I’ve recently delivered a number of events to clients about selling big-ticket products to executives. The key concept: selling to executives is about minimizing their resistance to your message. If the sales pro says or does something that raises a red flag, the audience with the executive may terminate, with little chance of a repeat engagement. The best sales pros do this instinctively and the newbies learn it fast, albeit expensively.
Taking this a step further, you can apply this concept to anyone you sell to and increase your success. So, how can you minimize resistance to your message? Here are four strategies to make your discussions CompetitionProof.
1) Ask smarter questions.
So many canned sales questions are “Hey, Stupid” questions such as “Would you like to save 50 percent on your operating costs?” Only an idiot would say, “Let me think about that.”
The question is manipulative, extracts no meaningful information, kills dialog, and makes the questioner look like a dope. And almost every sales hack asks the question. (You might want a tongue in cheek answer ready the next time you’re asked this question, such as, “No, we are only interested in saving 100 percent. Can you do that?”)
A much better way to make the same point is, “Our customers have discovered that they can slash operating costs by 50 percent with the method I propose to discuss with you. Is this something that you’d like to explore?”
Notice that we introduce the savings by reporting success that you’ve already achieved with customers, which increases your credibly and makes your assertion inarguable. Success stories and third party endorsements increase your persuasiveness and make your claims stick. This combination decreases resistance to your message.
2) Talk efficiently.
You only have to tell an executive something one time. They are expert at grasping the facts, a demand of their position. So practice your discussion to clearly and quickly make your point.
Understand the importance of BLOT (Bottom Line On Top) when talking with executives. This means starting with the conclusion and then moving through the supporting rationale. If you attempt to lead executives to a conclusion, you will create resistance that may result in dismissal before you’ve made your key point.
3) Talk articulately and with purpose.
Record your practice presentation and listen critically to your performance. Notice how many verbal fillers are you using, such as: like, OK, you know, um, at the end of the day, net net, bottom line, and other hackney, overused non-words. (Listening to a recent press conference, it seems that our Secretary of State is addicted to “um.”)
Practice again leaving out the fluff and fillers. Practice again until you can deliver your presentation cleanly.
Here’s why this is important: executives will never consider someone that would embarrass them in front of their peers or board of directors. This means that you must be polished and professional in your diction and discussion. (If you want to see an example of this in action, watch the classic movie, My Fair Lady.)
4) Deliver real thought leadership
Recently, my colleague, Jeanine Edwards asked, “What’s the statue of limitations on thought leadership?” The answer is, “About a week.”
Although most sales professionals want to be trusted advisors, that position is earned by bringing fresh ideas and insights to executives at every meeting. Executives won’t bring sales pros into their inner circle until that pro can consistently show value to the exec’s organization and career.
Ninety percent of CEOs come from a sales background (reported in Anthony Perinello’s excellent book, Selling to Vito). This means that executives have seen and used virtually every trick in the sales book. Don’t ever use the manipulative sales strategies frequently taught by sales trainers whose thought leadership expired decades ago.
What executives value is integrity and intelligence. You can’t fake either of those for long. Nor can you claim them: these are characteristics that are attributed to you after consistently demonstrating them. (Same for thought leadership, innovation, and charisma.)
You can develop thought leadership by following other though leaders and using them for inspiration. Start forecasting what will happen in your industry and hone your skills to identify trends that have impact on your customer’s business. Read new ideas daily and develop your talking points, keeping them fresh.
Pros Win, Bunglers Fail
Most sales professionals stumble on these points, overshadowing the excellence of their offering. I’m amazed that sales people work hard to get an executive audience yet put little effort into developing the message when they get the meeting.
Use these ideas–and practice–so that when you speak with executives, you become CompetitionProof.