Why different folks need different messages, tactics and outcomes.
raditional approaches to selling work on the theory that the higher up the management chain you engage, the better your chances of a quick sale, and a big deal.
It certainly sounds good in sales conferences and training, but the reality is very different, and 99 times out of 100 you end up competing in the race to the bottom run by the procurement department.
CxOs generally don't engage with suppliers. They meet with their peers, government ministers, trade secretaries, ambassadors, newspaper editors. In short a wholly different group from suppliers. And the last people they have time for are those selling something.
But they do massively influence the buying process that will ultimately end up with you doing business with them.
The key is to understand their role, and how you can engage them on subjects which do capture their interest, and to tailor your activities and messaging differently for each of the buying influencers
Once you crack that approach, and create the right environment to meet the different stakeholders and gain their respect, then you will find doors opening all the way down the decision tree.
Getting that process right, does take time and investment, but the RoI is off the scale.
Two important lessons to remember when engaging CxOs
Their role is strategic. They are looking to horizons 18-36 months ahead. That's where you need to engage..
Being at the top, you're expected to have all the answers, so CXOs welcome meeting people who can add to their knowledge.
Dave Winstanley, Birmingham Airport
It's incredibly rare to find a supplier who can offer that, but if I do, of course I'll meet them..
The Senior Manager
Peter Clinker, Nestlé
I do meet suppliers, and it's my job to set the parameters of their remit, subject to global strategic decisions about the kind of businesses we want to work with, skillets we need and so on..
The Department Manager
Jennifer Yaxley, Amey
I do get involved in discussions about potential suppliers, but most of the decisions on what we are looking for are made further up the chain, and actual supplier choice is down to procurement.
The Procurement Director
Jeremy Willis, PWC
The pace of business change means that CxOs are under continual pressure to find new competitive edges. Whether that is from increasing staff retention and quality, reducing overheads, understanding new methods of work, or keeping up with developments in technology and AI, they all play into the intelligence that is needed to stay on top,
They are also very busy, so time is precious. But by creating peer-level events that genuinely add to their knowledge and don't disrupt their business days, you can get them to come to your table and open the potential for long-term strategic relationships,
In any long-term business relationships, the senior managers have an important place - a word from them could see you not even make the next ITT, or could help to secure your invitation. They need reassurance that you are up to the job, as well as continually innovating and bringing extra value
That means much more than just achieving KPIs and SLAs, it means coming up with new ideas that could work for them and being seen as an adviser rather than a supplier. They need to feel you care about their success.
Managing the managers
The people who run the departments your business supports are the ones you need to impress every day. They may not be instrumental in helping a new supplier get in the door, but they will be the ones who let the bosses know if you are delivering effectively
They are not concerned act strategy - too far above the pay grade - but want you to focus on KPIs and SLAs to make them look good in their jobs, and keep their people happy. There is no point in trying to divert them to think about innovation, which is why you need multi-layered relationships.
If the first you hear of a new contract is when you get the ITT from a procurement team, then you've as good as lost already.
Procurement specialises in one thing - getting the price down. They often have little input into he actual specification, they are there to ensure that the final offers match the bid requirements. There's no earthly pointing selling to them because they can't change the specification.
There are two ways to ensure you win at the procurement stage - engage with the strategy and decision makers to ensure the ITT is very closely matched to your abilities, or beat the rest of the field on price..
Multi-level engagement - the key to long-term relationships
Tailor your engagement
The content and style that works for CxOs is very different from that used for other stakeholders
Prove through peers
90% of buying decisions are influenced by the experience of other customers - these should be the anchor of your marketing.
Understand their motivations
To capture their attention, you need to be relevant. Whatever their role, without that empathy, you're sunk.
People have very different content needs. You need multiple tailored threads that build a complete picture.
Tell don't sell
If you can add genuine value by giving good ideas and showing you can help them achieve their aims, you're much more likely to win business than just by focusing on features and benefits.
Your customers know that they're doing so you need to be of use to them by adding to that, not by telling them they're doing it all wrong.
I've never understood why suppliers think I'm going to throw away years of practical experience with enterprise systems and adopt their whizz-bang new technology on the back of a single-sided A4 case study that tells me nothing about how this is going to create new opportunities for my business. They really do need to do a lot better to get my attention
I've never understood how people can expect me to take time to see them, when they have no understanding about my business, let alone the strategic issues we face operating a regional airport. Unless you understand your customers thoroughly, how can you hope to influence their thinking?
Whenever I'm invited to an event hosted by the Marketing Doctors I make sure I can get there, because I learn so much. I don't care that they are sponsored, because they only work with very smart companies, and there's alway the opportunity to do better business by meeting people who know more about something than I do.
Working with the Marketing Doctors didn't just create new business opportunities for us - over £1bn worth in total - It helped us re-define they way we approached and engaged with the market. From digging around in the race to the bottom on price we moved to understanding the strategic challenges they faced, and being able to change our entire go-to-market approach.
I've worked with the Marketing Doctors for about a decade now in different companies and choose them because I get the best advice, a fantastic service, really deep understanding of our business and its challenges, excellent value, and above all outstanding results.
I really value The Marketing Doctors' counsel, and have worked with them for many years, in many roles. Their help in developing strategy, creating new opportunities, engagement activities and events, has always been really valuable to me because they will pick up an idea and run with it, then deliver me back a complete solution.