Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Selling to the Unreachables

SiriusDecisions Insight and Alinean Advice on Selling to Sr. Level Executives

In a recent SiriusDecisions podcast, research analyst Jim Ninivaggi and Jonathan Block discussed best practice research and tips for selling to senior-level B2B executives, dispelling several myths on the best approaches for executive selling.

Get to the single Sr. Level Decision Maker?

According to Mr Ninivaggi, there is no longer a single decision maker / executive in most organizations. Instead, this has been replaced with more stakeholders, with a more collaborative decision making approach. There are now a series of decisions, and a series of decision makers, making the sales process non-hierarchical, and non-linear.

Alinean Advice: When a salesperson or team meets with a prospect, they need to be prepared to speak to the opportunities of each stakeholder, and communicate the unique value of the proposed solution to each as well. Most sales professionals, adept at selling to the technical buyer, will be ill suited for the cast of stakeholders now involved in each buying decision. Sales enablement will need to arm the sales professional with tools to enable effective discovery of business opportunities and communication of value to each diverse buying decision maker.

Alinean Case Study: Unisys’s IT Managed Services group realized that when engaging in the buying process, they needed to have a different dialogue for different buyers. Some buyers cared about the IT spending, while others cared about strategic alignment, business impact, and service levels. An IDG
Alinean developed assessment toolset allowed Unisys account teams to quickly assess the prospect organization’s current practices, spending and performance, creating a 40 page executive assessment, with sections to appeal to executive, IT management and business management alike.

Call Early and Often?

The mantra has always been to call early and often on the Sr level executive. If you could get the appointment, you should sell as high as possible.

However, according to the SiriusDecision analysts, if sales professionals call too early on Sr. Level Executives, they may not have enough knowledge of the business goals, opportunities and competitive challengers to deliver value, and may even disrupt the now customer driven buying process. The meeting too early and without value add will derail the process, not accelerate the buying cycle.

Alinean Advice: Salespeople are many times not prepared to meet with Sr. Level Executives. These executives are often looking for consultative and prescriptive insight and advice. If your sales professionals are all ex-Mckinsey consultants, this should not be an issue. However, how many of us understand the customers industry and challenges enough to add value to each executive we meet with?

The key is to create a structured discovery, diagnosis and prescriptive framework and tool to assist the sales professional.

Alinean Case Study: Microsoft realized they were being too tactical with their customers, and not being able to reach executives, or when they did, not adding enough value. Alinean helped created Infrastructure Optimization assessments, an online toolset that enables direct and partner account teams to assess the organizations current IT and business productivity tool best practices, scoring the organization against a capability / maturity model. The tool compares the organization against peers showing the organization clearly where they are leading the charge, or falling behind the competition. A prescriptive roadmap of practice improvements and solutions concludes the diagnostic presentation.

Having participated personally with Microsoft on such engagements, you can see the relationship change and elevate within each account its used in – empowering sales professionals to connect meaningfully with the executive buyers.

Solution Selling is Best for Executive Meetings?

The current way to sell is a consultative sales methodology – let the customer speak as much as possible about their issues, asking many questions to learn about pain points and provide advice. Consultative or Solution Selling works with Technical or Business Group buyers, but doesn’t work with executives according to SiriusDecisions.

Sr. Executives are different. You have to earn right to ask questions. As SiriusDecisions points out, the engagement has to be Prescriptive, not Consultative.

Executives are looking for industry insight, benchmarks, competitive comparisons, and best practice advice.

According to SiriusDecisions, its essential in order to gain and maintain access, to have something of value to communicate, and work through sponsor to get access with this value added content and prescriptive information.

Alinean Advice: Sales enablement could benefit sales professionals seeking an executive engagement, by delivering insight / benchmark tools.

Alinean Case Study: HP needed a tool to get the executive appointment. Using Alinean’s IT Peer Comparison tool, containing a database on financial performance and IT spending for 20,000+ organizations worldwide, HP compares the target organization’s IT spending with industry competitors / peers to create a customized benchmark report. This report is proactively delivered in summary form to executives to get the meeting. Working with an India sales proposal group, once the appointment is set, the HP account team is armed with a full briefing book containing the Alinean IT Peer Comparison report, as well as additional customized industry insight and diagnostics. As a result, the sales teams are empowered to get more executive meetings, and importantly, armed with the dialogue to connect better in the meeting.

If you Can't Connect, Move On?
SiriusDecisions indicates that if you cannot connect to the executive, its not all for loss. Access by proxy is still valuable. The key is to arm your customer champion or coach with the tools they can use to sell your advice, ideas and proposals upwards in the organization.

With buyers being economically driven today, as we all know “frugalnomics” now reigns, this typically includes not only prescriptive advice, but ROI business cases.

Alinean Advice: In the early phase of the buying cycle, if you can’t get access, arm the champion / sponsor with prescriptive assessments, gauging the organization versus recommended best practices, peer and leader comparisons that will be compelling to the executive.

In justification phase, be sure to arm the champion / sponsor with the evidence they need to communicate the quantified value of the solution to the executive. A formal business case using the customer’s unique opportunity and return on investment metrics is essential.

In the decision phase, be sure to not lay the groundwork and lose to a cheaper competitor. Provide total cost of ownership comparisons to be sure that the executive understands the full investment costs and doesn’t derail the process with the cheapest up-front solution, or selecting a solution with less capabilities / value overall.

Alinean Case Study: ShoreTel delivers Unified Communication solutions in a highly competitive environment. Their solution offers one of the best feature sets, values and lowest costs compared to competitors which include Cisco, Avaya and other industry giants. Champions needed a way to communicate the value of the solution to executives who were not aware of ShoreTel compared to competitive offerings. Using third party developed Alinean TCO tool, loaded with independent industry research, sales teams are able to arm customers with the evidence they need to make the best IP telephony / UC choice.

The Bottom Line
Executive selling has changed substantially over the past decade, as frugalnomics now reigns. Sales enablement groups that recognize these changes can arm sales professionals with the tools they need to reach executive decision makers and garner greater success. Marketers must also realize that the connection and dialogue with executives has changed in similar ways. Tools can be used on-line and via sales professionals and partners to facilitate the process and connection with these frugal executives to shorten sales cycles and win more business.

The SiriusDecisions podcast can be accessed at:

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