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Published in Marketing News, November 24, 1997

Salespeople can pitch top management, and maintain traditional relationships,

by focusing on the strategic elements in their message and involving
middle-management players in the effort.

Selling to the executive suite

By Scott Shemwell Read the company’s mission state- points should be one line long. Con-
ment, its annual report, press releases sult a book or two on presentations, or
Most people like to work in their
and any stock market analysts’ reports use the “tips” that come with software
personal comfort zone. For many
available. Find a middle manager who packages. Then rehearse, rehearse,
salespeople, that means calling on the
will help you develop a strategic value rehearse.
users of products or services, rather
proposition, and work with this person In additions, write a one-page exec-
than on executive-level management.
on ways to approach to the executive utive summary and leave that at the
Members of the sales force may be-
suite. Most middle managers will be end of the meeting, rather than a copy
lieve the CEO would never see them,
pleased to work as a team. It is their of the overhead slides.
or that middle managers will feel they
responsibility to recommend strategic Arrange to have one of your senior
went around them. Neither of these
initiatives to senior management, and executives attend the meeting—
statements need be true.
if they recommend a good one, it helps someone who is not necessarily at the
Salespeople can make their pitch
their careers. same level as your audience but in
directly to top management, and
Develop a plan that begins imme- their peer group who speaks their lan-
maintain their traditional relation-
diately and will be carried out over a guage. For example, it is reasonable to
ships, by focusing on the strategic el-
period of time that will realize the take your vice president of operations
ements in their message, and by in-
to visit an executive vice president if
volving middle-management players
the discussions center on manu-
in the effort.
facturing. You might also consider
Executives have a fiduciary respon-
sibility to company shareholders; they Salespeople often see your vice president of marketing if the
meeting concerns retail distribution.
are legally bound to look out for their
best interests. The CEO meets this
middle managers as Keep the number of attendees to a
reasonable level, not more than six to
obligation by increasing shareholder gatekeepers, but eight. Many people may wish to at-
value, which is reflected in the price
tend, but focus on presenting your
of the company’s stock. Private com- should remember this value proposition, not making sure all
panies respond to similar business
political groups are represented.
drivers, such as bank requirements. group is responsible Larger meeting dilute focus and allow
The CEO and other top executives
are not interested in a presentation on for making strategic sidebar conversations too easily.
This is your meeting. Take charge
the features, benefits and price of a
particular product. The expect middle recommendations to of it, even if you are not the presenter.
Make the introductions, review the
management to make these decisions,
even for multimillion-dollar their bosses. agenda and close the meeting. Finally,
do not overstay your welcome. If you
outsourcing deals.
asked for 30 minutes, don’t stay
Salespeople often see middle man-
longer, unless the audience wishes to
agers as gatekeepers, perhaps even value proposition. Set goals and ob-
extend the conversation.
impediments to reaching senior man- jectives that have measurable review
You may not leave the meeting with
agement, but should remember this points. This will ensure that all parties
a commitment, but be sure to leave
group is responsible for understanding are informed of the progress, and if
with a set of action items. Report
the product’s features, and for any issues develop they can be dealt
promptly on these issues. Continue to
negotiating a good price. They also with immediately.
work with middle management, but
make strategic recommendations to Once you have worked out the
don’t lose contact with the executive
their bosses. message, it’s time to set up the meet-
suite. And don’t let them down, or
To make all these relationships work ing with top management. Ask for no
you will find it difficult to meet them
for them, vendors increasingly are more than 30 minutes, and be prepared
again, and this may damage your
developing the concept of the value to schedule it several weeks in
entire relationship with this customer.
proposition, or the strategic approach advance. Send participants an agenda
Selling to the executive suite is a great
to helping customers add shareholder ahead of time and ask for feedback.
experience. Handled masterfully, it is
value. Just-in-time inventory is one Return the final agenda after making
a rewarding and lucrative undertaking.
example, in which the supplier the final changes.
essentially acts as the customer’s Do not try to cram everything you
warehouse, taking responsibility for ever wanted to say into 30 minutes;
meeting the customer’s manufacturing focus the message. Use no more than
needs so that production is not 10 to 12 overheads. Graphics and
interrupted. charts work better than words; bullet
The value proposition should state,
in no more than two sentences, a
specific, measurable strategy on how
the supplier can contribute to the
purchasing company’s overall, long-
term success. A typical value
proposition might read:
“As a strategic, global partner, we
will provide the products, technology
and best practices that, when coupled
with company’s resources, provide
competitive advantage by maximizing
the firm’s strategic value to its cus-
tomers. The company can expect a
superior return on its asset portfolio.”
To write a winning value proposi-
tion, develop an understanding of the
customer’s business: What value does
the company bring to its customers?