Don’t trip on the way down

I recently had the opportunity to observe a salesperson in action at a networking event.  I was talking with the CEO of a medium sized company when another gentleman came over and introduced himself.  He explained that he was an account executive for a firm which specializes in providing outsourced technology solutions.  The CEO responded with interest as well as concern with his existing technology company.  He enthusiastically suggested that this salesperson follow up with his internal technology person and even gave him the direct line to call.  The salesperson “diligently” asked if he could reference this conversation when calling the technology person.  After receiving this final endorsement, the salesperson then moved to shake hands and bid the CEO farewell.  On the surface, and I think most people would agree, this salesperson seemingly stumbled upon an amazing opportunity:   speaking directly to the CEO about his needs and concerns. How often does that happen?

However, having witnessed this interaction and looking below the surface of the scenario, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What will happen when this salesperson calls the internal technology person?”  Often, when salespeople are endorsed “down the ladder,” the person at the lower rung does not respond with the excitement and anticipation expected. I have seen too many lower level people override the endorsement by either ignoring the calls or brushing the salesperson off.  Naturally, the salesperson instinctively fights their way back up the ladder to report this challenge to the original endorser in this case, the CEO.  Unfortunately, either because the moment is gone, or for political reasons, these attempts to regain access to the CEO are much more difficult than anticipated and often futile.

So, what’s the solution? How do we deal with this opportunity threat before it happens?  The answer is to have what we call a “Post-Endorsement Dialogue”, which consists of a few simple questions for the CEO upon the initial introduction to diffuse potential threats:

  • Have you discussed your concerns with the technology person?”
  • What were his thoughts on the issue?”
  • What is the possibility he will not be open to speaking with me?”
  • Is this issue critical enough for us to speak a little further?
  • “Would you be willing to introduce us?”
  • What if the salesperson can get the CEO to set up the meeting and sit in on it?

Many experienced salespeople reading this article may be thinking, “I would push to have the CEO involved in the first meeting.”  This is never a bad idea, but quite often it backfires when the lower level person shows up.

How many times have you done an amazing job selling the power-person and then they introduce their lower-level people to gain consensus? How often do those people look to justify their value by poking holes in your solution?  Whether for self-protective reasons or simply to protect the status quo, they take a dominant role in the situation and act as an opposing gatekeeper.  Unfortunately, in many cases, any attempt to regain the favor of the higher-level stakeholder is met with, “I appreciate your hard work here and the solution your company is offering, but I have to trust the people who work for me and their opinions.”

Here again, the “Post Endorsement” dialogue is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.  When a high-level stakeholder offers to introduce you to a lower level report, several critical questions can help avoid the above scenario:

  • “Have you had previous discussions with her about this topic?”
  • “What is at stake for her and how committed is she to fixing the issues?”
  • “Will you speak with her prior to us meeting? What response do you anticipate?”
  • “What is the possibility she may pushback prior to, or during the meeting?
  • “What would some of her objections be?
  • “How would you feel about those objections and how would you respond?”
  • “How do you want me to respond to any pushback during the meeting?”
  • “Can we set up a follow-up time for you and me to speak/meet to debrief?”

The key in both these scenarios is to create alignment with the higher-level stakeholder, prior to engaging with their lower-level reports and this can be done by asking some critical questions.  This approach will also allow you to explore and amplify the top-level person’s perspective on the issues, concerns and vision.

Ultimately, the objective is to evoke a sense of interest and urgency with the top person, so they protect us from “tripping on the way down.

Venator Sales Group is a Sales Consulting, Optimization, & Training firm with a laser-focus on improving every aspect of a client’s sales culture and sales performance. Founded over a decade ago by high-performing, professional sales practitioners, Venator combines a strategic sales management approach with real-world understanding of the factors necessary for success in today’s selling environment. Venator helps companies turn around inconsistent or lackluster sales performance by infusing a sales culture based on accountability, compliance, and critical thinking.

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