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How to Sell Upstream without Alienating Your Sponsor

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B2B sales reps are so fixated on getting to C-Level that they forget that sales engagement access must be earned, not just taken.

Imagine you are a C-level executive who has uncovered a problem that requires a new product, technology, or service. Because you have many responsibilities, you have decided to entrust the selection process to the manager who is closest to the matter and most qualified to select the correct solution. You instructed this manager to evaluate various B2B solutions and report back to you with recommendations at a future time. This person knows more about the matter at hand than you will ever know, so you have complete confidence that you’ll receive the best options available.

Seems pretty straightforward. You will simply review this manager’s findings and recommendations once the information is gathered, and the two of you will then determine the correct path forward. For the time being, you are free to dedicate your time to your many other duties to ensure the health, viability, and success of the company.

But there’s a problem. Suddenly, you’re receiving calls and emails from vendors who are attempting to “go around” your entrusted manager and “get to power”. Don’t they realize that you know practically nothing about the details of this matter compared to the person you’ve entrusted to manage this department, team, or project for the company?


At the very least, you’re annoyed. At worst, you see these attempts as a breach of trust. If this person can’t be trusted to respect the sales process, what is going to happen when you have a product or support issue once you’re their customer?

Read how ConnectLeader helps companies attain ROI with live conversation automation.

Unfortunately, this happens far too often. Sales reps (and their managers!) are so fixated to “getting to power” that they forget that access to higher levels within the sales engagement process must be earned, not just taken.

There are many ways to earn this access, but I have found that the best way to “buy” access is by demonstrating the business value that my product or service offers. Although this can be done in many ways, I have found that assigning monetary value to the problem at hand works best. If the problem has monetary value, fixing the problem brings monetary reward. Yes, our favorite 3-letter buzzword, R-O-I!

By helping your contact to identify the cost of the problem and the potential reward in fixing it, you become a business asset rather than someone who needs to be managed or ignored. You also arm your contact with hard data that can be translated to dollars, allowing the manager to capture the attention of the C-level sponsor much more easily. The result: you either gain access to power, or at the very least, have the attention of power. (If your company has an ROI calculator, position it as early in the process as early as possible!)

On a side note, although ROI exercises provide great value, they can backfire if the sales rep is too aggressive in assigning value to the potential solution. I find that it’s helpful to be as conservative as possible when assigning items such as ”percentage improvement”, ”sales increase”, ”reduced carrying cost”, etc. (Whatever terms apply to your specific market.) Use phrases like “Does this make sense?” when completing the ROI exercise. A conservative and collaborative approach allows my sponsor to have confidence and ownership in the numbers, making it much easier to sell my solution upstream and get me some sort of access to power.

Oftentimes, you will not gain direct access to power. When this happens, you may still have the question of power covered by knowing you have executive level attention and buy-in. All I need is an answer to the question, “Does your boss buy in to the ROI?”

I just provided this manager with valuable information for their business. I am much more likely to get a straight answer than I would if I had tried the “end around” or spent the bulk of our time together hounding them for a meeting with their boss instead of focusing on their business issues.

Good luck and happy selling!

Reach out to us here at ConnectLeader today to see how the right outbound sales software can help you sell upstream and provide ROI. Simply click here or give us a call at 800-955-5040.

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About the ConnectLeader B2B Sales Blog

The ConnectLeader B2B Sales blog is written to share productivity tips, tools, news, and other information relevant to managers and senior executives interested in B2B sales productivity, demand gen, inside sales, sales operations, and business development issues.

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