Saturday, December 6, 2008

Go Wide -- 4 Ways to Protect Your Sales Relationships

A member recently brought up a critical problem in his selling strategy during a meeting of Chief Executive Boards International. He was attempting to extend the services he provided to a large corporate client. The trouble was that those additional services actually threatened the job security of a person he had relied upon throughout his current relationship -- he was pigeon-holed in the organization, because his selling relationships existed at only one level. He came to realize that he was going to have to sell his bigger-picture idea to bigger-picture prospects, two or three layers up in the company.

This situation brought home the words of another CEBI member who presented an Executive Briefing at the November 2008 CEBI Summit. In a mini-seminar on selling strategies, one of the success factors he cited was "Go Wide". What does that mean, outside a football huddle?

It means that you always want to "go wide" in your sales contacts in a customer or client company. You want to set up situations -- make excuses, if necessary -- to meet and establish contact with as many people in the company as possible. Even better, as many people at as many different levels as possible. This might be likened to a military "pre-emptive strike". Lay your traps for a future situation, known or unknown, that might cause you to need sales contacts beyond (and above) your current relationships in the company.

It's also a reminder that the current economic uncertainties can change things in a heartbeat, completely beyond your control. What if, for example, your key contact gets caught in a downsizing or layoff action? Or, worse yet, the department you're selling to gets eliminated? What if your key contact gets promoted, and replaced by someone who knows nothing about you? Or, worse yet, has a prior relationship with a competitor? You need some contacts other than the person you rely on as your ongoing source of orders, in case something happens to him that neither of you expect.

Here are four ways you can "go wide" in an existing client or customer company:
  1. "Meet the Boss" -- This is an explicit strategy in the IBM selling playbook. As early as possible in your relationship, tell your contact: "Jack, we've been working together for awhile, and I think it would be good to make sure our companies are as well aligned as we are. How about if we have lunch and you bring your boss and I bring mine, so they can meet each other? And while we're at it, we'll have an opportunity to remind both of them what a great job we're doing for our respective companies." Who could resist? This gives not only your boss, but also yourself the excuse to make future contacts 1 step up the organization.
    Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

  2. "Free Consulting" -- This is especially useful in getting past Purchasing. Offer to bring in a technical resource to assist the next user up the food chain from your service. If you provide MRO supplies to a plant maintenance department, offer to do a "brown bag" lunch for the Plant Engineering department -- the people who design or choose the equipment for which you provide supplies and parts.

  3. Help them Sell -- Offer, or set up a situation, where you become a referral source to their selling effort. Great way to win friends.

  4. Benchmarking -- Companies have benefited greatly by looking at other companies in allied, but non-competitive businesses, comparing best practices. Set up a 1/2 day benchmarking meeting between two of your customers, both of whom use your products or services but who don't compete. They'll learn a lot from each other, and you're the catalyst. The important thing is to draw people off both benches who you haven't met before, again widening your contact base. Of course, you'll want to be a high-visibility "facilitator" of the benchmarking visit.

If you've found ways to "go wide" in your customer or client companies, please click "Comments" below and let us know what you did and how it worked out.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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