Can you achieve differentiation at the C-level?

Selling to the C-Level

The short answer is “Yes”.  But one is unlikely to get there by simply doing a better job doing of what everyone else is doing.  Why?  Because, most folks are doing that pretty well.  After all, sales people who are calling at the C-level are experienced and smart, and have been there before. If differentiation is the goal, and it should be, you need to do something different rather than something better. 

So, what might that look like?  In situations such as these, where a different strategy is needed, it’s always a great idea to seek an answer by starting with the notion that you “must get on the customer’s side of the table.” 

In this case, the person on the other side is an individual that brings a different set of pressures, opportunities, needs, and level of responsibility to the table.  They are more concerned about the unknown than the known. They look at the big picture vs. individual snapshots. And, most importantly they are seeking to understand problems that matter.      

If that is the person with whom you are about to have a business conversation, how do you stand out from everyone else?  How do you bring a piece of value others will not?  Let’s take a look at what doesn’t work, and then explore what might.     

Most people in sales have been well schooled in having the Discovery conversation.  This conversation starts with the sales person asking questions about a problem they believe the customer is concerned about. It continues with a further exploration of the problem and then a discussion about how the problem can be solved. 

If this is the type of discussion, then successful differentiation is an unlikely. Why?  First, it is the same set of questions that have been asked by all the other sales people. Second and more importantly, the time spent vs. the value received doesn’t work out very well.  Time is spent on educating the sales person about a problem the Senior Executive already understands.  This is a quick way to have a short meeting and a referral to someone lower in the organization.

What’s an alternative?  One option is the Point of View conversation.  The Point of View discussion focuses on helping the Senior Executive learn something new about a significant problem they didn’t even know they had.  

Here, questions to develop a comprehensive understanding of the organization are asked to others in the organization before the meeting with the Senior Executive.  Substantial time and resources are spent analyzing that information to bring a point of view to the meeting about an unknown problem that matters.

This is truly consultative selling.  Time is spent with the Senior Executive learning something they didn’t know vs. the sales person learning something the Senior Executive already knew.  This requires hard work and expertise … but Senior Executives will understand and value the difference.     

Closing big deals in major accounts increasingly involves interactions at the C-level.  But, planning and executing successful calls with Senior Executives requires a different kind of conversation than those held at the middle manager and technical levels.  At the senior level you only get one chance to make a difference – so doing it different is important. 

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection. 

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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