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Hello? Are C-Level Executives Listening?

August 06, 2012 0 Comments Best Practices by Jack Dean

Recently a technology sales manager posted a series of interesting questions on 'Selling to Executives', a LinkedIn discussion group I moderate.  His company is a leading provider of pricing optimization and management software.

I wanted to share his questions (and how I responded in the group discussion) because I consistently see the “access” issue as a major focus of sales reps trying to develop executive-level relationships.

In my view, “access” is just the tip of the iceberg; without solid, executive-relevant messaging, the “access” mechanism is doomed.

Here are the questions and my responses.

Question #1

As someone who is constantly trying to reach the C-Suite, I have a question: Do executives of large companies ($500 million+ in my definition) actually listen to voice mail?

My Response

As a former C-suite executive at several multi-billion dollar companies, I definitely listened to voice mail messages so long as they were tailored to me, my role, and my company.

I still remember the best voice messages (e.g. SAS Institute, Bottomline Technologies, ProBusiness, Hyperion) because, at the time, they motivated me to act.

I deleted the majority of voice messages because there was no compelling message from my perspective.  However, sometimes I forwarded the message to a peer or a person on my team.  Other times I saved the voice message and waited for the next move on the part of the sales person (yes, I was testing the sincerity and tenacity of the sales person).

Occasionally, I returned the call solely based on the strength of the compelling message.

Question # 2

My company provides predictive sales guidance (pricing recommendations and account penetration guidance) for the B2B space. So, whereas all B2B manufacturers and distributors could be potential targets, I have struggled with a value proposition that is believable and makes one want to listen to the rest of the message.

My intro is something like, "We help similar companies (dropping names if appropriate) increase top- and bottom-line 5% to 10% or more through data-driven sales guidance that helps them price more profitably (without risking revenue) and sell into existing accounts more productively (increasing wallet share and reducing churn)."

Would that be something that might cause you to listen more?  Are there more impactful words/phrases that could be substituted?

My Response

Your voice message wouldn’t motivate me to return your call, but I definitely had some reactions.

My initial thought was disbelief that your pricing optimization software could impact revenue and income growth for manufacturers and distributors “by 5% to 10%”. That claim didn’t pass my CFO smell test – especially for revenue growth.  When I hear “financial impact hyperbole”, I discount anything else you say in the message.

I know you’re just repeating the marketing value statement on your Company’s website, but it sounds too good to be true in this economic environment.  A recent National Association of Manufacturers’ survey forecasted only 2.8% top line growth in 2012 for small manufacturers while large manufacturers are predicting only 4.4% revenue growth.

It may be counter-intuitive, but your “5 to 10%” claim for revenue growth severely diminishes your credibility.

My second reaction was to check out what your main competitors were saying about financial statement impact.  Competitor A and competitor B avoided making any broad claims, but competitor C boldly proclaimed a “10% to 30% impact on income”.

However, none of your competitors went out on the limb like your Company did on revenue growth impact.

The last thing I did was check out Gartner’s report on price optimization and management software providers.  Gartner said, through 2014, investments in your category of software will “help increase gross margins by more than 2%”.  As a former CFO, I think gross margin is the KPI you should focus on when describing your solution’s impact.  A 2%+ impact on GM% will catch my attention and is much more believable, so I would suggest you use their analysis and assessment in your voice message.

Advice for Crafting a Voice Mail Message to a C-Level Executive

Here’s my advice for a voice message directed to a senior decision-maker (no more than 45 seconds):

1. Start by demonstrating a glimpse of your “customer acumen”.  (For publicly-traded prospects, mention a revenue growth or gross margin figure reported in the most recent quarterly earnings release.  For private companies, mention a direct competitor’s figure.)

2. Briefly tell me something that I don’t already know about pricing optimization – something I’ve never thought of.  (This will not be found on your website; your marketing organization should help you develop this insight.)

3. To size the opportunity, use Gartner’s (or a similarly objective 3rd party) claim for gross margin impact of 2%+.  You don’t need to bring your company’s solution into the message at this point.  Your prospect needs to first figure out they need to change their pricing optimization strategy – and you can help advise (not sell) them.  Then, in a subsequent conversation after they’ve decided to think about changing, you can steer them to your unique solution capabilities.  (By the way, if you don’t thoroughly understand the various levers that impact the gross margin KPI, you should seek help to shore up your financial acumen competency.)

4. Ask for a phone conversation.  (This should be the goal of a successful voice message.)

Once you leave your voice message, I suggest you immediately follow with an email repeating your message and asking again for a phone conversation.

I hope this gives you some food for thought.  Voice mail messages can be a productive mechanism for prospecting, even at the C-Level.  Your messaging must differentiate you by demonstrating your “customer acumen” and your ability to initiate thought-provoking dialogs that could help accelerate your prospect’s business outcomes.

About Jack Dean:  Jack is the co-founder of FASTpartners, a sales training  company focused on helping sales and marketing professionals gain customer executive sponsorship, influence investment decisions, and accelerate customer business outcomes and financial performance. A former Fortune500 CFO, Jack has over a decade of experience working with sales and marketing professionals to improve their business/financial acumen and executive selling skills.  For more information on FASTpartners’ services, go to www.fastpartners.com or contact Jack at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .