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Appointments With Sales People Fall Short Of Executive Expectations

by David Brock on August 11th, 2010

Last Week I wrote about “We Have To Call At The Top,”  suggesting the concept of right level selling.  There are many times when calling at the “C” level is critical for our sales efforts, yet we struggle to get appointments with these executives.  I was interested to read a Forrester Research report on this topic, presenting the executive perspective.  Only 15% of the “C” level executives surveyed felt their meetings with sales people were valuable and lived up to their expectations.  They went further, based on the outcome of the initial meeting, only 7% would accept follow-on meetings.  No wonder they don’t want to see us, we waste their time!

  • The report goes on to look at the reasons sales people fail to meet executive expectations in meetings, several specific areas hit me:
  • Only 27% felt sales people were knowledgeable about their specific business.
  • Only 34% felt the sales person could relate to their roles and responsibilities in the organization, with 38% saying sales people understood their issues and how they could help.
  • Only 34% felt the sales person had relevant examples or case studies to share with the executive.
  • Only 38% felt sales people were prepared for the questions an executive might ask.

Clearly, sales people aren’t “connecting” with executives effectively.  In some ways it’s understandable–if you’ve never been in an executive role before, how do you relate to their roles, responsibilities and issues?  How do you know what to talk to them about, what examples to use, how to respond to their questions?  In a way, the sales person is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  How do you overcome this?

Many organizations try to do this through training–I think training is a key element–but training needs to focus on industry, market, and business training.  In addition to this, I think organizations too often overlook their own executives and their ability to help their own sales people understand the “executive” view.  For example, if you sell software to CIO’s, why don’t you leverage your own CIO to better understand the “real world concerns of CIO’s?”  If you sell to manufacturing execs, why not leverage your own VP of Manufacturing to help you understand the way manufacturing execs think?

The executives in your own organization can help you better understand the perspectives of their peers.  Companies could develop their own “executive training programs” by having the appropriate functional executives in their own organization.  Each functional executive and senior manager should sit down with sales people to help them understand what makes people like them tick.  They can discuss:

  • Their role and responsibility in the organization.
  • How they are measure and how their performance is evaluated.
  • How they measure and manage performance in their function and organization.
  • Key business issues that “keep them awake at night.”  What questions sales people should be asking them.
  • Issues and trends facing their functions.
  • What they look for when they meet with vendors and sales people.  Questions they tend to ask sales people and why they ask them.  Proofs they are looking for from sales people and why they are looking for that information.
  • What sales people can do to conduct a meeting worth their time.
  • Why they would even meet with a sales person in the first place.
  • How to secure an appointment.
  • Why they might delegate sales to a lower level.
  • ….the list can go on.

I guarantee, the issues your own functional executives face are not that much different than those their equivalents in the customers face.  Businesses will be different, strategies will be different, but fundamental issues for the function are likely to be very similar.  These conversations help accelerate the ability of sales people to connect effectively with the customer.  There is are important side benefits to these discussions.  It helps the functional executive to better understand their own sales people and the challenges they face.  Every once in a while, you are also able to leverage functional executives in your own organization to help you meet their counterpart in the customer.

Connecting with executives on the things that matter to them is critical for saless effectiveness.  Are you leveraging your own company’s executives to help you learn how to connect with your customers?

  1. Thank you very much Dave,
    A few great suggestions here.

    I have a new group of salesmen coming in Monday, I am to teach them (as their manager) the ins and outs of the business, sales techniques, our products and all else there is to know about selling our products.

    What is more, they will be selling to Sales Managers (just like myself), stupidly enough I hadn’t thought about the tremendous value my own experience, not as a salesmen but as a manager is to them.

    They are virtually selling to me and I can therefore give them all the information about how I think and about how all my friends in equal roles in other companies think and what questions we have.

    Thanks a lot for the great advice!

    • Thanks for the comment Daniel. You can help them a lot by making them understand how sales managers work, what bothers them, and how your sales people can help them. I’m interested in hearing the outcome, please let me know!

  2. David,

    This is an exceptional post – my kudos to you. The issue of salespeople relating to, understanding, and being able to address, with relevance and value, the issues that occur in the “C Suite” is, in my opinion, one of the primary headaches that all organizations face. Not only to sell effectively to them but, perhaps more importantly, to groom salespeople within your own organization for leadership positions in the future. Salespeople NEED to be very conversant and knowledgeable on executive issues and be able to provide intelligent input on those issues if they want to build productive relationships, both internally and externally, with those that compete and live, day to day, in that arena. Your post goes a long way to highlighting this issue and I hope to see more of your readers address it in their own words through blogs and comments on the topic. Let’s talk about it – It certainly is a very important and productive topic.
    Thanks Dan

    • Dan, thanks for the nice note! I look forward to you extending the discussion in your blog. This whole issue of “business acumen” and the sales person’s ability to act as a business person/advisor is critical to connecting with customers. Sometimes, however, I think we make it too complicated and don’t leverage the resources readily available to help us. Regards, Dave

  3. Here you go David – Hopefully this might keep the conversation going:

  4. Kathy Knese permalink


    Absolutely a fundamental approach to strategic selling. Thanks for reminding us how to get back to basics.

  5. Great info David.

    Sales management often take a massive leap of faith when they assume their sales force has is equipped to conduct c-level conversations.

    The NYS Department of Labor reports that upwards of 65% of those reported to be in sales or offices role have never taken a business course.

    The U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than 18% of those in sales roles have business degrees.

    Roughly 81% of B2B sales job ads on Monster, SalesGravy, Careerbuilder, et. al. suggest the need to conduct “C-level conversations…Strategic Selling…Solution Selling…Client Collaboration…etc”, yet fewer than 9% require a business degree.

    Sales leaders provide sales skills training, critical / active listening training, etc., but few know the answer to a key question: Are my sales people capable of conducting business-level conversations with the C-Suite, or are they viewed as, essentially, product reps?”

    Its a big leap, and your statistics support that.


    Jim Dyer

    • Jim, thanks for joining the discussion. Managers must prepare their people for calling on managers at all levels. It included formal training and training from execs within their own company. Thanks for the comments, regards, Dave

  6. Your article supports what Jill Konrath writes in her new book – SNAP Selling. Today’s marketplace is all about value and how you demonstrate being “iNvaluable.” Very well written, thank you.

    • Leanne: Thanks for the comment. The job of sales professionals is to produce value in every interchange with customers–at every level. You, Jill, and many of us in the “blogger” community continue to promote this. I think there is more that executives in organizations can do to equip their sales teams to do this, unfortunately, as pointed out by others in these comments, too few take advantage of this.

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Regards, Dave

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