Today's post is by LaVon Koerner, chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm.
Your first meeting with an executive defines you and your company. You get one chance to make your pitch. It will either set you on a path toward mutual benefit and profitability or lead you to unanswered phone calls and being pushed lower in the organization -- or even out the door.
Making your first meetings with executives productive and engaging is one of the most important things you can do to dramatically improve your sales. So how do you meet their great expectations and ensure you’re providing a valuable encounter every time?
What Executives Don’t Want to Hear
Perhaps it’s easier to start with a couple of specific examples of what executives in today’s marketplace don’t want from salespeople:
- They don’t want to be asked questions that they believe you should have known the answers to before you set up a meeting with them.
- They don’t want to invest their valuable time in educating you on their business.
When either of these expectations is violated, the salesperson is instantly devalued by the executive and in danger of being dismissed.
Given the amount of information readily available today, these executive expectations are reasonable. Sadly, old habits often die hard. Salespeople are still apt to drone on with their pet list of questions that always seemed to work for them in the past.
I’m not advocating that you stop asking questions. Rather, I suggest using a different type of question, which you may find more difficult to formulate; it is harder to ask the right question than to find answers to the wrong questions.
How to Approach Meetings with Busy Executives
Executives are busy, but they always have time for a value-rich discussion that takes their mind to new places and reveals new ideas that could enhance the success of their organization. But just as executives don’t want us to go to on school them, we don’t want them to go to school on us. There has to be a fair exchange of value in which neither party feels taken advantage of.
The best approach is to set up a value exchange with consultative discussion through the implementation of high-gain questions. Simply stated, a high-gain question is an approach through which a sales professional gives before he or she takes. It is a way of asking a question that provides new value to the executive first but then closes with an open-ended question, enabling the executive to give value in return. These open-ended questions, due to their enlightening or compelling content, create the experience of thought leadership.
Here’s an example of a traditional open-ended question:
“Given the current economic forecast, it appears that the economy will not be growing at a pace that will be helpful in making your own accelerated growth rate. Given that gap, how is your organization going to compensate and offset the predicted slow economic growth?”
Now let’s take that same question and turn it into a high-gain question (notice the “give” before the “take”):
“Given the current economic forecast, it appears that the economy will not be growing at a pace that will be helpful in making your own accelerated growth rate. Given that gap, we have researched what different organizations in your industry are doing under these adverse economic conditions. Some have announced cutbacks in their expenses and the cancellations of any acquisitions and new market expansions. We have also found one that has decided to capitalize on the economic situation by getting funding to accelerate its activities to steal market share during these tough economic times while others are vulnerable. In studying these two very different approaches, we feel the second approach appears to be the wisest move for the following reasons. [Share reasons here, and ask the open-ended question after.] How has your organization decided to operate during these difficult times?”
When a high-gain question is asked, the customer’s thinking patterns are disrupted and become open to new ideas and different conclusions. This allows for an unusual, new conversation that the customer has not had with your competitors. Both parties walk away from the conversation a bit smarter and with mutual respect.
This type of discussion is seen as time well spent and results in both parties wanting future discussions. These future discussions will continue as long as each one is a fair and balanced value exchange. The formulation and planning of these questions will further your engagement with the customer in a business-advisor relationship, and it is the basis of long-term relationships in this busy, fast-paced world in which we all must do business today.