Your dream: To take your sales pitch directly to the senior executive with the clout to close the deal. Your reality: Most of your selling time is spent with a lowly purchasing agent who has to get approval from a vast hierarchy to buy your wares.
If you feel that having access to people higher on the customer totem pole would make you more effective, check out the advice of two studies by Atlanta-based On Target Research. On Target teamed up with two universities, once in 1995 and once in 1999, to interview more than 100 high-ranking executives-from senior vice presidents to chairmen of the board, excluding purchasing agents-in diverse industries including transportation, textiles, printing, utilities, financial services, technology and telecommunications.
The studies show that senior executives get involved in purchasing decisions during the beginning and end of the buying process. At the beginning of the process they want to understand current business issues, establish project objectives and set project strategy. At the end they are more interested in project implementation and supervising the measurement of the project's results. They reported less involvement in the middle of the purchasing cycle, examining alternatives and setting criteria.
So how can you get the top person's ear? The most effective way to gain an appointment with a senior executive is to have someone inside the executive's firm recommend you. Cold calling is the least effective method for getting a meeting, and e-mail and voice mail are only effective once a salesperson has established a relationship. Most executives admitted to blocking salespeople by asking an assistant to handle the call or claiming to have a busy schedule-so be creative. Call during lunch or early in the morning or after business hours when executives are likely to answer their own phones.
Once you've got a meeting, don't waste an executive's time. The studies show that executives are more likely to remember a sales meeting that went badly than one that went well. You've got five minutes to show you've done your homework and understand your customer's key business drivers and initiatives. The studies show executives want salespeople who listen and consider the customer's needs before proposing a solution and can marshal resources from within their own organizations.
According to the studies, executives aren't getting what they expect from partnerships with suppliers. Over 80 percent had high-level partnerships with at least one key supplier. But although 63 percent expect to develop integrated information systems with partner suppliers, only 23 percent felt they received that benefit.