The best approach for an executive sales conversation


executive sales

The conversation

During one of the member coaching hours of my professional development program, someone asked me how to improve the way to have conversations with executive customers.

I recalled a common situation that occurred when I was a technology executive and sales people would bring me into their clients as the “visiting dignitary”.

I would have a conversation, and the sales people would be frantically taking notes about everything the customer said.

We’d leave and they’d say “Wow, how do you DO that?” You got so much valuable information from the customer, and at the same time you make him feel so important. How did you DO that?”

So I thought I would put my magic (actually, not so magic) formula into a blog, as was requested by the member on the call. You’ll see this sort of approach in many sales training programs. But this simple conversation flow that I’ll share here works really well.

1. Stop selling

If you want to have a great sales conversation, stop selling. You should never be aggressively selling. Think of what it feels like when someone is trying to convince you of something.

It doesn’t feel good. So taking the role of convincer is not going to be very effective with your customer.

2. Start actually caring

I would always try to go in to one of these executive sales situations by actually caring about how the customer was doing.

That lead me to ask the following 4 questions.

1. What are you trying to accomplish?

They would tell me about their business and what they were doing.

2. How is it going?

Sometimes they would say a lot, but sometimes they would only say, it’s all going great.

No one, in any business, is in a situation where it’s ever ALL going great. If that was the case, their job wouldn’t be necessary. So next I would ask…

3. What is the biggest issue or struggle you face?

(Note the language is not, “What is YOUR biggest struggle?”, which is more ego challenging. “Struggles you face” subtly refers to something that is the fault of others.)

By asking this in an open ended way — and because I actually cared, vs. looking for an opportunity to pounce and pitch and explain and convince and sell something — the client would typically tell me struggles they were dealing with.

4. What happens if you don’t get there?

Here is the gold mine. At this point they will tell you how bad it is if they don’t get there. They will reveal what is most important to them, and what they are most worried about.

If you ever get to this point, you won’t need to to any convincing because they have already convinced themselves how important this problem is to solve. All you need to say is something like, I think I can help you solve this problem.

The maturity model

5. Where are you in this process compared to others?

This is a final question which I would sometimes use to push the discussion a little further.

At this point it’s handy to have a simple diagram which shows the evolution of how companies solve a particular problem. This is sometimes called a “maturity model”.

Basically it shows how organizations act in the beginning, middle, and end of learning how to do, and then doing something successfully.

If you have a version of a maturity model associated with what you are selling, it can be a powerful conversation tool in a sales situation.

I would show this model and say, “Here is how I have observed other organizations evolving over time to solve similar problems, where would you say you are now on this chart?”

They think about it and then point to something — and then the sales team would know exactly what to sell and how to sell it.

Sales could simply say, “We can help you get from point C to point D, and make sure you solve these two problems on the way. Would you be interested in learning more?”

Sold. No convincing.

Respect

I will re-iterate, that for this conversation to work well, it helps to actually care, and to have some natural curiosity. Both of those things create a posture of interest and respect and help the customer to share more.

I remember one instance when I had this conversation with the kind of executive who might be cast in a movie as a stereotypical, successful executive, but horrible person. His office space occupied the entire top floor of a building with lots of marble and glass, and he had at least 4 assistants guarding a series of gates between the him and anyone else.

He was a grey-haired and over weight, and as soon as we walked in, he put a huge cigar in his mouth and leaned way back in his chair with his feet up on his desk. There was no respect coming my way.

It was not easy to genuinely care about how he was doing, but I did my best to get into the right frame of mind. I thought — he is a business person with real struggles somewhere in his organization that are difficult for him — so I cared about the struggles.

I asked, “What are you trying to accomplish in your business?”, he gave me a dismissive answer. I asked, “Is everything going as smoothly as you would hope?”. He thought for a minute and took his feet off the desk. Then he started to talk.

When I asked, “What happens if you don’t solve these issues, and don’t meet this schedule?” By then the cigar was put away.

I showed him the maturity model and asked where he thought his organization was in developing this particular competitive capability. He got a little pale when he realized how close to the beginning of this model his organization was and how far there was to go. By this time he was leaning forward, looking me in the eye, asking for help.

It was really that easy.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook.

And make sure to read her book
RISE…
3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

The answers to your career struggles and your next promotion are in it!

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The non-secret to revenue growth and innovation



This month’s webinar was on Optimizing Revenue Growth and Innovation.

I was joined by business and sales strategy expert, Resa Pearson who talked about how to grow sales, and fuel innovation by involving your best sales people. This was such an important and valuable conversation!

If you missed it, you can download the podcast!

Optimizing Revenue Growth
This is a useful webinar to download if you need:

  • Your marketing team to have a bigger impact
  • Your sales force to sell more, and have a stronger, more consistent message to your customers
  • To improve your C-level customer experience, and the value they see in your offers
  • To Increase innovation in your product development efforts

Follow your best sales people

I really can’t do justice to Resa’s ideas in this summary! You should listen to the interview.

In our discussion, Resa delivered the rocket fuel so many companies are missing in their go to market activities and investments.

She asked, “When you launch a product and the results are not what you hoped, how do you determine what the problem is??

The answer is not obvious. If it were obvious, your launch team would have caught it. The answer is subtle. But the answer is not a secret. Your best sales people can tell you, and they can lead you to success in your market.

Listening to sales

Resa talked about how it’s hard for companies to listen to sales, because the input is scattered and anecdotal. And often there is a skepticism or a distrust of sales, who are thought to be too short-sighted to warrant an important strategic conversation.

But she also talked about how…

the most important strategic conversations are happening every day, out in the field with your customers

…and if you don’t find a way to tap into this, you miss the hightest quality, and most potentially transforming information you can feed into your strategy.

How to do it

Resa gave some excellent, concrete examples of how you can structure the conversation with sales, test the ideas with clients, and tune your product strategy and launch plans to be a more exact fit with what customers will be motivated to buy.

I was listening to her thinking, “That is bullet proof!”.

She noted, that yes…

It’s like a hidden secret that is just sitting there right out in the open!

Go to the edges

Resa closed by encouraging all of us to go to Sales to tell us about the edges of our corporate world, the seam that connects our business to that of our customers. They see it first and they often want it most. Listen to them and you can accelerate both your innovation and your transformation.

What the webinar covers

This webinar covers how to grow sales, and fuel innovation by involving your best sales people

Resa talked about:

  • The important concept of “the marshes” and how the most transformation happens at the edges of your business
  • She covered how to:

  • Optimize your marketing and sales investments to generate more revenue
  • Create truly compelling sales tools to “clone your best sales people”
  • Create a repeatable process to get the right customer insights into your business
  • Use you best sales people’s customer conversations to drive innovation

Special Q&A Segment

This special interview-webinar did not have worksheets, but the complete webinar package includes the podcast of the interview and also the podcast of a fascinating Q&A with Resa where she talked about:

  • How to apply this process in your organizations
  • How to create a “sales playbook” to get all of your reps selling like the superstars
  • How to drive the adoption of sales enablement tools throughout the sales force when they are overwhelmed wiht stuff

About Resa Pearson

Resa Pearson is an experienced sales and marketing strategist. She runs a a consulting practice working with large technology and B2B market leaders at the board and executive staff level.

Resa has a unique ability to work with a business to find the most important strategic contexts to drive success in a given market situation
…and then apply that insight by creating high value tools and programs that drive real change.

Her company, Pearson & Co., develops contextual selling tools like sales playbooks and campaigns, and content marketing programs that are considered best in class.

Get the webinar now

Free Download

If you are a member of Azzarello Group, you can download the webinar for free.

Purchase

If you are not a member, you can: purchase this webinar,

or you can become a member and get the webinar for free..

If you are tempted to purchase this webinar, that’s great.

But you might want to consider getting a membership to Azzarello Group — it’s a much better deal.

With a membership, for just $179 for a whole year, you can get access to everything in the member library.

BECOME A MEMBER NOW

As a member, just around this topic alone, you can also get additional webinars for free on:

  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Interview with Dr. Richard Rumelt)
  • Leading Business Transformation
  • Is Your Strategy Any Good?(Interview with Robert Kaplan)
  • Succeeding with Virtual and Remote Teams
  • Developing Strategic Habits
  • So you might as well join and get them all for free!

    Additional benefits for members

    Take a look through the Member Library and see all the other great webinars and resources you get too.

    Plus, as a member, you get live coaching from me in monthly Coaching Hour conference calls where you can ask your own questions.

    Membership a great resource (and a steal at $179 for a whole year) to help you advance your career.

    Become a Member

    BECOME A MEMBER NOW

    Other Options:
    Purchase only this webinar with the interview and Q&A podcasts
    Purchase just the interview podcast


    ABOUT PATTY:

    patty blog image
    Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
    She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

    You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

    Rise_CVR_3D_300

    Free eBook Download

    Steal from the best sales people


    steal from sales

    Sales makes you smart

    The time I spent in sales made me much smarter and much better at my roles in Marketing, Product Development and General Management.

    There’s nothing quite like a customer locking you in a room, (literally), because the product is not doing what you said it would, and they won’t let you out until it works…This actually happened to me twice in my career.

    When you are in front of a customer you don’t get to wait for marketing to provide you the fully polished, vetted, carefully positioned answer. You say something. And over time you figure out what works.

    Getting the real story

    My time in the field gave me a life-long appreciation for working with sales people to guide and reinforce my decisions as an executive on product and business strategy, forever after.

    The most valuable time I spent as an executive was going on customer visits all over the world.

    The value was not from the customer visit itself — The real magic happened in the car with the sales rep, between the airport and the customer site.

    It was in those moments that I got to hear and understand what business I was truly in.

    I could sit back at headquarters and imagine my business was any kind of business I wanted, but when I was out in the field, hearing real-world experiences, struggles and suggestions from sales people and sales engineers — I would then know what the business needed to do.

    The best kept marketing secret…

    Steal the best stuff from sales!

    I see too many marketing people and organizations that stay locked up in headquarters and theorize on how to best position and sell the product.

    If you want to know the best way to position and sell the product, ask the sales person that sells the most what they do — then steal that.

    If you want to know what good sales tools look like, go see the best sales people, ask who they target, what they sell, how they sell it, what presentation they use, and how they overcome competitive pressure.

    Then take their presentation, and everything else you learned back to HQ and turn that into a playbook of the best ideas, that you can give everyone. (with credit to the sales person/author(s), of course). That’s what good sales tools look like!

    Marketing organizations are always too busy

    Create a sales review board

    When I ran marketing organizations, I would create a review board of sales people. I would send them the pile of everything marketing created and ask them, “please tell me which things you use”.

    They would typically pick less than 20 percent.

    When I asked if they cared if we stopped doing the other stuff they never did.

    You can save a lot of time in marketing if you only produce what sales people actually use.

    Better than smart

    Your job in marketing is not to be smarter than the product developers or smarter than the sales people. It’s to make sure that the product is the best fit for a growing market, and that sales people are equipped with the best strategy, tools, and market environment to sell a lot.

    Sure, sales people are typically short term focused on closing the deal they are working on, but that does not mean that don’t have valuable, strategic thoughts too.

    And even if they are only short term focused…

    if you never experience what it’s like to actually close a deal in your business — what that conversation with the customer is like — you will never create good sales tools in the marketing department.

    If you cut off the sales force as a source of ideas (because you think you are supposed to be smarter), you are cutting off some of the very best ideas, and shooting yourself in the foot.

    Building the Brand

    Finally, I also see some marketing people make the mistake of thinking that building the brand is solely the job of marketing.

    While marketing helps to guide the brand strategy and the rollout of the brand, it’s critical to realize that your sales people are delivering the reality of your brand with every single interaction they have with a customer.

    If you don’t keep a strong connection to sales, you don’t know what brand experience sales is delivering.

    If you want to get your brand out into the world consistently, you have to make it part of the sales playbook – one they’ll actually use.

    The best way to do this is to build from field-tested stuff that really works, and wrap your branding into it. Then you’ll stand a chance at everyone using the same stuff, and building a stronger brand with every customer interaction along the way.

    Build your credibility

    By keeping a strong connection to sales, caring about what they think and need, and serving as a curator of the best tools and practices, you win a lot of favor both internally and externally.

    You become known for delivering really useful, valuable stuff to sales that really works. Marketing gets a reputation for being responsive, connected and highly competent.

    What do you think?

    Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

    Was this useful?

    If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


    About Patty
    patty blog image crop

    Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

    You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

    Rise_CVR_3D_300

    Free eBook Download