Archives For Economic Buyer

This morning I will be presenting to a sales team in DC on the topic of moving up (Accessing Decision Makers)…if you read the recent Harvard Business Review article I posted last week, you know that calling on influencers is largely a waste of time in the new economy of selling.  Not that you want to disregard IT relationships, but IT is a maintenance organization, not a strategy group, and getting new projects funded depends on the needs of change agents in the organization.

While reviewing my material this morning I realized – I don’t really mention character in the slides I’ve put together.  Did you know that most people are hired for their skills, but fired for character issues?  Don’t gloss over this statement too quickly because, in my opinion, this has a lot to do with the success you have in trying to move up to more strategic meetings with those making the financial decisions.  In my book, From Vendor to Adviser, I cover several essential character traits, that when not present, lead to all kinds of attitudes and behaviors unbecoming to the effective adviser.  I recommend you study these if you are looking to grow your business.  They apply to customer service, management, selling, and certainly moving up in the sales process.  Enthusiasm is one of them, and one that is lacking as I talk with so many sales people.

What is Enthusiasm?

You might think I am talking about drumming up some excitement, or pasting a smile to cover up an angry, disgruntled feeling you have from that last contract you lost.  The other misconception is that enthusiasm requires a certain set of circumstances…nothing could be further from true.

Enthusiasm is a condition of the soul.  It comes from a clear sense of personal mission.  Simon Sinek talks about starting with the WHY.  This WHY is the thing that drives this person, and because they love their WHY, they are enthusiastic.  The problem is, so many people have lost their WHY – they have no purpose.  You need this to succeed.

Enthusiasm is the opposite of apathy.  So if your work experience is unfulfilling and has become “just a J.O.B.” you may find you’ve lost your passion.  This might be considered a circumstance, but it’s not, it’s state of mind.  Perhaps you’ve taken your eyes off of serving the customer, and so work has become, well…work.  It’s not fun any more.  You might have a company that doesn’t really care about serving the customer, and so they treat you like a contractor.  This is enough to kill anyone’s enthusiasm.  My advice here is to move on.  There may be a shortage of jobs out there, but not in the high-tech sales world.  Every one of my clients is looking for great sales people.  But don’t call me for a job lead until you’ve renewed your vision and recaptured your enthusiasm.  The apathetic sales person is bound to fail.

Signs of Apathy

People know enthusiasm when they see it. You can’t fake good character, and since enthusiasm is a character trait, it must be developed.  If you are faking it, chances are you come over as overbearing or aggressive in your sales approach.  You may also come over as nervous or even fanatical in your presentations.  Without true enthusiasm, the light in your eyes seems dim, and you tend to rely on sales tactics more than a sincere passion to help.  The executive who notices this, will likely pass on anything you have to offer.

True Enthusiasm Doesn’t Care

When you love what you do and your passion is strong, you know your offering is good.  There is a confidence there that cuts through the bureaucracy of the traditional business.  Nervousness goes away because you know you have something worth gold and you love it.  When a client says, “No”, you move on, knowing there are bigger opportunities around the corner.  When people buy what you have to sell, your enthusiasm grows because you know your products are services are going to help that person acheive their goals, and you personally get satisfaction out of helping them achieve their goals.  Money is simply a reward for helping them get where they need to go.

Building Enthusiasm

You build enthusiasm.  No one else can do it for you – it’s all your responsibility.  You can choose to dwell on the problems, or you can fix them and move on to better things.  Enthusiasm requires a renewal of vision and passion.  But it also requires that you fix those things that weigh you down.  Bitterness, discontent, unreconciled relationships,…these all cause stress.  And where there is stress, enthusiasm and passion get crushed.  When I speak to a group, people often come up and say, “You love what you do, I can tell…you’re passionate about your topic…”  It’s true, I do love what I do.  But my enthusiasm requires that I keep short accounts, focus on the areas I am passionate about, and keep my client’s needs  at the center of my purpose.  As soon as I started focusing on money, tactics, and sales manipulation, my enthusiasm dies.

First Things First

So today I’ll be presenting on accessing buyers – decision makers.  But without character (and in this case, enthusiasm), the strategies I share are all meaningless.

© 2012, David Stelzl


I love Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing.  In my recent webinar on Gaining Access to Decision Makers, I recommended reading this in the context of demand generation events and selling with assessments.

Gaining permission requires demonstrating value.  In last week’s demand generation event we targeted business owners from the start (rather than going to IT).  Normally I recommend meeting with IT people to better understand the business before calling into higher level people…but in this case we set the stage to make this work.

We arranged for this event to be held at an upscale location, I was brought in as a speaker (Speaking on the trends of Data Security and Cybercrime), and a follow up program was designed to show business leaders in the local community what is going on with cybercrime and how local businesses are under fire.  Our goal was to show them, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, that security is no longer a custodial issue, but that companies must have someone at the executive level overseeing this and reporting right to the top!  This was a perfect segue into a business-level technology conversation.  No products,  no tech talk, and no Power Point slides discussing the hosting company’s profits, employees, or certifications.  Instead, we created a reason for attendees to meet us.  45 out of 50 signed up for an assessment…this is a powerful statement as to the value we delivered.

Business leaders don’t have time for sales pitches, product slinging sales calls, or interruption type marketing campaigns.  They do have time to hear about trends that affect their business, and education relevant to the success of their company.  This requires permission, and permission requires demonstrable value.

© 2011, David Stelzl

In just 60 minutes of presentation, these attendees were willing to stay and talk.  They received books, signed up for assessments, and looked forward to our next visit, a visit that would take place in their office, with a focus on their risks.  They wanted to know how to ensure that global cyber thieves would not victimize their businesses.    In fact, we gained permission to see them three times!  The first meeting was at the luncheon.  From there they agreed to invite us to their office, and finally, we had permission to see them a third time to deliver our findings from the promised assessment.  If a sales person can’t close business with three executive meetings and compelling justification from an assessment, a new sales person is needed.

Custodians are important.  Imagine how your office would look if no one ever cleaned up, took out the trash, vacuumed, or wiped off tables after an all day board meeting.  It would be disgusting.  Things would get so bad after just one week that you would probably move your office back home.

Influencers in the sales process are like custodians.  In fact, in the CISSP study guide, security administrators are referred to as data custodians.  They manage the data, keep systems up and running, and provide maintenance type activities on the systems that house and process data.  All of this is important.

But let’s not confuse these important custodial responsibilities with strategic decision-making and liability.  While it may be easy and even informative to meet with custodians, it does not lead to big business deals in most cases.  Stop positioning yourself as a peer to custodians, and start thinking of yourself as an adviser to those leading the business.  If you don’t have what it takes to advise, get on a program to change.  Become an adviser.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Here’s  a great question on Getting Your Message Out – becoming an Adviser, from this week’s Making Money with Security workshop (Virtual).


You gave some excellent information on what to say and do when you are in front of the executives/asset owner…when communicating by email and by other electronic means…

You mentioned that sound bites alone are ineffective and how you throw most of your marketing mail away. I agree with both of these statements, so with that said, do you have any suggestions for what I can do to increase our chances of getting our marketing messages heard/read?


Content is the key.  When your goal is to sell, people feel sold.  When your goal is to educate, people feel helped.  The key is in finding things that are helpful to the buyer – the asset owner.  Most asset owners are not technologists, so educating them on products, or anything technical, sounds like an opportunity for demotion.  Expect to be delegated back down to IT.

Sound bites, or statistical data may be somewhat interesting, however it must be presented from a source they care about.  If the Wall Street Journal publishes it in their daily paper, chances are it appeals to business people.  However, statistics, as we stated in class, lead to judgmental thinking, not emotional buying.  So while, sound bites do build credibility, don’t expect them to lead to a sale.  Use them as attention grabbers only.

In my book, The House & the Cloud, I talk about “Idea Emails”.  These are ideas that I present to prospects to create knowledge gaps.  “I have some ideas I’d like to share with you on how to make sure your employees are not stealing company secrets”.  Idea emails are one example of creating curiosity through a knowledge gap that potentially helps a client/prospect with something they would care about.  Other messaging might be “How to” posts on your blog – how to educate the organization on safe data handling or presenting “Seven things your employees need to know before traveling with company laptops”.  This type of education can be written to appeal to asset owners in a non-technical, business format.

In summary, create content, use knowledge gaps to generate interest, and then educate with your content.  This education should lead to action using services your firm provides.  As an example, my wife was reading a document on the harmful effects of amalgam fillings (dental).  The document began describing all kinds of symptoms people complain of every day.  The article went on to explain the importance of removing these fillings using a special process that prevents serious side effects including possible fatality from poisoning.  The doctor writing included several case studies showing how patients had been improperly diagnosed and treated for major diseases including MS.  He described the procedure for removal and then recommended using other synthetic metal-free materials.  Of course, both my wife and I had the metal removed from our mouths.  While we did not use the doctor who wrote the article, we would have, had he been local and had he called on us.

© 2010, David Stelzl

Photo by Hannah Stelzl

Companies choose whom they do business with. Executives choose their advisers while IT has theirs.

Who will the IT person choose to do business with?  Someone they enjoy eating lunch with, someone they can control, or perhaps someone who becomes a source of sound education.  Who in your organization can meet the last demand?

How about executives?  They have more at stake.  They require unique insight, people who understand the big picture, who can look beyond their current product set and offer ways to move the business forward.  They come up with creative alternatives, build on insights they’ve gained from competitive accounts or like industry leaders.  These are the people who offer greater value than just the product feature set and who will earn the long-term trust of those they sell to.

© 2010, David Stelzl

Illustrations by David Stelzl

Do you create business or just fulfill it?  Look at your pipeline…where do your deals mostly come from?  Referrals?  Referrals are good, however, there just aren’t enough of them.  When the economy is weak, companies cut back on expansion, decision making moves higher up the ladder, and sales cycles lengthen.  Only those who are able to create business can experience long term success in this type of market.

The 5% Rule

Michael Bosworth, back in 1995, wrote, “Assume 5% of the people you might call on are in the market for some new thing (in our case,  new technology), the remaining 95% don’t perceive they have a need” (Paraphrased of course).  But they do have needs, they just don’t know what they are, or feel they are impossible to solve right now.  The average sales person is going after that 5% group, and it’s crowded!  The competition is fierce.

Creating business

Creating business means, going after the 95%.  The creative sales person gains access to buyers who don’t know they have a need, and then demonstrates that need with compelling justification and a track record to prove they can fulfill what they’re talking about.  Security is just one area that is predictably needed in every account.  Most companies are doing the wrong things, and security issues are going unaddressed.  But how do you find these people, and what does it take to move them forward?

The Value Proposition

We’ve been lied to.  We’ve been lulled into thinking people want great technology features; the latest gadget (Unfortunately, the latest gadget sells for about $500 and is made by Apple, which you probably don’t sell).  But they don’t.  At least the economic buyers don’t (well, maybe they do want an iPad).  They want strong businesses, profitable businesses, efficient businesses, and secure businesses.  The “value proposition” must focus on real business value, and that means you’re addressing real business issues.  As you’re planning for next year, start thinking through your message, your selling strategy, and what you say in your meetings, especially those early meetings while introducing your company.  Is your message unique? Compelling? Interesting?  And are you getting in front of people who can make a decision?  Are you getting demoted back down to non-decision makers after a first meeting?  Be honest with yourself.  If you’re answers are, “Not very unique” and “Not associating with higher level managers”, your messaging and positing are likely central to the problem.  From there, you need a way to reach the 95%.  And that means getting the message out.  Events, social networking, educational presentations,…there are numerous ways to do it.  So, bottom line; first you must have a message built to stimulate action, then a means to take it to market.  This is the foundation of your 2011 sales strategy.

© 2010, David Stelzl

Having just completed another Profit Program Workshop in the mid-atlantic – some thoughts…

  • Market Strategy – what is it you are marketing?  Look at your collateral, your website, your events, webinars…is there a focus or are you just putting stuff out there?  Focus!  Focus on who you are targeting (your buyer), focus using media they’ll receive, and know what they’ll want to see and how often.
  • Marketing is building a brand.  Seth Goden talks about permission – gaining permission to market first, then providing content they care about and will agree to receive.  From there you increase permission levels as you provide more value.  Dan and Chip Heath add the need to “Make it Stick”.  One idea they offer is to target through success stories.  People like stories; can you tell the story in a compelling manner?
  • Pricing is always an issue.  Profit or non-profit – your projects go either way depending on how you price it.  If you’re losing money fixed pricing, you don’t know how to price.  If you offer T&M your selling like an amateur (You’re leaving money on the table or taking a loss on the project).  You take all the risk.
  • Sales people don’t call high, mostly because they lack self esteem.  This isn’t uncommon…and executives will keep you in your place as long as you allow them to.  “Power buys from Power”, comments Michael Bosworth.  Present a powerful (knowledgeable) presence and you’ll gain the relationships you need to sell.
  • You can’t advise if you don’t know what business leaders need you to know.  Read, study, get passionate about helping and consulting with clients.  Product sellers are yesterday’s breed – you can’t make it in this world (this economy) with another widget that promises faster throughputs or higher processing speeds.  Who cares?  Someone else’s widget will beat yours tomorrow.