One of the most important aspects of sales is getting in front of the decision maker. Most entrepreneurs have faced the situation of making a brilliant pitch, only to discover that all their time and energy went into convincing someone not authorized to pull the trigger. None of us have the time to spin our wheels. When you need to make the sale, you have to get to the person in charge.
My mother always told me to ask for what I wanted, so when I faced the challenge of getting access to the decision maker, I figured that being straightforward was the best tactic. Wow, was I wrong! Decision makers are inundated with requests for their time and attention. They’re besieged by phone calls, emails and even in-person visits. As a result, they are excellent at saying no. They’re masters at shutting people out and limiting access. They have to be.
Think it’s impossible to get the ear of a decision maker? It’s not, but the key to getting your foot in the door lies in taking a different approach—one rooted in patience and persistence ... and leveraging the power of the decision maker’s ego.
How do you do that?
If at First You Don't Succeed ...
I used to run a business that offered computer forensic services. As I was building and growing my business, there was one company whose business I was dying to land. I’d tried everything—pitches to folks who had the ear of the decision maker, direct appeals with guarantees of my result ... nothing worked. I was completely shut out.
This company was big and very successful, and they had a fair bit of employee turnover, which had resulted in the theft of intellectual property from time to time, so they had a real need for the sort of forensic services I offered. I knew that we were a perfect fit, but the problem was that the company handled its IP troubles in house. I could do a better job, but I couldn’t get to the head honcho to convince him.
Until it hit me: These decision makers are courted by everyone, all day, every day. They have good-sized egos as a result, and if I could find a way to use that ego—in a way that’s honest and ethical, of course—I might be able to find an in.
Getting in the Door
So I wrote a letter to the guy in charge, and I didn’t ask for a meeting to make a sales pitch—in fact, I promised not to make a sales pitch. Instead, I asked for his advice. I asked him to become my mentor. I explained that he was my ideal customer, and I wanted his valuable advice on ways in which I could elevate my level of service in order to attract companies like his. I asked for 15 minutes of his time, and I reiterated that I wouldn’t be making a sales pitch. He agreed. I was in.
I had my brief meeting. I asked questions and listened carefully to the advice he offered. I made notes on all the things he wanted in an ideal vendor, and when the meeting was over, I got to work implementing the strategies he’d recommended. When I’d made the improvements he’d recommended, I asked for a second meeting—again making the promise not to try to sell him anything. We reviewed the changes I’d made, and he offered more advice about how to refine my company’s services even further.
Meet, Learn, Sell
Again, I took the advice back to the office and got to work. When the third meeting rolled around, I showed him the changes I’d made, and I could see the pride he felt in my achievements. He felt invested in my success, and he wanted to see my company flourish. He looked at me over his desk and said the magic words: “I want to be your customer.”
What had happened was that my dream client had given me advice on how to sell him—all without realizing it. By asking for advice, rather than his business, I’d earned myself a valuable mentor, and I’d gotten exactly what I’d wanted: the sale. I’d gotten the sale because I’d earned it by applying the advice I’d solicited.
Here’s the deal with this technique—it’s not a trick. When you ask a decision maker for advice, you have to keep your word about not trying to make the sale in your meeting, and you also have to be willing to implement the advice you receive.
This technique requires dedication and patience, but it’s amazingly effective. It doesn’t work every single time—sometimes decision makers aren’t eager to spend their time doling out advice. But when you get that first meeting, odds are good that you could be closing a deal in the future.
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This article was originally published on August 26, 2014.