decision-maker needs to overcome his challenges and realize his opportunities.

Keeping the Door Open

How often do you get a one call close? So what do your sales people do once the first call ends? Most sales people do an excellent job of concluding each call with an action step that advances the sale. They plan their next steps, gather needed information, and schedule follow-up. But most ignore one very valuable (and very easy) step-asking for permission to keep in-touch.

If your sales cycle lasts more than a couple of weeks, you want to ensure that you keep your company top-of-mind until the sale is made. How often have you heard "sorry, we just placed an order with XYZ company." To reduce the chances of losing business to the competition, continue to regularly nurture prospects (and existing clients too) in between sales calls. Nurturing can be done via mail, e-mail, phone, and/or fax. The goal is to have a plan to keep in-touch in a way that adds value, educates, gently reminds people what you can do, and helps to strengthen your professional relationship.

- David Searns

David Searns is president of Haley Marketing Group. For more ideas for growing your staffing firm, visit www.haleymarketing.com.