Handling the Gatekeeper and Engaging Executives [Sales]

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Author: 
Frank Visgatis, President and Chief Operating Officer, CustomerCentric Selling
Whether making cold or warm calls in trying to find new opportunities, it can be a humbling experience for salespeople. My definition of prospecting is trying to take prospects from latent to active need. Another way to phrase that is to say that:
Prospecting is looking for people that aren’t looking.
When you think about it, that also means:
There is no budget, so sellers should call high enough so that existing funds can be reallocated if the potential value is sufficient.
Alternatively, if sellers wait for “qualified” inbound Internet leads, it amounts to “in-basket” selling. If your offerings are $50K or higher, be prepared when following up to talk with people that:
  1. Don’t have the authority to buy.
  2. Have a good idea of what their requirements are.
  3. Have already researched multiple vendors.
  4. Will be product/offering focused.
  5. Do not have budget approved.
  6. Have not created business cases together to justify purchases.
Starting at low levels will ultimately mean:
  • Challenges for salespeople in getting access to higher levels
  • Long sales cycles
  • High probabilities of “no decisions”
  • Low win rates
C Suite: Reaching High
The daunting alternative for sellers is to call at very high levels. Executives are more likely to have admins (often referred to as gatekeepers) that invariably will ask a question that sends shivers down many sellers’ spines:
“Who is this and what is it regarding?”
Sellers that don’t have a concise answer often get stopped in their tracks.
Let’s take a step back and more closely consider the term “gatekeeper.” It doesn’t mean sellers won’t be allowed access. Instead it means sellers must have a compelling reason to talk with senior executives. Even then, there is the danger that admins will refer sellers to lower levels. It often makes sense to target one or more levels higher than where you want to get. So how can salespeople get past this hurdle with gatekeepers?
Handling Gatekeepers
A colleague of mine recently made a warm call (a letter followed by a phone call) to a CEO. He had read the company’s annual report and there was a compelling business issue that he gleaned from it:
To reach top-line revenue it seemed it was going to be necessary to migrate their salespeople from selling products to selling business outcomes possible with devices that were part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
This challenge was worthy of a CEO’s attention, if not his or her time.
He called the company headquarters and asked for the CEO. His call was routed to an admin that answered the call and asked:
“Who is this and what is it regarding?”
His response was that it was regarding a letter dated May 12 about the challenges sellers faced in migrating from selling products to business outcomes that could be achieved by making devices part of the IoT.
The admin agreed to get back to him. In less than an hour he got a call from a senior vice president that had been asked to contact him.
Be Proactive
There are several advantages of making proactive attempts to start buying cycles:
  1. You can start at levels that have the authority to create budget.
  2. By taking buyers from latent to active need their requirements lists are clean sheets of paper.
  3. If the call goes well you start off as “Column A.”
  4. If there’s little chance of a buying decision, buyers won’t waste their (or your) time.
Factor in Key Players? When sellers proactively initiate buying cycles with Key Players, the advantages are even greater:
  • Sales cycles can be shorter.
  • Transactions larger
  • Win rates higher.
The focus of these initial Key Player calls should be areas of potential value with minimal discussions of offerings. This approach aligns with the way senior executives want to buy.
Remember: A seller’s entry point into an organization goes a long way toward determining success or failure in buying cycles.
Ultimately, the issues should be outcomes that specific titles would like to be able to achieve through the use of your offerings. It’s the first step in creating new opportunities.
Frank Visgatis is an author, entrepreneur, keynote speaker and sales and management consultant. He wrote  “CustomerCentric Selling” (Second Edition) published by McGraw-Hill in December 2009, which introduces the new needs of selling in a buyer-driven world. For more information, visit customercentric.com.

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