Selling to the C-Suite

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In a previous post, I shared my opinions on selling to the top of an organization and why it isn’t always the best route to success.

There are obviously times when selling to the top is not only smart, but it’s required. Recently, I was asked about how to approach busy professionals with an idea, product, or service. If you are selling to senior executives, here are a few guidelines that may prove helpful.

 

“Stop selling. Start helping.” –Zig Ziglar

Be prepared.

As a sales leader, knowing your own company and your product is a requirement.  Take it a step further.  You need to know our company, too. When someone obviously hasn’t so much as looked at the company’s Web site, he has already lost credibility.  Don’t flaunt your advanced preparation, but work in ways you think we will benefit from a relationship.

It applies on the phone, too.  I can’t tell you how many people who finally do get me on the line are not prepared.  If you’re ready for the gatekeeper, but not the person you’re targeting, here’s a hint:  Don’t make the call.  Do your homework.

 

“Timid salesmen have skinny kids.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be clear.

Don’t launch into a stream of acronyms or nonsensical statements.  No, I’m not meeting with you for an hour to learn to “drive efficiencies throughout the organization, maximizing ROI and improving profits.”  Really.  We do that every day, and we know the business and you don’t.  So, be clear on what the benefit is to the organization.  Don’t use complex language designed to impress.

 

“Every sale has 5 basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be crisp.

We’re all busy.  Don’t drag it out.  Most executives are incredibly busy and bottom-line oriented.  If you catch my attention, then you will have more leeway and time to make your case.

How We Make Decisions

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We are all rational beings, making decisions after carefully weighing the analytical arguments.  We always keep an open mind.  We study the facts, and then decide.  Logical, analytical, practical.  When confronting a big decision, our brain overpowers everything to help us arrive at the right conclusion.  We don’t let emotions get in the way.  Ever.

Right?

Well, it’s probably not like that for most of us.

Head Justifies the Heart

We actually tend to make emotional decisions first, and then look for facts to justify that decision.  That’s what the scientists say in recent studies.

Our “gut” helps us decide.  That’s emotion.  In other words, we decide in our heart and justify it in our head.

That’s not good or bad; it’s just the way it is.

As a result, marketers tend to pull at our “heart strings” with emotional appeals.  It’s why branding is so important—colors carefully chosen, music picked with care.  All of it is designed in an effort to sway our emotional decision-making.  We create a certain feeling through the use of sensual imagery.

Ironically, these marketing decisions are not based on what marketers “feel” would work.  Many of them are based on neuroscience.  Expose a group of consumers to a product while giving them a brain scan.  That shows what areas of the brain are lighting up.  There are other tools that are used—blood pressure, skin tests, eye tracking, and all sorts of biofeedback mechanisms.  The results help marketers see what works literally by seeing inside our brains.

An Exciting Leadership Challenge

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This last year, I have had the privilege of exploring many opportunities and consulting with different organizations.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to study various teams and learn from a variety of leaders.  At the same time, I most enjoy operational roles where I’m responsible for driving results.

In June, I will be joining OCLC as President-elect and I will be named President & CEO on July 1.  Based in Dublin, Ohio, OCLC is a nonprofit computer library service and research organization.  Its goals include furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs.

During major career changes, I make a list of what I am looking for and then evaluate various opportunities against these criteria.  Here are a few I’d like to share with you in case it helps you on your own journey:

Supportive.  If you are joining a company, it is important to know whether you will have support or whether you will be fighting internally.  Most of us have experienced teams where everyone is more concerned about survival than about helping each other.  Specifically on my list is a “supportive board of directors.”  I met with the trustees numerous times throughout the process and this is one of the most engaged, thoughtful and supportive boards I have ever seen.

Engaging.  Really what this one is about is that I don’t like to be bored.  For me, I enjoy industries in transition or undergoing change.  Libraries have been at the cutting edge of technology for years and face challenges due to budget constraints.  I’m excited to help in any way possible and know that the variety of technological and economic changes will provide new challenges.

Stable.  I’ve enjoyed working in many different environments.  Working in a stable business is important to me.  My predecessor at OCLC, Jay Jordan, has done an excellent job working with the members to expand into new areas around the globe.  Note: It’s possible to be both stable and in the middle of rapid change at the same time.

Respected.  I’ve worked with libraries my entire career.  OCLC is one of the most respected names anywhere, and this is because the member libraries help to make it what it is.  The combination of fully engaged member libraries with talented OCLC employees around the world makes for a dynamic, well-respected organization.

Note to Managers: Stop Making Decisions

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Photo courtesy of istockphoto/peskymonkey

This is a guest post by Dennis Bakke. Dennis is the CEO of Imagine Schools and the author of The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time (Pear Press)..

The conventional wisdom on leadership: Get advice from others but make the final decision. But in today’s shifting global marketplace, it’s out of date. More and more, success in business isn’t about producing the proverbial widget, but unlocking human potential. Success isn’t about rigid systems that guide our people as they churn out product. It’s about how we release our people to innovate, at every stage of the game.

As a young leader, I followed the conventional wisdom. I might ask a couple of people for some input before I made a decision. But I made the final call, always.

Success is about how we release people to innovate, at every stage of the game. -Dennis Bakke

It didn’t take me long to realize that the more decisions I made, the less engaged others became.  They didn’t have any control over the process or the results. So they didn’t feel any ownership in them either.

The problem was me. To be a good leader, I had to let go.

The reality is that it is the boss who is often the last to know. So when bosses, department leaders or team leaders make all the decisions, they’re often operating with stale or second-hand information, some of which has been edited or sanitized on its way to “the boss.”

Why You Should Empower Employees

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Several weeks ago, my wife and I headed out for a quick lunch.  I had been traveling and speaking in a few cities and was glad to be home.  Before lunch, we needed a few supplies and stopped at Target.

Target does a lot right.  Wide, brightly lit aisles.  Easy-to-find merchandise.  And friendly staff who seem happy.

When I was grabbing the items I needed off the shelf, I noticed a sign.  “Buy three of these items and get a $5 gift card,” one sign said.  The other said, “Buy two and get another $5 gift card.”  I only needed one of each item, but I thought why not take the money so I loaded up.

At the checkout counter, we paid for items and then I asked about our gift cards.  We liked the kind woman who was helping us.  She was efficient and the type who could build a relationship fast.  “I thought about that,” she responded.  “Let me check….no, this item doesn’t qualify for some reason.  I know you only bought this many so you would get the card.”

She pulled open the Target brochure, looked at the item, and still couldn’t figure why it didn’t give us the cards.  I explained that I checked the labels when I took the items off the shelf and that they were immediately behind the sign.  She shook her head and offered to have someone go check the sign.

Immediately in my mind I pictured what would happen:  A light would go off.  She would get on an intercom and bellow, “Man in Aisle 9 needs a price check!”  We would hold up the line, miss our lunch reservation, and a manager would come out to talk to us.

“Forget it,” I said, not wanting to cause a scene and not having any time to wait.  For me, the pain wasn’t worth it.  (But I’m thrifty enough that it did bother me.)

“I’m sorry,” she responded with an “I wish I could do something” attitude.

Management Lesson

This is not a story about Target.  It’s a good store.  This is not a story about the checkout clerk.  She was so nice we would seek out her line next time.

It’s a lesson for management.  And it’s all about empowerment.