Knoa Software, based in New York, found revenue where no budget existed. It met with the right executive, who suffered business pains but also had power, though he had no budget to spend.
The result: A $500K deal. It was unbudgeted and the shortest software sale Knoa's VP of marketing, Lori Wizdo, had seen in her 28 years. And it was just the first phase of a global deployment.
It's tough out there. Budgets are being cut. Markets are shrinking. Prospects aren't buying the way they used to. But you can still sell effectively. You just have to think differently.
The message is important, but it's effective only if the right people read it. The process that you use to present your message is what makes the difference.
Knoa concluded that the only way to hunt for and capture any meaningful return on investment (ROI) was to target those who worked in the highest levels of a company, so it focused on driving meetings with senior executives.
Poet Robert Browning said "a man's reach should exceed his grasp," but it may be more appropriate in this context to say "a man's grasp can exceed his reach." Roger Boyce, CEO of Evident Software, based in Newark NJ, understood that, aimed beyond his reach, and nabbed meetings with dozens of executives, including Barbara Koster, CIO of Prudential Financial, also based in Newark.
Here are eight tips for securing meetings with the right executives.
1. Realize that executives want to talk
Executives are always tasked with challenges: reducing costs, increasing revenues, overseeing a merger, introducing a new product, etc. They are smart enough to know that vendors are agents of change that can help them. The trick is to become a vendor that executives choose to listen to.
2. Design your communications for executives
Prove that you cure real business pains. Develop your message around how you delivered effective results to other organizations.
Emphasize what you have done for others. Tell stories about how others have benefited from your solutions. List well-known clients. Complement your stories with quotes from clients, analysts, and the media. Most of all, present quantifiable proof. "ABC Company saw a 300% ROI in nine months after implementing our solution" is far more powerful than "Our solution is easy to implement."
Sell the appointment, not your solution.
Break all the traditional marketing-copy rules. Headline your most powerful story in fewer than 30 words. Be direct and factual. Make the copy crisp, maximize white space, and use acronyms. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Don't name your solution. Use letters and emails, but don't provide attachments—they only provide a reason not to meet.
3. Offer an executive for the calls
You will be more likely to get meetings, and they will be more effective, when your call to action is a discussion between two business peers, not between a vendor and prospect. Have your communications come from a company executive.
Prospective executives will take advantage of the implicit power you give them when the setup is as a vendor and prospect.
4. Ask for 15 minutes on the phone
Two smart people can have an effective meeting in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes, a low barrier to entry, is the most you've earned the right to ask for.
All these executives have suffered from salespeople taking more time than scheduled. Ask for phone calls rather than a face-to-face meeting, even if the executive is located just down the street. A meeting over the phone is less threatening and gives the executive more control, because it is easier to end than a face-to-face meeting.
5. Build contact data you can trust
Don't trust third-party contact data. It can have horrendous error rates—up to 80%. Internal databases can be just as bad.
Build a cost justification for investing extra effort in your contact data up front. What can your overall ROI be when only 20% of your data is reliable? Build your justification around high quality and low quantity.
Mine data using modern, dependable tools such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Jigsaw. "Search site" in the Google toolbar is powerful. Use it to identify executive assistants (EAs); they will be your guides.
6. Respect your communiqué
Treat your piece with respect, and your recipients will reciprocate. As efficiently as you can blast out an email or a direct-mail piece, recipients can delete them. Send your letters via courier. Send emails with the EA's permission.
7. Turn gatekeepers into guides—work with EAs
XDS's grasp exceeded its reach when it had Donald Rumsfeld's EA guide it to the right person at the US Department of Defense. Finding that normal channels into the Pentagon weren't effective, XDS approached a Tourist Office representative who put XDS through to "Donny" Rumsfeld's office. It wasn't until XDS was speaking directly to Rumsfeld's assistant that XDS realized whom it had reached.
Gatekeepers want to help. Their job is to vet unsolicited correspondence for what is important. Your value proposition won't be read unless you first treat the gatekeepers and your correspondence with respect. Make gatekeepers your guides:
- Address courier waybills directly to the EA, since the EA already receives all the executive's couriers. But how many times is the package addressed to the EA?
- Promise not to contact the executive directly. EAs first see vendors as a threat to the executive's time and attention. Set them at ease by telling them that you will not contact the executive directly without the EA's permission.
- Let the EA drive the process. Ask permission. Will the EA review your communiqué? Will the EA present it to the executive? To someone else? Let the EA set the schedule for your follow-ups.
- Be patient, but don't give up. Balance being persistent with being a pest. Try "… or should I close the file?" to prompt a response.
In return, let the EAs know that you expect a response, even if it's "not interested."
8. Leverage referrals
Referrals are powerful means of getting to the right person. UK-based Foster MacCallum reached for and grasped a meeting with software vendor CA's executive responsible for its worldwide channels, through a referral from the assistant to John Swainson, CA's CEO.
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Differentiate yourself in the way you approach executives. Resist the temptation to be more aggressive. Rather, do the exact opposite—respect the EA and respect your communications. Grasp what you thought was beyond your reach.