The French, we have a proverb that, translated to English, goes like this: It’s better to address God than His Saints. In no profession is it more applicable than sales, where the difference between success and failure is reaching the right person with the right message at the right time.
But who is the right person? There is abundant evidence to suggest most decisions (either the sale itself or the recommendation that it be assessed) still happens at the corporate executive level. In the many cases where sales decisions are made beneath the C-level executive level, there is nothing as compelling as the recommendation internally from a C-level executive that your product or service offering being evaluated. There is even a name for this approach—the “Trust Ladder”—where those whose referrals are trusted most in the sales process are obviously the best to obtain.
How can this “Trust Ladder” best be navigated? These four steps are essential to connecting with decision-takers:
1.) All good sales start with good, up to date contact lists. In fact, it’s the most important investment you can make in business development or sales. When approaching a senior executive, be sure to have his or her name, title and contact information correct. Nothing is as unpersuasive as an error with these introductory fundamentals.
2.) Whether your appeal is by phone or email, be sure to demonstrate a competent recognition of the company’s primary product or service line and how your offering potentially fits their needs. In other words, make your homework which might require several hours or several days. In using the “recommendation factor,” your ideal target is the C-level executive to whom your target reports. This means, hypothetically, if your sales target is the Vice President, Marketing and that person reports to the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO should be your initial contact. and your goal is merely to persuade him or her to channel the inquiry appropriately to your sales target (the Vice President, Marketing).
3.) Think carefully about the wording of your pitch. Because the goal of an initial sales contact is to arrange a follow-up meeting or discussion, not to complete the sale itself. Keep prominently in mind that your goal is merely to raise enough interest and curiosity so as to make such a meeting justifiable. Be brief and make it easy to get a yes. The biggest part of this wording, of course, is your direct request: That your request be forwarded on by the executive to your company contact. Asking for that directly, usually in the close of your call or email, is best presented as a question, such as: “May I ask the favor of your passing this on to (your sales contact)?”
4.) In the case that you do not receive any response, follow up is warranted in roughly two weeks. The follow-up approach should not be repetition of the initial request but something new, such as citing the success of the product or service by another customer, or recognition of its particular applicability to your target company.
The success of the “Trust Ladder” sales approach has been demonstrated as typically more effective than direct contact. This is corroborated with the experience shared with thousands of executives using our org chart services. Reason? The saints (your sales target) will usually hear the appeal of the faithful. But nothing is so persuasive to the saint as the word of God (your C-level target).