No matter what your sales experience, you can likely appreciate the challenge that sales professionals face when selling to executives in the world's largest corporations. But what does it take to sell to an executive in a small or medium-sized company?

Professionals who sell to this group are notorious for strategically peppering their pitch with “bottom line” objectives and promises of a significant return on investment (ROI). Whatever it takes to get your foot in the door, right? But then what? Nowadays, it seems ROI just isn't enough to get the deal done.

More and more we hear that even big brand companies are challenged with how to sell to executives at this level. There you are, armed with a wealth of sales knowledge and experience, but your audience is not responding according to plan. This issue's dilemma asks, How do you sell the CEO (or other executive) beyond the promise of a return on investment?

Not interested in the ROI on this dilemma? Let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group. It works, and you could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice for dealing with a territorial sales team.

Unite and make a difference!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

What advice can you give on how to sell to CEOs of SMBs?

I have years of experience selling large and complex technology solutions to executives in Fortune 500 companies. Recently, I made the switch to working for a company that sells exclusively to companies with less than $15 million in sales.

I assumed my background and experience were transferable, and that I'd be able to sell more in this arena, but to be honest, I feel like a fish out of water. Focusing on the prospects' ROI is getting me in the door, but it's not closing the deals. Are executives of small and medium businesses really that different than executives in large companies? SWOT Team, what are your best practices for selling to the CEO?

—Anonymous, Account Executive, Software Company

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Help! Our territorial sales practices have gone too far.

For the last five years, we have used relatively low-maintenance, yet highly territorial sales practices. We have always allowed our sales consultants to manage their leads, customers and related customer data in their own way. They have never been required to share information internally. After attending a recent seminar, we realized just how much valuable information we were letting walk out the door every night, and decided to implement a company-wide CRM program.

We consulted with our staff throughout the CRM selection process and invested heavily in training. Six months later, our CRM is being underutilized, and we have run into a great deal of resistance from our sales veterans. How do we reduce their fears and persuade them to use the new system, without affecting morale or losing our star performers?

—Anonymous, Sales Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Anonymous, your dilemma represents a silent battle that is brewing just below the surface in many firms today. Territorial competition is a natural occurrence in sales. Many companies actually encourage it in order to get the overall numbers up. The intention seems to be win-win, but as we can see it's a bit of a double-edge sword.

Your dilemma also represents a fundamental barrier to success when it comes to technology. Typically, the benefits and potential for return that sell us on the investment in the first place are only realized when we hit a high rate of utilization.

Just like that proverbial piece of exercise equipment you bought to lose 20 or 30 pounds. You know the one. It sits in the corner of your basement or bedroom collecting dust. The equipment is great in theory, but we just can't reap the benefits unless we use it.

All teasing aside, you're on the right path by asking the tough questions, and your SWOT Team peers have done their best to provide you with the benefit of their wisdom and experiences. Here's what they recommend:

1. Address fears directly and tactfully.

2. Recognize this as a cultural shift.

3. Emphasize the values and benefits to the salesperson.

4. Encourage team participation with account rotation.

1. Address fears directly and tactfully

Anonymous, fear is a great killer of motivation, performance and even the best efforts of your sales stars. Left unaddressed, it will erode results and leave your team to create their own assumptions in the place of direct answers. Start by approaching them to uncover and address their issues and concerns about using the system.

David Cooper, manager of marketing and communications for a mid-sized software company in Toronto, made this point:

Speaking as a marketer, I can tell you that resistance to a new enterprise application is not a problem unique to sales consultants. My best advice is to sell the new CRM solution to your staff. Identify what their fears are, and address each one tactfully, but directly. If you've selected the right CRM solution, you should be able to address each fear with a specific benefit of the new system.

Keep in mind that morale often dips with any organizational change, and succeeding through this dip requires balanced leadership and thoughtful management. Also, if a “star” performer continues to resist, you might have to ask yourself about the net effect that resistance has on your organization. Stars are¾to extend the analogy¾big, lumbering, and highly resistant to change. Perhaps some of those comets whizzing by are of more value than you realize.

2. Recognize this as a cultural shift

Any change within an organization that asks people to break with their existing routine is going to meet with resistance, especially when it has the potential to affect an individual's income. If you approach this with an eye to the underlying cultural shift, you may be able to spot solutions that benefit all.

Principal of Efficere, LLC Dave Squires offers this important cultural perspective on your dilemma:

  1. Recognize that what you're looking to implement is cultural change, not just a new high-tech CRM system. Certainly there are some very sound reasons to implement CRM /sales force automation: better sales productivity, smoother transitions in territory coverage, better cross team sharing, better adherence to strategic selling models, and better quality outlooks are a few reasons.
  2. Identify the “WIIFM” (what's in it for me) for your existing sales team. This will usually connect the dots to making more money for sales people.
  3. Implement this cultural change with a modicum of patience and finesse. Use adult learning theory stressing Utility, Process, Opportunity, Presentation, Review, and Results Measurement in introducing, training, reinforcing, inspecting, recognizing, and rewarding the behaviors you want. And, did I say be patient? Most CRM systems can be used at a variety of depths. Start with small steps with big payoffs. Don't present CRM as revolutionary… evolve into it becoming the “way we work.”

3. Emphasize the values and benefits to the salesperson

Focus on the values and benefits to your internal customers first (i.e., your salespeople). Help them to understand and appreciate the bottom-line benefits of using the CRM: how this will help them sell more, save time, take less effort, etc. Salespeople are used to doing the selling, but it sounds like in this case they need to be sold.

John Morris, president of Morris Models Inc., offers these guidelines for assessing where your salespeople have needs and how the CRM can help to meet those needs:

The ONLY way to get valuable, productive, talented and independent-minded sales people to cooperate in putting info into your CRM is to make the CRM system extremely beneficial for the rep. It's a cost/benefit thing¾and usually most of the costs are to the rep and most of the benefits are to management.

Look at what takes the rep time and ask how the CRM system can enhance the reps' lives¾increasing efficiency, decreasing costs to perform some sales activities, etc. Enhancing the reps' sales efforts means going beyond CRM software. How about implementing some clerical assistance for the rep along with the CRM system? You must understand that reps fear having their livelihood vacuumed out of them by the CRM system.

Many CRM systems fail for three reasons:

  1. The reasons discussed above (costs and benefits for the rep)

  2. Technical complexity (after all, CRM deals with “fuzzy” relationships across organizational boundaries and is thus inherently more difficult to program than accounting software)

  3. Software implementation (GUI interfaces for so many CRM systems are absolutely useless)

Jason Jordan, principal of Go To Market Partners, suggests implementing an internal marketing campaign to help get your sales people on your side:

Unfortunately, no software has ever promised more and delivered less than CRM/SFA. The fundamental problem is that CRM/SFA relies on the sales force to input the data, but the primary benefactor of that data is sales management. Salespeople don't use the system because it doesn't help them sell better or sell more. That being said, you have two options: 1) make them HAVE to use it, or 2) make them WANT to use it. Of course, you could simply force them to use the software. Withholding commissions or including system usage in performance reviews would no doubt get them online. As you mentioned, though, you risk offending your best salespeople, which would be self-defeating.

A better alternative is to increase the value that the sales force finds in using the system. Since you gained input from the salespeople during the design phase, consider launching an internal “marketing campaign” to highlight the system benefits that they requested. Or if the value really isn't there, then modify the system to generate customized sales collateral, commission reports, or other items that salespeople would actually want. If the business case for system usage is high enough, consider paying higher commissions on sales that flow through the system from lead generation through closing. With enough brainstorming, you can probably come up with some value-adding ideas to stimulate usage without adopting a more threatening approach.

4. Encourage team participation with account rotation

As emphasis on the importance of building a personal brand grows, it's no surprise that salespeople are beginning to view their relationships and connections in a different light. Chui Tey, owner of Cognoware, makes this point and offers an interesting solution based on a team approach:

It is apparent your sales people recognize that the time invested in their customers returns dividends in personal brand equity. These salespeople want to be sure they can take “their” customers with them when they leave your company. Your salespeople may see the new CRM system as a threat to their personal brand. You need to invest in a game plan that protects their interests.

For instance, introduce some periodic rotation in the territories so that everyone recognizes they are on the same team. This also keeps the job fresh and provides good training. With rotating territories, your sales people will feel the pain if someone takes the company's customers with them. A CRM system is an excellent tool for this type of account rotation as it provides a shared view of the customer.

You've Stretched Your Territory, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

Subscribe's free!

MarketingProfs provides thousands of marketing resources, entirely free!

Simply subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to how-to articles, guides, webinars and more for nada, nothing, zip, zilch, on the house...delivered right to your inbox! MarketingProfs is the largest marketing community in the world, and we are here to help you be a better marketer.

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.