There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger. It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.
But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker.
Let’s face it. Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising. Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished. And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker.
I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle. First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego. The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.
Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever. I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him. He was impossible to reach. I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy. I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.
I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor. I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice. I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain. I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better. He told me. I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.
When I got back to the office, I went to work. I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned. My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up. When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call. We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions. Rinse and repeat.
When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened. He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”
I’d kept my word. I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet. If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.
Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice. Some are too busy; some aren’t interested. But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client. Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.