Selling to the C-Level … isn’t that all there is?

Yesterday I read a post by John Heinzmann called, “Getting a C is the new A+.”  It’s a good post about a new necessity in the printing industry of selling to C-Level contacts in order to market a solutions based approach.  If I may, I’d like to add my take on this issue.

To be honest, selling to the C-Level is not something that I really thought about before – because that’s pretty much all I’ve done.  Now I have to admit I’ve never sold printing before, so I don’t really know the process and who you should talk to get the sale.  Over the last thirty years I’ve always sold and marketed products and services I saw as solutions.

A lot of this came from being a head hunter for fifteen years.  I didn’t really fill orders but rather I marketed talent … people I thought could make an impact with a company.  In other words, provide a solution.  In order to do this, I had to talk to someone as high up the food chain as possible.  This normally meant talking to the person who owned or ran the company.  For my target company size of five to twenty-five million a year – this was the only way to get anything done.

Not always did I end up working with this person when dealing with the details of the placement … but that’s where I started.  They were ones that would “get” the impact of the person I was representing.  Once they signed off on starting the process, often I was referred down the chain for the interviews.  At that time, however, I had the concept selling done.  All that was left was the process and whether the person I was representing was a good fit with the firm.

Now let’s get back to selling printing or communications or whatever the industry is evolving into.  I’m under the understanding that traditionally, print is bought by a print buyer or somebody performing that function.  With the changes in the industry, this function is being combined or absorbed into the jobs of individuals who are performing more strategic roles.  This could also have to do with cost cutting measures brought on by our current economic climate.  In addition, if a print company is attacking the market with a “solution sell,” they are going to have to talk to, and at least start with, the people responsible for strategic marketing decisions … the C-Level.

This dynamic will cause changes, as John wrote, in the way current printing companies sell, as well as the products and services they offer.  I suppose those that will continue to go down the traditional print path, can conduct business as usual – if not in an abbreviated fashion in an abbreviated market.

But for those riding the wave of change … change is definitely the word.

For those salespeople now responsible for selling solutions and having never sold to the C-Level – there will be a learning curve.  Here’s my crash course – your rope up to the executive suite.

  1. You better have your ammunition ready and stocked. To deal on this level, you must have something to say and something of value to sell.  And this something better different from the something your competition is saying and selling.
  2. The trick is getting in the door. Getting to a print buyer in a large corporation is probably easier than getting to V.P. of Marketing or a General Manager.  This first step in the sales process might very well be the hardest.  First: Be creative.  Use everything in your arsenal – the phone, email, mail … anything and everything.  Second: Be persistent.  At some time they will relent and give you the time of day.  Then the stage is yours so make use of it and take the process to the next level.  Nobody said the road to Hollywood is easy.  They don’t hand out the stars to everyone.
  3. Get to know the gatekeeper, the secretary. I can’t put enough emphasise on this point.  They can make “heaven of hell, or hell of heaven.”  Talk to them about their life.  Talk to them about your life.  Even call them for no reason then to talk … to them.  They will be the key to gate – the key to your success.

With everything said and done, C-Level executives are no different from anybody else.  They just have more things to do and these things are a little more complicated.  Just make sure your things are part of the solution.

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If you like what you read … please Tweet and follow me on Twitter @variable_edge.

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~ by Clay Forsberg on September 30, 2010.

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