While claiming to be “customer-centric,” most vendors have an inward-looking focus on products and services they offer. This focus is passed onto B and C salespeople when they attend training on offerings in hopes of improving their ability to sell them. The end result can make these sellers virtual wind-up toys when they get in front of buyers. One of the phrases uttered in these organizations is that part of a seller’s job is educating buyers. It’s hard to express how strongly I disagree with that statement.

In the same way electricity is known to follow the path of least resistance, so it is with sellers. When trying to initiate sales cycles, B and C Players flock toward buyers at or near user levels. This “bottom-up” approach in the absolute best case will result in long buying cycles that ultimately close. The habit of starting low and working your way up means sellers will talk with many people that can’t say “yes” but can and will say “no.” Even if sellers gain traction early, most of these sales cycles collapse under their own weight.

My belief is that a vendor’s focus on what their offerings are rather than what buyers can do with them drives sellers to call at low levels. If a seller were to have a sales call with an executive and launch into a product pitch, the meeting would end prematurely by the buyer either saying they aren’t interested or delegating the seller to a low level, likely never to be seen again. Calling on low levels if far less intimidating and offers the following “advantages”:

  • Easier access because these “buyers” don’t have admins screening calls
  • “Buyers” may actually be interested in learning about a new offering
  • Sellers can be experts and address any questions that may arise

That said, there are many disadvantages to calling on low-levels:

  • These “buyers” can’t buy.
  • These “buyers” can waste a great deal of a seller’s time.
  • Humans in general resist change. “Buyers” at this level are likely to be disrupted by having to use the new offering to perform their jobs.
  • These “buyers” may start out as or become adversaries as they learn about offerings.

I worked with a client that offered language localization services. Many U.S. companies wanting to do business internationally, need help translating all their materials and their websites to the language spoken in countries they target. My client offered to the ability to outsource some or all of the translation work.

What entry point do you think the majority of sellers chose? In this case the answer was the translation manager within the prospect organization. I suspect most of these buyers were happy sellers who chose to contact them because they were able to quickly shut them down. These sales calls amounted to sellers asking buyers if they wanted to outsource some or all of their department’s work.

In trying to uncover business issues sellers could ask if there were issues with meeting translation schedules, the quality of translations, supporting the business, needs for languages where there wasn’t in-house expertise, etc. Invariably the answers would be, “No, but thanks for asking. I’ll keep you in mind for future needs.”

After having a look at their markets, I helped them try to start opportunities by targeting the VP Marketing and/or the VP Sales for the following reasons:

  1. Each had top line revenue responsibility.
  2. If the quality of translations were sub-par, revenue would be compromised.
  3. If translations were delayed, product launches could be missed, impacting revenue.
  4. Most importantly, these titles would readily share past issues they had with the translation department or potential future issues based upon plans to enter new countries/markets.

The client changed their approach and soon realized significantly better results. After starting buying cycles with the VP Sales or VP Marketing the next step was to gain access to somebody in finance, as there seldom was budget for outsourcing language localization. The translation department got involved only after the requirements had been determined based upon the business plan and a cost vs. benefit had been created.

Senior executives are willing to spend money to reduce risk, By identifying the potential size of markets and the potential revenue for each country, the cost of hiring a company having translators for all languages that were needed and experience in helping with product roll-outs in foreign countries, the cost of outsourcing often was perceived to be relatively inexpensive insurance.

Consider stepping back and look at your current pipeline. It may be enlightening to see how many of these buying cycles at low levels or worst case, with potential adversaries. If you offer outsourcing of any functions that are already being done in-house, attempt to delay talking with people that may be affected until you’ve built a strong business case with the other stakeholders. It’s likely your win rates are highly dependent upon the level of your seller’s initial contact when initiating opportunities.

Within CCS® we espouse gaining access to all stakeholders. There are many opportunities where the sequence of meeting Key Players can go a long way toward improving your sellers’ chances of winning.