Years ago, I was the sales manager at a telecom company. Our deals could range anywhere from $50K to the low millions, depending on the client and their needs.
I had one salesperson, I’ll call him Dave, who returned from a tech conference saying he’d met a great contact with a large multi-national company. I’ll call him Larry. He assured us that Larry was a decision maker at a high level and was interested in one of our more popular solutions.
Dave attempted to follow up with Larry a couple of weeks later, as requested, but was told by the person who answered the phone that he’d have to speak to someone different first as she couldn’t simply put calls through.
After another couple weeks of phone tag (nobody was using email widely at this point) Dave was able to speak to the administrative assistant to Larry’s assistant.
I heard Dave explain (several times) that he’d had a conversation with Larry and that Larry expressed interest in our product. This assistant two levels down from Larry said that he’d never heard about the conversation and couldn’t put Dave through.
Dave pleaded with the assistant to check with Larry to verify their conversation, which he said he would do. A month later, Dave was finally put in touch with Larry’s assistant. I don’t know if that other person ever checked on the conversation.
Larry’s assistant, a woman named Rebecca, was far more pleasant according to Dave than his first contact, but she too was hesitant to put him through to Larry. Dave spent the next couple weeks explaining the solution over the phone to Rebecca and mailed her an information packet about the software for prospective clients.
Another month later, Rebecca told Dave that if he could fly out for a meeting with Larry and her, they’d consider a trial run with the software.
When Dave got there, Larry wasn’t at the meeting. He presented to Rebecca, who said she’d take everything to Larry.
About six weeks went by when we received a letter in the mail, signed by Rebecca, saying that they decided to pass on the telecom solution we offered.
Nearly five months had passed, and Dave was never able to communicate with Larry directly again. I don’t know if Dave exaggerated the extent of their interest or he just had trouble with the two assistants. Dave was great at generating initial interest and cultivating leads, but I still wonder if another salesperson with a better performance record would have been able to sign the deal.
Who Makes The Decisions?
There are two kinds of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers. The hunter is someone who goes after new accounts or works to expand business within an existing account. The farmer is a salesperson who takes and maintains existing accounts. They are very different mentality types. This book is more for the hunter, or those who manage a team of hunters.
There are many facets to a complex, big-money sales opportunity, but I think the story about Dave that started this article illustrates the two most important keys to success. First, you’ve got to figure out who the decision makers are and second, you’ve got to work your way through a series of gatekeepers who don’t always want you to reach your goal.
Dave lucked out meeting Larry directly, but clearly didn’t make enough of an impact, such that he still had to deal with the assistants who, while it sometimes feels vindictive, are just trying to protect the valuable time of the people they work for.
Back when this example occurred, there were a few organizations like Dun & Bradstreet and Hoover’s that you could glean information from about potential clients, but we’re now living in an age where the Internet has provided us with multiple avenues for research. A little time on a company’s website and LinkedIn is often all you need these days to get a rough idea of corporate structure, and often, who you’ll ultimately need to speak with to make the sale.
Unfortunately, the dance of trying to talk to the right people still exists, and if you’re not careful you can get caught in an endless loop trying to work your way up, but repeatedly stalling. Obviously, if you go straight to the person it’s fantastic, but in most circumstances, you’ll be talking to several folks and trying to learn information from each of them as you move forward to your desired target.
Even if you’re not yet at the level you need with decision makers, you still have an opportunity to learn about the potential client company and what their needs are. If they’re continuing to have conversations with you, there must be some interest in what you can provide.
If you can determine what they are trying to accomplish, what they’ve done in the past and where they want to go before sitting down with the big decision maker, you’ll be poised to address their questions or concerns in a far more relevant way.