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7 Sales Challenges that Prevent Executive Level Access


Written by: Jeff Thull

With the complexity of today’s business solutions and their organization-wide impact, many senior level executives are actively involved in the sales process. Yet many companies are finding that their sales professionals are not connecting to the power in the executive suite.

Gaining access and connecting to executive decision makers can mean the difference between winning and losing sales. Here are seven common challenges that sales professionals must overcome to effectively engage those in the executive suite:

1. The salesperson doesn’t connect to the executive’s critical business issues and gets delegated to a lower-level person.

Brilliant ideas and valuable products and services elicit indifference if you can’t immediately establish credibility about and connect to the executive’s most pressing issues. Your credibility comes via the relevancy you establish in your introduction by connecting your solutions or capabilities to the business drivers. If you reference challenges the industry is facing or the company’s objectives in a substantive way, executives will recognize that they couldn’t have this conversation with anyone else.

2. Your strongest contact in the client’s organization no longer holds the power to make the buying decision.

In today’s highly competitive and volatile marketplace, globalization, consolidation, and centralization are some of the reasons that decisions move to higher levels of power and influence. This movement is forcing even the most experienced sales professionals to expand their expertise and compete at new levels in organizations.

Expecting that a single contact in your client’s organization can and will carry your message effectively is hanging on to thin threads of hope. It is critical that we translate the value we can create at the technical, operational, or clinical level to the impact it has on the client’s business. That’s a conversation most executives want to have.

Related: 7 Practices to Sell More and Faster

Related: Your Words Matter: 6 Questions to Improve the Power of Your Message

3. Your competition is in the executive suite and you aren’t.

Can the competition get into the executive suite and take your account while you believe your relationship is strong at the operations level? Absolutely! Salespeople typically spend more time preparing for a prospect visit than for a current client visit. Don’t let over-familiarity lull you into understanding less about your client than your competitor does. Gain advantage and pull ahead of competitive threats by establishing a broad base of relationships that will preempt and neutralize competitive moves.

4. You have bought into, “I make the final decision,” when, in fact, you are hung up with someone who barely influences the decision.

Understand how your solution affects each level of responsibility within your client’s organization. It is only natural that you will interact at all levels to understand the full potential of your solution, and after the sale to assure that the full value of your solution is being achieved. Building these relationships as you gather information will ensure you are firmly grounded with those who are both impacted and influenced by the decision.

5. You reach the person who holds the checkbook, but you can’t build the financial case that person needs to make the buying decision. 

The financial executive plays an increasingly central role in setting the strategy of the organization and how to fund the implementation of that strategy. Do not place the burden on your clients to translate your technical advantages into the financial impact of your solution. Involve them in your calculations; have them collaborate, and then adjust your assumptions. In the end, the client must “own” the justification. Be an advisor, not a sales rep. Position your solution as a strategic asset.

6. Third-party consultants are forcing you to compete on price when you know that the information on the value you would create for the client is not reaching the executive level in the client’s organization.

Recognize that you and the third-party consultants have the same client. Build the case for mutual gains with them by asking the questions they have not thought of asking. They will recognize the value you add to their position and invite you into the executive suite. Help third-party consultants manage a quality buying process that builds successful outcomes for them, for you, and for your clients.

7. Your convincing proposal wins the first round of approvals, but you find that the executive buy-in never happens. The executive had criteria on the table that you never tapped into, or even knew existed.

Engage executives early in the decision process to establish the criteria that create senior-level ownership. Build winning proposals that connect the business drivers at all levels of influence and decision. Ask the in-depth questions that have not occurred to your client. You should ask the questions that expose the risks inherent in a successful implementation of your solution.

Executives are concerned about working with suppliers who truly understand their business, their customers’ demands, and their competitive landscape, as well as the challenges associated with the implementation. If you cannot speak to these issues, your time in the executive suite will be brief.

To help you get started in gaining access and communicating with credibility, here are three suggestions:

Understand the executive mindset.

Gain insight into how they think, what they expect, what makes them move forward, and how they drive management support. They are looking for ideas and resources to execute their strategy, and how to reduce risk and increase the probability of success.

Create compelling relevancy.

Build a value assumption that will connect your capabilities to the executive agenda and ensure you have strong executive-level sponsorship to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

Establish exceptional credibility.

Expected credibility is what you know about your solution. Exceptional credibility is what you know about your client’s business. Look at your words and your documents. Are they about you and your solution, or are they about your clients and their businesses?

When you understand the mindset of executives, connect to their agenda, and establish exceptional credibility, you will have meaningful conversations that often result in long-term and mutually beneficial relationships.

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