Archives For meeting

IMG_9025“What questions should I ask when meeting with an executive?” This question came up about three times last week during various marketing events, coaching calls, and emails with clients – “Can we put together a list of questions for the sales team to use when talking to executives?”  I usually get this question when talking about Marketing Events and Demand Generation follow up – that’s about the only time I see sales people really engaging with executives in a proactive discovery process.

It feels better to have a list of questions – a list of 5 to 7 questions that can be read from a script, with a place to record answers.  But don’t expect this to actually work.  If it were that simple, sales people would be in front of executives with a list like this all the time.  My experience is, once you pull out the list, you’ll lose your audience’s attention.  One size can’t fit all – and if you need a list, it’s clear that you don’t do this very often.  Imagine pulling out a list to ask your spouse how their day went.  What would they think?  Well, they might wonder if this were a conversation or a project for school?

What Questions Should I Ask?

Instead, I recommend using a framework.  A series of topics that guide the conversation.  This framework has to be second nature – memorized.  This takes some practice.  In my book, The House & the Cloud (available for free as a PDF from my blog sidebar), I provide an example of a security focused discovery conversation.  I start out by exploring things that my client feels are critical to their business.  The heading reads, “What are you trying to protect?”  But the essence of the question goes much deeper – because its not really a question; its a framework.  I am searching for those applications and data repositories that contain highly valuable data.  It might be client data, intellectual capital, or some application that allows the business to work ten times faster than it would if certain work were done manually.

The second line of questioning focuses on threats.  “What would threaten these critical systems?”  This requires some give and take.  The client may not know how to answer this – the sales person might need to explore this with the client, coming up with possible threats based on the business vertical, type of data, cybercrime trends, or current conditions of the business (for instance, on the cusp of some new invention.)  The final area deals with the company’s ability to detect a problem before it’s too late.  This is a shorter question.  At this point, the sales person would have most of the data they need, but would want to know how comfortable this particular “Asset Owner” (as I describe in the book) is with their company’s ability to see into the network.  Don’t confuse this with a technical question about intrusion prevention software.  What you’re looking for here is a clue as to how safe or vulnerable this asset owner (who owns some level of liability) feels with regard to their data and applications.

How Does A Sales Person Learn This?

How does a sales person master this process?  The simple answer is, “training and coaching”.  Unfortunately, at least in this industry (technology sales), companies have substituted product knowledge for sales training.  Knowing your product is necessary, however, product knowledge is not sales training.  The executive discovery process is something that takes practice.  It’s intimidating to walk into a business owner’s or VP’s office.  One bad meeting with a CIO might be the final nail in the coffin for a promising account.  But what if the sales manager were to set aside time weekly, during the sales meeting, to run through a few tips and to have a couple of people practice?  What if it were part of the regular routine to provide new insights and experiences shared by other team members?  Perhaps you could master this skill.

Getting Started

A great conversationalist has a skill – and great sales people need this skill.  When it comes to working with executives, and working through the discovery process at that asset owner level, there is no substitute for having been trained and coached on executive level conversations and interview skills.  Here are three things you can do right now to get started:

1. Read the CIO journal section of the Wall Street Journal – be able to discuss trends such as cloud services, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), social business, and information security, and be able to make application to business.

2. Read the books other executives are reading.  This might require you to ask around – which can’t hurt.  Recent books by Jim Collins are always a good place to start.

3. Practice…look for people in social settings and push yourself to listen and learn from them.  Ask questions about how they got into their profession, what has made them successful, how they would advise a young person entering their field, and what cautions they might give to someone entering that field.  People love to share their war stories.

© 2013, David Stelzl

 

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How will you get to the right people?  This is the question every sales person should be asking and it seems to be the focus of just about every sales training program or methodology.  Several years ago I had been working to get a meeting with a large healthcare organization in the southeast.  Our team had successfully met with the IT people several times and had established fairly good rapport; however, sales were slow in coming and budget seemed to be our primary obstacle.

Our strategy was to land a meeting higher in the organization where perceived business value might move some budget our way.  Finally, I was granted a meeting with the Vice President of Operations.  This person had the authority to approve money and would certainly be central to a successful proof of concept or pilot type project.  Our meeting started with the Vice President showing up late, but we were ready with our list of promising questions and discovery skills.

After an initial greeting and introduction, I launched into my “solution selling discovery process.” Giving me just enough rope to hang myself, our VP prospect answered the first question.  But as soon as I began presenting my follow-up question, he looked over at our IT advocate and roared, “I thought you said these guys had something important to share with us.  So far all I’ve heard are a bunch of open-ended sales questions.  What is the purpose of this meeting?”  How do you recover from that?

There are all kinds of tricks and strategies for getting that meeting at the top. However, in my experience, this is not the real challenge.  The real challenge, which is not adequately addressed in most sales books, is that of building peer level relationships at the executive level.  We have all gotten the “Big” meeting at some point in our lives, but how many are consistently staying at this level after the first meeting?

© 2011, David Stelzl

The Mighty Flip Chart

February 8, 2011 — 2 Comments

I was  speaking in Cancun last week and just before my session started, one of the hotel staff members ushered in a flip chart that I had not requested.  Then a familiar head popped in with a knowing smile.   I really like flip charts.   Sure enough, I did use it!

While white boarding is great for sales meetings, the mighty flip chart stands out as one of the best tools for facilitation.  It’s absent from most training centers and boardrooms these days, and when I do request one, it creates a sudden emergency like ordering a special meal at McDonalds (also something I am known for).

When the chart and stand arrives, I am not surprised if the tripod cross bar is missing – the one that holds the flipchart in place.  Most easels come with them, but they are quickly misplaced, leaving only the tripod, which is now only useful for supporting marketing posters.  Invariably the chart is presented with white board markets, not flip chart markers.  Most don’t know the difference.  Another possible attempt to differentiate results in permanent markers, which are not a great substitute for the mighty flip-chart market!

Why do I like these so much?  Here are several reasons:

1.  Strategy and training both require interaction.  The flip chart allows me to move the working space closer to the audience or meeting attendees, and to angle it in such a way as to allow the audience to view my illustrations or bullet points more easily.

2. Posting notes around the room.  White board space is usually limited and cannot be reorganized.  I especially like the Post-it charts.   Whether training or facilitating strategy, I find that posting key ideas in different colors, and then reorganizing information is extremely helpful.  This really matters when spending an entire day or several days together.  No white board can keep track of this much information.

3. Others may contribute.  When using a white board, things get messy when multiple people contribute.  The organizational abilities of flip chart paper make this much more manageable.

4. Flip chart markers!  I carry my own, so I always have good ones.  White board markers quickly become hard to read, smudged, etc.  Flip chart markers are bold, don’t smear, and look crisp even after a day of moving papers around the room.

5. Permanency.  At the end of the day someone has to keep this information.  When it’s on a white board, you have no choice but to erase or leave it for the next group.  Flip chart paper can be collected, organized and handed to someone to save.  I know there are white boards that print, but most are very small, generating one small sheet of paper for each print; this is useless to a group of 8 or 10 people.

© 2011, David Stelzl

New Rules of Marketing

April 21, 2010 — 3 Comments

If you resell technology, stop wasting joint marketing funds provided by your partners.  Over a billion dollars in unspent funds are reported each year, meaning there is money available, however, dysfunctional marketing campaigns are destroying the channel’s ability to access this money.  Use this money with a well planned marketing strategy and show a return – earn the right to more than your share.  Companies like HP, Cisco, Oracle, Sonicwall, etc. all have funds to support these types of activities.  The goal should be to choose your partners based partly on technology and partly on their willingness and ability to support you as a reseller.  From there, it’s up to you to demonstrate your ability to bring incremental business to the table.  But be careful…

Marketing is different now!  You can’t run an event and advertise “storge UC/Voip, Data Center, or Network Security” and expect decision makers to show up, and you can’t have your local vendor or internal SE be your featured lunch-and-learn speaker.  However, events are a great way to attract higher level audiences if you present the right things in the right way.  Educational based marketing is powerful, and between social media and properly planned events, resellers can demonstrate tremendous value.  This video provides a few minutes of insight on this important subject!

© David Stelzl 2010