Improve sales close rates

Develop the only relationship that matters

At the risk of sounding harsh, forget about middle-level management connections.  The only relationship worth having today is at the executive level.  While it is increasingly difficult to get an unsolicited meeting at this level, it’s possible for those who know how.  The key is shock and awe:  prove that the company either has a problem that it didn’t know it had, has a problem that can be solved for which it didn’t know there was a solution or has the chance to create more value than it was aware was possible. Once that is done, the right to be heard and get sponsorship is earned.

Start with the right prospect

In order to be successful, pursue the right prospects.  Look for prospects that resemble best customers – and by that I mean the customers for whom your company provides the most value.  Analyze the current customer base.  Then create a profile that reflects the best customers’ characteristics (size, market sector and other demographics, business issues solved, executive sponsorship, etc.). Then use this profile to screen prospects.  This is critical because if a prospect is similar to your best customers, a strong case can be made relative to what can be done for them.  Focus energy on companies that most closely match the perfect client profile and measure the degree of fit to accurately predict when each will be won.

While competitors are doing demos showcasing features and benefits, you are analyzing the company’s own business data and identifying how your solution can improve their bottom line.
Do research and be prepared

Before seeking out an executive-level sponsor in a prospect’s organization, research the company, its industry and its competitors.  Know the business issues confronting the company.  Understand its competitive environment.  Gather as much information as possible from its website, press releases, industry publications and resources such as Hoovers.

Once the critical business issues facing the prospect are understood, develop a sales presentation that focuses on how your company can address those issues.  Then seek out an executive-level contact.

Make your case and ask for sponsorship

By doing the appropriate homework and presenting a clear case for a solution, the executive will pay attention. This person’s sponsorship is important for this process to work because they have the clout to garner the resources needed and the authority to make budgetary decisions.  This is key.  The evidence presented on how similar companies have been helped, as well as research on the company and its business challenges have demonstrated a serious executive-worthy message. Now it’s time to deliver the goods.  This requires obtaining confidential information that will only be available if a sponsor clears the way.

Conduct a client assessment

Asking for sponsorship is seeking permission to perform an assessment of the current state and practices related to your company’s product or service.  For example, if your company sells supply chain software, the prospect’s current supply chain process and tools would be evaluated against best practice process and tools.  Performance would be compared and gaps would be identified, which if closed, would make the new supply chain faster, cheaper and better by improving revenue and/or reducing cost.

The sponsor provides access to the people and information needed to perform the assessment.  In addition, by granting permission, the sponsor is now invested in the assessment’s outcome.

Build a business case (more than ROI)

The information uncovered in the assessment provides objective data about where the prospect is today.  This is the evidence needed to develop a business case in support of the sales proposition.  A business case is more than a simple ROI. The business case identifies baseline metrics (where they are today), the improvement that is possible and the value of closing the gap. The amount of improvement that is possible and the value of that improvement is defensible because of the measurable results achieved for other similar companies.

A business case incorporates all of the costs of implementation including sometimes expensive and elusive costs associated with change and change management. This type of thorough evaluation creates a credible total cost of ownership discussion (TCO). The end result will produce an accurate, cash-flow-positive, TCO-based, business case discussion with an executive.

Consider for a moment what a powerful tool this is.  While competitors are doing demos showcasing features and benefits, you are analyzing the company’s own business data and identifying how your solution can improve their bottom line. Needless to say, the business case provides compelling support for the sales proposition.   Clearly showing the financial value of your offer demonstrates an understanding of the issues at their core.

A carefully prepared, well-researched, financially driven strategic sales pitch will help close sales.  But it can’t be done without the help of an executive-level sponsor.  That is why it is worth the research and effort to earn that person’s support.  An executive sponsor is the person who has the ability to make resources available, the authority to make a buying decision and the motivation to work with a company that understands the real issues that must be addressed.

Jeff Koser is president and owner of Selling to Zebras, a sales acceleration software company.  The SFA software helps clients to bridge the gap between low or plateaued sales and dramatic sales improvement.  Jeff has more than thirty years of experience in sales management, solution selling, voice of the customer and sales enablement.  He is the lead author of the award-winning book, Selling to Zebras, HOW TO CLOSE UP TO 90% of the BUSINESS YOU PURSUE, FASTER, MORE EASILY and MORE PROFITABLY and the recently published, Selling to Zebras The Untold Story, for salespeople.


"Jeff Koser's article was originally published in SOLD magazine, a monthly digital sales magazine for sales professionals."