Ask any CEO, VP of Sales or Sales Manager…”If you could change just one thing about your sales team, what would it be?” Almost without exception, their response will be…”I want the team to make calls at the executive level!”  If this is what all sales leaders want, then why doesn’t it happen?  The answer is surprisingly simple…fear of humiliation.

The very attribute that makes a sales representative, account manager or business development manager successful is their strong sense of self and healthy ego.  They are not afraid to talk with people they don’t know or to make cold calls.  They are competitive and focused on winning.  They are tenacious and persistent.  But mostly they believe in themselves.  And this is their Achilles heel; that which makes him/her strong is also the same thing that makes them weak.  It is the sense of self strength and it must not be destroyed, or their self confidence will be severely damaged and destroy their power through fear of humiliation. Therefore, a sales representative cannot afford to put themselves in an environment where they are not sure-footed.  And the executive level offices are the most frightening place for most sales reps.

Calling at the executive level forces the sales representative into new and intimidating territory. Executives speak a different language, using business and financial terms and unfamiliar measures of success.  Why would sales representatives put themselves at risk of losing face? Well, of course, they don’t. At least a basic knowledge of business terms and language – business acumen – is needed in order to converse comfortably in the “C” suite environment without being paralyzed by fear.

A conversation at the executive level must have meaning within the first five minutes or the meeting will be abruptly transferred to a lower level within the prospect’s organization. However, if the executive becomes engaged, then he/she will provide the direction the sales representative needs to follow in order to help meet the executive’s business needs  When this happens the executive will personally transfer the sales representative to lower levels in the organization, but with his/her active endorsement. When the executive level is engaged at the outset of the sales cycle, and a specific and disciplined sales process is followed, win rates move up exponentially.

In summary then, the most effective way to support a sales teams in the business-to-business environment is to use training in “business acumen” to eliminate the most significant barrier to success.

Cynthia Lewis is a former Executive and President with Xerox, TELUS and SIRIT. She is currently a Principal of Essence Development Ltd.



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