I'd love to play at Wimbledon, or at least I would have 30 years ago, even if I would have been quickly hammered off the court. But, luckily for spectators, feckless amateurs can't just rock up at Wimbledon with their kit in their bags and get a game. They have to qualify in other events.
The same applies when selling to executives. Salespeople, whether feckless amateurs or seasoned professionals, can't just rock up to a C level executive and practice their SPIN selling questions or their disruptive Challenger Selling techniques. They also have to qualify first - and against pretty stiff competition.
It's easy to say "Challenge an executive's perceptions" or "use questions to analyse the Situation, identify the Problem, agree the Implications and define the Need" - but why should a senior executive speak to YOU rather than to the 157 other salespeople who also want to Challenge or SPIN them?
To earn the right to sit down with (or speak at length on the phone with) senior executives there are two qualifying competitions you have to win first, and against some pretty tough opposition.
- The competition for their attention
- The competition for their time
When competing for attention, you can be pretty certain that if you're targeting a C level executive your competitors will be as well. But it's not only your direct competitors you have to worry about - it's anyone else who's after their attention.
This includes a lot of people who rank ahead of you in the priority stakes - their superiors, the board, their colleagues, their customers, their employees and their families.
All of these people command their attention - and they get first dibs before strangers and salespeople. After them there's everyone else - including anyone that's trying to sell anything to them. Not just your usual competitors but employment agencies, insurers, software providers, business services, bankers, charities - all those people that also want to sell them stuff.
So the first question is, how do you attract their attention? How do you get them to read your email out of the hundreds they get every week, or return your phone message when they have 40 others to return? You may have a great value proposition or a fabulous USP and a great elevator pitch - but so do most other people.
The second question is, once you do have their attention, what do you do with it?
Everyone who is clamouring for their attention really wants a slice of their time. There's only so many hours in the day and most of those are reserved for those top priority supplicants - the board, customers, colleagues, etc.
At least at this stage the field isn't quite so full because a lot of the attention seekers have fallen by the wayside - but the question remains, why should a senior executive give YOU half an hour of their precious time rather than the other people who are after it?
Yes, you may have a great payback, a wonderful offer, a rapid ROI, amazing references - but so do most of the other people who are after their time.
Obviously there are ways to win in both competitions so you can have those critical strategic C level discussions, and ways to do it consistently and predictably - or I wouldn't be writing this article. But that's a topic for the next chapter.
The key thing to remember is that the best presentation or sales methodology in the world is useless if you don't get to use it.
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