image
image



Are You Getting Appointments With Executives These Days?

August 24, 2010 2 Comments Best Practices by Jack Dean

It makes no sense.  Here we are in the midst (bottom of the 4th inning in my estimation) of the Great Delevering following the Great Recession: the most significant extended downturn in business-related investment in our professional careers.  Scores of companies have publicly boasted of their intention to ‘transform’ (always search for this word as it signals big change coming) their business models.  Business employment is way down and staying down.  Business investments, specifically CapEx and OpEx, have plunged.  Technology refresh cycles have come and gone with not a lot of ‘refresh’.  Revenue growth is MIA and record levels of investible cash balances lie sleeping on balance sheets earning next to nil.

This should be the perfect ‘buying storm’.  You’ve waited your entire professional career for the stars to align like this.  Executives have pain and you’ve got end-to-end solutions in your sales bag.  Your value propositions are ready to go and they’re full of ROI, TCO, and blah, blah, blah.  You should be witnessing an executive feeding frenzy as prospects clamor for your problem-solving solutions.  Buy-side executives should want to talk to sales professionals more today than ever before, right?

Executive meetings are not happening according to many sales professionals who come to me seeking advice because of my buy-side CxO experience and executive perspective.  They lament that access to the executive suite is darn near impossible these days.  “Customer executives aren’t taking my phone calls or returning my emails … the situation is getting worse, not better.  I’m frustrated!”

In the last few months, I’ve heard a consistent theme from sales people.  “Executives need us now more than ever before, don’t they?  We’ve got solutions to their problems.  We’ve got answers.  We’ve got the ROI and we can prove it.  Our solutions help reduce costs.  What is it about cost reduction and ROI that these executives don’t understand?”

Fearing the problem could be the messenger, several sales people have sought comfort from me.  Sheepishly, they’ve asked, “Is it just me or are other sales people having a similar tough time gaining access and selling higher in the customer organization?”  They desperately want me to assure them that it’s not a messenger problem.

Here’s what I’ve told them.  First the GOOD NEWS: it’s probably not a problem with themessenger as long as you’re diligent about gaining access to buy-side executives.  Now the BAD NEWS: the problem is more likely your message.  Want some more bad news?  It’s going to take commitment, discipline, rigor and maybe some new skills to fix it.  Their reaction has been predictable.  “Whew, at least it’s not a problem with me.  What was that again about fixing something?”

If you’re experiencing frustration getting appointments with executives, I want to provide some advice from my perspective on the other side of the table.  My point of view has been formed from 20+ years of buy-side executive experience with four Fortune500 companies.  I’ve been the target of thousands of sales probes and have granted hundreds of meeting requests.  For more information on my credentials, see the ‘About Jack’ page.

Over the years I’ve seen good, bad, and ugly.  Unfortunately, most attempts by sales people to gain access to me were bad and ugly; however, I maintain a vivid memory of the best examples which I quickly rewarded with an appointment.  The prospectors who made it to my office or got me on the phone didn’t accomplish their objective through some clever tactic or technique.  They got there because of the strength of their message and its relevance to me and my company.

I’ll reserve my comments about executive access tactics and techniques for another day and another blog post.  Suffice it to say, the reality of what you are up against is daunting.  Sales professionals significantly outnumber buy-side executives.  When the sales nation takes advice from a popular self-improvement book or sales training program on the subject of accessing executives, the herd mentality takes over and the adoption rate is very high.  Meanwhile, executives get inundated with the tactic to the point that it becomes a meaningless differentiator.

When I work with sales teams experiencing frustration gaining executive appointments, we start with the messaging.  Your executive message is the number one differentiator in a noisy marketplace.  Sure, how it’s delivered, when it’s delivered, to whom it’s delivered, and how often it’s delivered are important tactics in your overall executive engagement plan.  But if what you have to say to a buy-side executive isn’t relevant to them, your chances for an appointment are DOA.  That old adage, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, is apt to apply.  No amount of follow-up effort or uniqueness of your message delivery mechanism can make up for a message that doesn’t resonate with the audience – especially this highly-sophisticated audience who has seen thousands of good, bad, and ugly.

Step one in the process of improving your executive messaging is self-assessment.  Here’s a quick assessment tool for rooting out potential problems with your executive value proposition message.  It produces a net relevancy score (NRS).

Pull out an executive message that you’ve recently delivered that produced zero response: perhaps a value proposition, executive proposal, letter, email, or voice mail script.  Next, pick up a pencil and record your answers to the following questions.  Score each question: YES = +1 and NO = -1.

  1. Did you spend more than 15 minutes researching the target company?  Be truthful.
  2. Is more than 75% of the message about the target company (versus you and your solution)?
  3. Does your message avoid all references to your product features and functions?
  4. Does your message avoid any mention of pain, problems, challenges, or issues (negative connotation) that are solved by your solution?
  5. Does your message mention any business initiatives that are confirmed priorities for the target company that align with your solution?
  6. Does your message mention any performance metrics specifically identified by the target company that are favorably impacted by your solution?
  7. Does your message avoid any mention of ‘cost reduction’ (or similar words such as efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity) as the primary financial value benefit of your solution?
  8. Does your message avoid disparaging your competition in any way?
  9. Does your message avoid any technical terminology that is not regularly used by that executive?
  10. Does your message provide a hard ROI success reference?

What’s your net relevancy score?  Here’s how to interpret your NRS.

< 0           No executive relevance; start over.

0 – 5        Low executive relevance; research and revise.

6 – 8        Good start; refine for better impact.

9 – 10      High executive relevance; ready for executives.

If your executive message produced a high NRS but you have been frustrated with a lack of response, send it to me at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  I would be happy to review it and provide comments.

If you want more insights into my rationale, I encourage you to review several recent blog posts including: Where’s The BeefJust The Facts, Ma’amWhat Executives WantGot Pain?, and ‘Rev’ It Up To Get On The Executive Radar Screen.  These posts provide additional background and context for my executive perspective point of view.

Getting the right executive messaging is priority number one in this economic environment.  Take a long, hard look at your message and self-assess its executive relevancy.  If you think the message might be the problem, do something about it today.

Comments (2)

Jack Dean

Dan, thanks for your excellent comment about aligning character with character. As CxOs (I’m sure you’ll agree) we make snap judgements of the character of the sales professionals sitting in front of us or calling on the phone. We’re highly attentive to their preparation and knowledge of us and our companies, their choice of words, their willingness to listen, their ability to ask thoughtful questions, and their healthy respect for their competition. I call it ‘professionalism’ and in today’s world, it a HUGE differentiator — sad to say. This snap judgement (and we’re good at this because we’ve both been in front of hundreds of sales people and have set the expectations bar appropriately) acts like a gating mechanism: initial professionalism builds initial trust. And initial trust, in turn, contributes to an air of openess to the delivery of a high-quality sales message suitable for executive consumption. Sales professionals would be well served to give thought to how they plan to demonstrate authentic professionalism and character in the first 5 minutes of a conversation with a buy-side executive.

Dan Collins

Good List and insight Jack. From my side of the fence (the C you are referring to) the simple equation is even more blunt. Messaging must not only be focused, high value and relevant it must also be differentiated and character driven (taking into account the character of the prospect first then aligning it with the character of the salesperson and the company – both companies). Commoditized messaging and solutions, even with a clear ROI, are a dime a dozen. I can find those on the web myself. Professionals who take the time to research & make character alignments are few and far between.
Please login to comment