Monthly Archives: April 2015

5 Tips on How to Use a C-Level Executive in a Sales Meeting

CEO - Leading

Turbocharger. Hear the word and you probably think “robust power source.” Competitive drivers and car manufacturers have used turbochargers for decades to boost engine power and race performance. In the hands of a skilled driver, this extra power can offer a competitive advantage. Putting that power, however, in the hands of someone less skilled or at the wrong time, can be fatal.

In the competitive world of selling, it is natural to seek a turbocharger equivalent to boost your performance in a sales meeting. At times this means asking a C-level executive — i.e., CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. — to join a sales meeting or presentation. And why not? A C-level executive may be able to help advance a sale or retain a relationship, and in the process build your credibility with a client and even your colleagues.

However, it would be a mistake to take this step lightly or impulsively, even with the most receptive and charismatic C-level executive. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — may prove to be an asset or liability. Here are some of the more common mistakes I have made or seen during my time at Richardson Sales Training and Effectiveness Solutions as it relates to including a senior-level executive in a sales pitch or client meeting:

  • Believing that a C-level executive’s title, presence, and personality can magically transform a poorly qualified opportunity or a poorly prepared team.
  • Treating him or her as untouchable, beyond coaching or preparation.
  • Banking on the fact that they know “what to do.”
  • Assuming that your deal carries the same importance to them as it does to you.
  • Not bringing your own A-game.

Without guidance, a leader is likely to do what they do: lead. They may grab control of the meeting, taking you away from an otherwise winning game plan and hurting your credibility with the client. A senior leader playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your C-level executive? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?

C-level executives, when coached skillfully, can be a great asset and turbocharge a sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging a C-level executive in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.

1) Ask them.

Obvious, yes? Less obvious is what it takes to prepare for that ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes.” Convey to the executive why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.

2) Define and communicate your expectations.

This should include:

  • His role in the meeting
  • Who is the team leader
  • Your expectations for his participation in preparing for and de-briefing the meeting with you
  • Letting him define how, when, and where he would like to give and get feedback

3) Prepare together.

Invite your C-level executive to your prep sessions, understanding the realities of her schedule. When she is able to be there, be sure to:

  • Transfer essential knowledge given her role in the sales meeting
  • Run through the opening, including her welcome message and introduction
  • Preview whatever additional topics, such as a company overview, she will address in the meeting
  • Be clear on your role as team leader, including who will close and how that will be done

Have you ever heard a senior-level executive introduce themselves and refer to their role as “overhead?” What can be funny in an internal meeting can be disastrous in a sales meeting. Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.

4) Set ground rules.

Make sure your C-level executive takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with the senior-most decision maker(s) representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. Pivoting from internal meetings where she is in charge, to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is being set by others can be tough for a C-level executive, especially those with no direct sales experience.

5) De-brief together.

Consider drafting for your C-level executive’s signature a thank you note on the team’s behalf. He can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Individual feedback should be handled carefully. His feedback to you and team members take on extra gravity. Receiving feedback from you, done well, can strengthen future meetings and pitches. C-level executives tend to get very little objective feedback, which is a shame since they play such an important role in high-stakes meetings. Consider collecting and distilling the team’s feedback — both pluses and minuses — and deliver the key points in a one-on-one. Also, be sure to acknowledge his time in preparing for and taking the meeting, his contributions, and ask how he would like to stay apprised of future developments.

Including a C-level executive in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. In the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.

Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your C-level executive, properly positioned, can turbocharge your sales efforts and give you the extra boost needed to push you into the winner’s circle.

The 8 Attributes of a Highly Effective Salesperson

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How to be a Successful Salesperson (or Recognize One on Your Team)

You may recall that oh-so-70’s TV series called The Six Million Dollar Man, in which a secret government agency rebuilds former astronaut Steve Austin after an accident into a spy with bionic speed, strength, and vision that make him unstoppable.

Leaders and sales managers, when faced with a steep goal or taking on a new business, will naturally look at their sales team and think, “How am I going to hit this new goal with the same team?”  First, you come to terms with the goal and that, reluctantly, surgery and bionic implants are out — budget, OSHA, HR issues, etc.  So, you turn your attention to less extreme methods, such as strategy, recruiting, sales training, and coaching.  And then, you begin to focus on the question what are the “8 attributes of a highly successful salesperson?”

Consider the following sets of personality qualities:

A B
Social Insightful
Vocal Soft-spoken
Aggressive Patient
Gregarious Empathetic
Quick on their feet Thoughtful
Funny Serious

Question #1:  From which column of qualities would you choose if you were: Throwing a party? Hiring people most like you? Seeking people to do a lot of outbound calling, meetings, and presentations?

Question #2:  What if we turn around the question to instead ask:  If you were a buyer, responsible for making a significant and complex purchase for your organization, under great pressure and visibility, which column of qualities would you choose for your sales contact or account manager?

Successful Salespeople can be Extroverts OR Introverts

In 2012, Susan Cain authored a best-selling non-fiction book titled, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  She described qualities like those listed in Column A as the “the extrovert ideal” — those we tend to see as representing success.  And yet, while these qualities are common among many salespeople, are they the ones embodied by your most effective, client-facing professionals?

Many sales leaders graduate into their position after gaining success as a salesperson.  So, it is tempting for them to assume that people similar to them will perform as they did.  This was illustrated well by Vivek Gupta, CEO of Zensar Technologies, in a New York Times interview on March 8, 2015.  He shared:  “There was a young girl, straight out of college, who walked into my office and said, ‘…I want to be in sales.’  I was quite nervous that she couldn’t handle the job.  I had spent a rough five years doing sales, traveling all over the country.  How would she be able to do that? … I gave the job to her, and she turned out to be the best salesperson in the company.”  Consider those gems on your team who, though quite different from you, share your ability to consistently retain important clients or generate new business.

While society values Susan Cain’s “extrovert ideal,” consider how Column B qualities — those traditionally attached to an introvert — might be differentiators and highly valued by buyers.  The truth is that the continuum between extrovert and introvert is a wide one, and effective salespeople are found between the extremes.

8 Qualities of a Successful Salesperson

In my 30 years working among and coaching salespeople, here are the 8 traits of successful salespeople that I see consistently.  They are:

  1. Client-loyal: They are driven to understand what success means for their clients and to actively contribute to that success.
  2. Win-driven: They have a self-derived motivation to win (or not lose) that transcends compensation plans, campaigns, and coaching efforts.
  3. Team builders: They cultivate and leverage people and resources — inside and outside of their organizations — that allow them to help clients reach their goals and to win.
  4. Efficient: They are master qualifiers, willing to walk from opportunities that they feel they can’t or don’t want to win. And, they are willing to invest outsized amounts of time and energy in developing what they consider to be the really great opportunities — and, in building teams that prepare and practice to win.
  5. Impatiently patient: Though professionally driven, they exude patience when they are with a client, prospect, partner, or referral source.
  6. Passionately sincere: This goes beyond basic honesty. They are sincere in finding the solution that will best accomplish the client’s goal, even if that runs counter to their organizations’ latest campaign. They display high conviction in making their case to a client about why their solution is the right one.
  7. Attentive listeners: They talk far less than they listen, bringing a high degree of humility and curiosity to their client interactions.
  8. Dedicated: They see sales as their craft and, as such, seek knowledge, coaching, and resources that will allow them to do it more efficiently and effectively, seeking and incorporating feedback to continuously sharpen their approach.

Recruiting and Training the Best Salespeople

To stay focused on these attributes, managers — as you recruit, restructure, and coach — you will be well served by the following reminders:

  • Avoid looking for you in them. He will always be him, not you. Seek the attributes that made you effective, even if the personality couldn’t be more different from yours.
  • Don’t try to turn them into you. Be willing to coach them to become the best version of themselves.
  • Seek the attributes above as must-haves, while the packages in which they come may vary.

Highly successful salespeople come in all shapes and sizes and may not always be the life of the party.  If, however, they are long on the 8 attributes above — Six Million Dollar Salespeople — they will outrun the competition in retaining and growing clients and finding new ones.  Still, budgeting next year for bionic implants is an interesting thought…