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Chapter 2: Account Entry Strategy: Getting to Where It CountsSelling at the Focus of Power
Life would be simple if, once you'd reached the focus of power, all you had to do was convince the decision maker and take the order. In major sales, as we've seen, that's rarely going to be the case. The decision maker may be in the Recognition of Needs phase, the Evaluation of Options phase, or even the Resolution of Concerns phase. And, as we've also seen, each phase represents different psychological orientations and each of them therefore requires a different selling strategy. The rest of the book deals in detail with these phases and how to handle them. For now, I'd like to make just one general point about selling at the focus of power. It's difficult to gain access to decision makers-so don't waste it. Why am I offering such obvious advice? Because, from our studies of many thousands of salespeople and their customers, we found that one of the most frequent of all selling faults is wasted access to decision makers. Among the common ways in which salespeople waste their access, we found the following to be the most prominent.
- Failure to do homework. Sellers often waste most of the call collecting facts which could have been obtained from company reports or from those lower in the organization. If decision makers are asked routine questions like `=How many people do you employ?" they become bored and then impatient.
- Failure to take control. Many sellers, when they come face-to-face with a decision maker, behave as if they expect that the decision maker will take full control of the conversation. It's true that decision makers are usually busy,so they may appear impatient and anxious to move the conversation along. It's also true that they are generally senior people who are used to taking control. But that doesn't mean that you can afford to sit back and hope the decision maker will control the conversation and channel it into the most appropriate areas. It's smart for you to have a plan about how you intend to use your time-and to share that plan with the decision maker at the start of the conversation. You might, for example, say, "I know how busy you are, Dr. Frankenstein, so I'd like to be sure I use your time efficiently. If you agree, I'd like to cover three areas during the next 15 minutes. These areas are..." Alas, I've sat through literally hundreds of conversations where, in stead of taking control in this way, the seller waited for the decision maker to structure the meeting. As a result, 18 minutes of a 20minute conversation would be spent on pleasantries and trivia, while the closing 2 minutes became a frenetic outpouring of product features. Don't ever let that happen to you. Once you reach the focus of power, give careful and explicit attention to planning and structuring each meeting efficiently.
- Premature meetings. There's a superstition in selling that the sooner you can get to the decision maker the better. Effective selling, so it's said, is going straight to the focus of power. That's a questionable belief. There's plenty of evidence that the people who have most impact on decision makers are those who have prepared a case by conversations at the focus of dissatisfaction. I was once taught a valuable lesson in this area. I was flying from Stockholm to London with my colleague Bill Allen. Bad weather delayed the flight for several hours, and we found ourselves in conversation with another passenger who turned out to be the chief executive officer of a large conglomerate. As we talked, it was clear that there was an opportunity to sell the CEO a significant consulting study. "This is a very urgent issue for us," the CEO told us. "Come and have lunch with me in London tomorrow so we can talk more about this." What luck! Here was a chance meeting taking us straight to the focus of power. I confidently expected that Bill would leap at the chance. Instead he asked, "Could we make it the day after tomorrow?" On the flight back I asked him why he'd put the meeting off for 24 hours. "Because," he explained, "I don't yet know enough about their problem. Consequently, you and I will spend every minute of tomorrow talking to his people and getting an understanding of the issues. Then we'll be ready to talk with him." Bill was a fine salesman. I wish more salespeople would realize how powerfully they could influence the decision maker by holding preparatory meetings with people at the focus of dissatisfaction.
- Inappropriate expectations. Meetings with people at the focus of power are often wasted because the seller has an inflated expectation of the decision maker's ability to make a unilateral decision. Twenty years ago most corporate cultures allowed senior people to make decisions, including purchasing decisions, with little or no consultation. The present management climate of most organizations has changed. Consultation is now the rule, not the exception. Although the decision maker may have the authority on paper to make a decision without involving others, in practice it's usually wiser to consult. I've seen many salespeople-including those who are experienced enough to know better-acting as if the decision maker should be expected to sign on the spot. I've cringed as I've watched these sellers pressure the customer for a decision and treat the decision maker's need to consult with an open skepticism. For a major purchasing decision, the focus of power is rarely exclusively located in one individual. The traditional distinction between influencers and decision makers is breaking down. In my own organization, I'm the president and-you'd think from the organization charts-I'm the decision maker. A few weeks ago my company bought a number of desktop publishing systems. I was very interested in this decision because I was going to be using one of the systems myself, so I worked hard to influence the outcome. However, my voice was just one out of 10 who were involved in placing the order. I begged, I pleaded, and I whined and wept in order to get the system I liked best. But Elaine, our production coordinator, and Sandy, one of our graphic artists, were the ones who had the most impact on the decision, and they kept me firmly in my place. Now, judging from job descriptions and the organization charts, they were just influencers. In reality, roles were largely reversed. It's not clear, even to us, who really made the final choice, and I suspect our decision making isn't very different from that of most other organizations in this respect. So, when you're meeting with people at the focus of power, don't let your selling become distorted by unrealistic expectations of immediate unilateral decision making...