Tailoring Your Pitch For Success: Sales Tips from the CEO

It’s a common tactic for people in sales to inject some knowledge and insight into the conversation with a prospective client- almost human nature. Their job is to spark curiosity and what could be if they were to purchase what person on the other end of the line is selling, and more than often, that sales person is going to reach into their quiver, and at some point in the conversation tell the potential customer something they don’t know in the hope that spark of curiosity turns into a flameball of sales. This is, however, a less effective means of completing a sale, according to a piece from The Harvard Business Review’s Frank V. Cespedes and Tracy DeCicco titled: “Why ‘Tell Them Something They Don’t Know’ is bad advice in B2B sales."

More than this, the authors are addressing the issue of reframing pitches dependent on who you are talking to. As you’ll soon discover, high level executives are more responsive to certain issues, which has been backed up by an interesting dataset presented by Cespedes and DeCicco.

Having decades of experience observing sales teams from the sidelines, I can’t help but agree, particularly when it comes to the fact that: “that approach can lead you to develop irrelevant factoids. Instead, we suggest crafting a strategy based on whom you’re talking to and where you are in the sales cycle,” the authors suggest. It’s not necessarily about manipulating the conversation or the person on the other end of the phone- it’s about working with them; this is often where people in sales see the lines blurring, and some unethical practices can raise to the surface shortly after.

One person in sales told the authors of the piece that “the higher you go up the chain, the more industry insights matter,” which indicates that there is a hierarchy to keep in mind when it comes to industry jargon and factoids. “Choosing the wrong approach can have negative consequences. This is supported by data by Gong.io, which recorded and analyzed sales meetings from thousands of deals made on web conferencing platforms,” the piece continues to explain. According to the data, there was a strong negative correlation between asking discovery questions and closing deals, in the context of SVP (senior vice-president) -level buyers or anyone higher.

“On average, successful meetings here involved about 4 questions while unsuccessful meetings averaged 8. For meetings at lower levels, however, successful sales calls averages 11 to 14 questions.”

“On average, successful meetings here involved about 4 questions while successful meetings averaged 8. For meetings at lower levels, however, successful sales calls averages 11 to 14 questions.” This means that in the process of fine-tuning a strategy ahead of a sales calls, you need to be aware of exactly who you’re talking to, where they sit in the business, and curate a means of securing a deal that would entail less questions for higher-ups, and more questions for the people sitting lower in that particular food chain, according to this data set. Frank V. Cespedes and Tracy DeCicco say that “when developing your strategy, keep in mind that lower-level managers are gatekeepers; their job is to vet vendors and their products. Senior-level managers, on the other hand, focus on business issues, which makes them more receptive to insights.”

The authors provide an example of this. “Eric sells data-analytic tools for an IT firm. He called on a large U.S. retailer shortly after a winter storm had shut down its largest distribution center, which represented about 25% of inventory shipped to its stores. In conversations with Eric, lower-level managers framed the issue as a logistics problem, so Eric explained to them how his firm’s tools could provide data to help optimize flows and reduce delivery costs while the distribution center was being repaired.”

However, “at subsequent meetings with more senior executives, Eric went beyond logistics costs and framed the issues and solution differently. Since the chain was also in the early stages of implementing an omni-channel bricks-and-clicks strategy, Eric brought examples illustrating how markdowns and out-of-stocks have a bigger impact on margins than logistics costs: why it’s important to make pricing and other elements of the in-store and online customer experience as seamless as possible; and how other stores have utilized data-analytic tools to do this.

Senior executives signed off on the sale, at a scope wider than a purchase of the logistics software, largely because of the fact that Eric was able to reframe the issue dependent on who he was talking to, being responsive to the sensibilities of senior executives and knowing how to tap into their desires.

The authors also reiterate the importance of knowing exactly where you are in the sales cycle, so you can then “articulate how your product relates to key trends, opportunities, challenges, or evolving best practices in that market.”

“You can do this by indicating who you know (people and companies using your product to drive business value and financial benefits) or what you know (your firm’s viewpoint about industry trends and the so-what implications), or both,” the authors state. They cite a senior partner in the consulting practice at one of the U.S.’ big four firms, who states that “senior executives are typically impressive when informed about the reality in their market, how it applies to their strategic goals, and how we can help execute required initiatives in their company with their people.”

Industry examples are also invaluable, according to a salesperson interviewed by the Harvard Business Review who says that they provide that social proof that often gets the other side over the line. “Start with something that demonstrates you understand how people make decisions in that sector,” the salesperson says. “At this stage, it’s typically not competitors you should worry about; it’s the status-quo because 60% of all buying ‘decisions’ are to postpone a decision. So in initial meetings, I look for an industry issue or example that need to know about to make a decision.”

The selling difference is often down to the salesperson’s ability to first acknowledge who it is they’re talking to, and their skill in reframing an issue that will be more responsive for the person they’re talking to. As we’ve discovered, higher-ups in an organisation are more interested in addressing an opportunity or fixing a market challenge that is posing a danger to their organisation. Authors of the piece in question are stating that in acknowledgement of this, an effective sales person should reframe their pitch and frame their sales call in the context of implementing a solution for the organisation. “Providing insights is indeed a foundation and difference maker in many buyer-seller interactions,” the authors state, “but, as always in sales, influence is bestowed by the buyer as well as earned by the seller.”

As always, thank you for your time.

Kobi Simmat

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