One of the biggest challenges sales reps face is arriving at the deal and finding a competitive knife fight already in motion. Trying to sell when you’re late to the party with a bunch of other sharks swimming in the water next to you makes for a lot of frustration. In a knife fight, when you do win deals, most of the time it’s because of price. This means you surrender the ability to maximize your income–one of the main reasons you got in sales in the first place.

Why C-Levels Don’t Seem To Be Involved

Have you ever noticed that when you get involved in these competitive situations, the real decision maker is rarely involved? It seems like they swoop in at the end of the deal to make the final negotiations and sign off. Not having access to the decision maker makes your job that much more frustrating.

Kevin Davis sheds some light on this challenge in his advice on how to sell to complex buying teams in the book, Slow Down, Sell Faster! He outlines the stages of the buying process and makes the point that top level decision makers (who he calls the ROI Authority) show up at the beginning of the sales process and often disappear until the end of the sales.

They get involved in the “why” and not the “how”. They get involved in defining the problem. Then, they tend to leave the research and comparison up to their team. Thus, if you get invited to the competitive knife fight, you likely won’t see the ROI Authority unless you survive to be the one that gets the signatures.

What if you could get involved earlier in the sales process? What if you could influence the ROI Authority and establish credibility with the key stakeholders rather than getting involved later in the buying process?

Davis outlines the early stages of the buying process as follows:

  1. Change–The buyer recognizes the business environment is changing. They begin to suspect that the way they are doing things is holding them back.
  2. Discontent–Changes trigger frustration with the current situation. This could be triggered by losing a large client to a new competitor or seeing another similar business capitalize on a new opportunity.

After discontent, the buying process continues as the ROI Authority brings in members of the team to research and compare options. This is where the knife fight begins. If you get involved at this stage, good luck!

The key to getting C-Level attention is to focus on change and discontent. Your role is to be a student and a doctor.

As a student, you need to understand your prospect’s business. What challenges are they facing? How are shifts in the business environment affecting their business? There are all kinds of macro trends that both create opportunity and threaten to upset some apple carts:

  • E-Commerce and the Amazon affect (Two weeks ago I ordered something from an online retailer and I’m furious that it hasn’t arrived because I’m used to getting my packages from the Zon in 2 days.)
  • Internet of Things (My wife is mad at me today because our doorbell isn’t recording video to the cloud???)
  • The Cloud (I run several businesses that serve clients in multiple continents and we don’t own a single server.)
  • Full Employment (How am I going to attract good employees to handle the growth? Can I use technology to get more out of my current team so I don’t need more employees?)
  • Millennials, GenZ, iGen and the Changing Workforce (How do I recruit, retain, motivate, sell-to, and support the upcoming generations?)
  • Import Tariffs (What do I do now that my COGS on goods from China just went up?)

There are dozens of trends that threaten current business models. What if you could be aware of these trends and bring some insight as to how you could help your clients and prospects navigate change? What if you could be the one creating discontent.

Keith Eades, author of The New Solution Selling, says that the job of a true sales professional is to turn a latent need into felt need. If we want c-level attention, we need to be the ones bringing insights and ideas to that table to help c-level people capitalize on change not get capsized by it.

Educate Yourself

How do you do this? First, you educate yourself. You read–a lot. You listen to podcasts. You pay attention. Maybe you even go back to night school.

You find ways to hang out with c-levels in your circle of friends, on nonprofit boards, and in your current client base. You take them to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, or for drinks. You find ways to hang out and ask about their business. Don’t go there to sell, go there to learn.

Build Business Acumen

All of this build your business acumen. The Wikipedia defines business acumen as follows: keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a “business situation” (risks and opportunities) in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.

Share Your Ideas

As you educate yourself, work to position yourself as a thought leader. Take what you are learning and share it.

  • Share quotes from the books you’re reading on LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Print copies of articles you read, highlight relevant insights, and mail them with sticky notes on top to your prospects.
  • Bring up ideas from things you learn in online conversations. Ask for input.
  • Write a blog article each week highlighting what you’re learning. Sometimes you might even want to write a special report. When you get enough blog articles (after a year, you’ll have 52) pay someone to compile your thoughts into a book.
  • Create a slide deck with your ideas and record a webinar. Put this on your LinkedIn page and use it in the sales process.

Is this over-the-top? Yes. But don’t you want an over-the-top income?

Will the vast majority (99%) of sales reps NOT be willing to do this. Yes. But you want to be in the top 1%. And if there is going to be a competitive knife fight, you want to be the one that caused it and the one that set the rules.

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