The career-defining sales most of us make will be decided by someone important; very possibly with direct P&L responsibility. They will probably be senior, and most significant of all they will be conscious of having their name attached to something of perceptible and tangible risk. But if we gear our sales strategy and skill towards a mythical, all-knowing, omnipotent, corporate demigod from somewhere called “the C-suite”, we are quite likely to fail. Most of these people are far too busy worrying about shareholders and analysts to give our purchase order a second thought. Good CEOs trust their lieutenants, and sign most things off based on due diligence, robust processes, and recommendation.
So when we plan our account entry strategy for the major sales opportunity or bid, we need to use a model that sees the decision-makers as they really are: people with a role in making or breaking your sale, who could sit anywhere in the corporate hierarchy (with, or without, the letter C in their title). Most often, they have unfixed degrees of influence and power – varying according to the purchase and its strategic importance to the organisation. At Huthwaite we use a triangular model to represent this, because invariably there is a three-stage sequence for success.
Often the most senior person in terms of organisational rank might not be the ultimate arbiter in this sale. She might indeed be at or near C-level, but lets you know at an early date that the commitment to a supplier for the new m-commerce engine will come from the EMEA digital lead together with the IT category manager from procurement, and to please come back to her if she can help further. She is thus the focus of receptivity in this instance. Tomorrow, for another investment decision, she might be the focus of power, or (just as likely) not involved in the process in any way.
To continue the m-commerce example (with apologies to readers selling baking machinery, management consultancy or petroleum additives) the focus of dissatisfaction in this instance might be one of several people, or perhaps all of them: the digital project manager struggling to deliver executable apps to meet the requirements of marketing; and/or the regional head of finance who needs commercial solutions that produce predictable and evenly accruable revenue streams; and/or yes, occasionally, the CTO.
For most of your journey around the Buying Cycle, these will be the people with whom you have to build value, whose needs you have to uncover and meet, and to whom you must make a persuasive case so that you (and they, together) can sell the ultimate case to higher authority. Now, if they do happen to be in the C-Suite it’s quite likely that, while their operational level problems, needs and desired outcomes will be much the same as if they weren’t, their personal drivers could be very different. And it’s here, if anywhere, that your Key Player Map (the place where you keep a detailed record of the problems, needs and preferred outcomes of all the people, regardless of job title, who are involved in influencing the decision) might take on different complexion. For the CxO in your map, you might – if you are skilled – uncover and record needs that are about minimising the risk of a can-carrying failure that will alert the AGM and the brokers. Or their needs might be all about creating a narrative in which the strategic success of this technological breakthrough positions them as the most forward-looking and digitally aware of the leadership team and a natural successor to the CEO (in this, or another, company).
(c) Huthwaite International
(c) Huthwaite International
The CEO, CFO or CPO might (or might not) then be the focus of power - the one with a fist on the purse strings and to whom your sale must ultimately be made. But it’s here that the skilled seller will probably spend the least time, albeit the most critical meeting. The work you’ve done so far in building the case with the other foci (whether they are C-suite or not) will determine what happens now.
By David Freedman, Huthwaite International