Closing the Divide between Sellers and Executive-Level Buyers – A PLEA!

I hate to admit it, but I need to quote a line from the movie “Beaches”.   In the attached clip (its only 4 seconds) CC Bloom, the self-absorbed actress played by Bette Midler, utters a fantastically relevant quote for today’s sales and marketing professionals. 

“But enough about me.  Let’s talk about you.  What do you think about me”

This one quote best sums up the state of affairs in the trenches.  Your firm is sending your sales force to talk about your company and not the needs of the people who have the wallets to compensate you.   Ulitmately, sales forces are being prepared with a variety of messages about how great your company is (but enough about me) and they are getting a few hours of executive-skill training  in a day or two of genric executive selling courses (lets talk about you.).  Unfortunately, most lack the empathy of those executives to engage in a converation about the clients real business issues and revert back to talking about things they know (what do you think about me).  

What proof do we have of this? 

Each year for the past 5 years, Forrester has conducted an executive buyer study comprising of two parts.  The first part is a 38 question survey gathering the opinions of executives across the globe in different functions (finance, sales, manufacturing, human resources, IT, etc) and at different levels.  We follow up these survey questions with at least 100 interviews with roles that fit our profile to catch the color commentary that really brings richness to the insights. 

One of the most illuminating findings that highlight how big the gap is between buyers and sellers is the perception executive-buyers have of the sales person's agenda when meeting with them.   Guess what?  The old 80/20 rule fits - only about 20% of executives feel the sales agenda is focused on their needs while the other 80% is focused to varying degrees on the seller's objective. 

 

That "Beaches" quote just reasonated with you on an entirely deeper level, didn't it?  

Now imagine all of the color commentary my team and I get when we share this data with the buying executives we interview and all of the great insight we gain when we ask them, "what should this look like" and "if they (you the people trying to sell to them) did that, would you buy more from them?"   That nuanced texture is really hard to capture in documents or in surveys and finding a way to share this insight is what I am looking to accomplish in a session I am hosting at our upcoming Sales Enablement Forum on March 3rd.  

I’d like YOUR help for a buyer panel I’m running.

I will be facilitating a main stage session titled "Executive Panel: Understanding Buyers Needs in the Age of the Customer" where I will attempt to capture the color and some of the key anecdotes I hear in the interviews.  Joining me on stage are Brad Rinklin, SVP & CMO from Akami and Pete Sattler, VP of Information Technology and CIO for International Flavors & Fragrances.  In our session, I will share with them some of the data from our 2014 survey to get their reactions – but then I will ask them a few probing questions about how they make buying decisions and where does the money come from to pay for things.  You are going to be suprised at how complex these decision really are, and how much you need to step up your game if you want your sales force to play at higher levels.

Here is where you come in.  What would YOU want to ask these two executives about how they make decisions, or get information?  

  • Every wonder what happens behind closed doors when your sales team isn’t there?
  • What happens if you don’t answer every single question in an RFP, will these guys disqualify you?
  • Is it really true that CFOs look at every purchasing decision?
  • What is really invovled in making a business case?
  • Do they know their people tell you to not talk to them, how do you get around that?
  • Why WOULD they spend time to meet with your reps?
  • What do they find valuable in the first place?

I am preparing my session over the next two weeks and I’d love to hear what you think.  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  You don’t need to worry about phrasing your question the right way – just focus on conveying the idea you think would be interesting, it's my job to ask it in such a way to get these executives talking.  

If I get a good response from the blogosphere, I will write up how the session went within a week of our forum and share the insight with you.  Deal? 

I’m looking forward to hearing what is on your mind and I hope to see you in Scotsdale, AZ at the beginning of March.   

Comments

Excellent article, Scott.

Excellent article, Scott. Here's a thought: Often, my customer isn't the executive, it is someone removed by two, three, or possibly more levels in the organizational structure. I would hazard that the majority of proposals that come across most C-level desks come from internal teams. How prepared are these folks to make a business case? How do you arm these people with the right tools/content/coaching to be your internal champions, knowing you won't be there when the decisions are being made?

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post sent from Lewis Miller, President/CEO, Qvidian

Scott, great post and so true. We have been guiding our customers to interact with prospects in a similar fashion leveraging a different and much older quote. This one is from Cicero (106-43BC). "If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words". We have proven that positive buying behavior is NOT driven based on feature, function, or size (all about me). It IS driven on your understanding of the prospect's needs, desired outcomes and evidence that you can deliver. While we have focused on using this approach in the proposal stages, it flat out works at every stage of the selling cycle.

It is so simple, why don't more sales people do it?