Do You Know The Way to the Top? How an Effective Sales Process Leads You to the Decision Makers

Blog138_ManageSalesProcessWhy do prospects who seem interested, and a good fit for your solution, suddenly disappear?

The meeting went well. Your prospect hung on your every word. She asked for a proposal. Then, when you follow up, as requested, she can’t be reached. What went wrong?

Did you misread her interest and the buying signs?

A sales manager, who’s running a sales team of 20 reps, asked me this question the other day.

His team filled a multi-million dollar pipeline of so-called viable prospects, but it struggles with follow-up and can’t seem to convert the opportunities. The pipeline’s stuck. He’s stuck.

I probed him and learned he had a great marketing message, a great product, world-class service and a lot of fairly consistent interest from prospects. But no matter what he did, the team didn’t close.

So, we dove into his pipeline for a closer look.

I pulled one of his rep’s opportunities where he had had three meetings, one of which was a product demo. His main contact was the vice president of human resources. While he was interested in the rep’s solution, he wanted to know about product integration with other HR systems.

He staged a demo before two technical people from the IT department. Following that meeting, he prepared his final proposal, mailed it, and moved this opportunity toward the bottom of the sales funnel with a sixty-day closing date.

That was four months ago. The rep has since moved the closing date twice in the funnel─a major red flag.

I asked the sales manager if his rep was talking to the final decision maker. “No not directly, but the final decision maker was involved in the process,” he believed. After further probing, the rep didn’t know who made the final decision.

The rep also assumed he knew what the HR director wanted to solve, but after more probing, the assumption was based only on the rep’s knowledge of his own products and services. Frankly, this sale died early in the process at the top of the sales funnel.  No one had the insight to call the time of death.

The sales manager didn’t have a sales conversion problem at all.

That was only a symptom of his larger problem.

What he had was an ineffective sales process. The larger problem.

The rep didn’t do anything wrong; this was how he was taught to sell. Like most product-driven salespeople, he spent time talking with technical buyers who had no real authority to make a decision. Worse yet, once you start there, these lower-level influencers become roadblocks in the sales process.

At this point, it would be a big risk to go around the technical buyers. Unfortunately, salespeople often spin their wheels with the wrong people who can’t make decisions.

A personal example: When my son first got his driver’s license, I told him we’d buy him a car. For months before we were ready, he searched out all of the cars he was interested in and spent time down the street at the Ford dealership talking to salespeople.

He had a stack business cards stuffed in his wallet and had even got one of the salespeople to take him on a test drive in a new Mustang. He told the sales rep he would bring his parents to finalize the deal.

The sales rep called my son at the house numerous times to make sure we were coming. A week later my wife and I showed up. When my wife, the economic buyer, saw the shiny, red Mustang with wheels that were half the price of the car─she said no way!

For the Ford dealer rep, his sale just became more complex.

Symptoms vs. Problems

Like the car sales rep, our sales manager earlier wanted to improve his close ratio, but that wasn’t the real problem. It was only a symptom. The real problem?  His reps were meeting with people at the wrong levels, didn’t understand the prospect’s decision-making process, and didn’t understand the issues or vision for a solution.

What the vice president of human resources was doing was vetting multiple vendors to present a few options to her boss. If you were the vice president of human resources, would you have introduced the rep to your boss?  Probably not yet. Why would you take the risk? Introducing the wrong vendor could be career mistake.

So as a salesperson, how do you get around this level of buying influence? After all, if you are selling employee benefits, you need to work with human resources. If you’re selling software, you need to work with IT. Your solution will have the greatest impact on their jobs.

You can overcome these potential roadblocks.

Head to the Top

Begin higher in the organization. This declarative may be obvious, but you can’t easily get there if you’re already at the lower level in the organization. Enter higher, without trying to sell anything, and focus on what is top of mind, and you’re on your way.

You need to develop a compelling reason, valid business reason, for a C-Level decision maker to want to meet with you. Developing a strong value proposition based on an issue he or she is facing is the best way. I have developed an e-Book, How to Write a Killer Value Proposition and Win New Business, which will walk you through a process and improve your odds of getting in at a higher level.

Once at the decision maker location, the objective is to uncover the problem and highlight the implications of not solving the problem, then get the C-Level decision maker to refer you down so you can involve all of the decision makers. This up-down direction shows the others the importance of the problem to be solved and reinforces your direct link to the top.

Take Control of Sales Process

If you follow an effective sales process, your team will know not to waste time with those without decision making authority. They will have done their homework, deep and wide. Before you enter the top of a prospect organization, you will have completed a major research effort to understand its decision-making process and what players will be involved.

You need to position yourself as an expert and lead the process. You need to discuss the importance of getting everyone involved who will weigh in on the final decision.

Use Other Advisors as Leverage

From your research, you will have learned about other advisors the prospect company works with, as their accounting firm or law firm. Using LinkedIn, you can identify the number of degrees of separation that exist. Then you can get to work on making the right connections.

As an example, I was recently stuck with the vice president of human resources who wouldn’t bring in senior people to weigh in on the decision. I discovered I had a contact within the law firm partner which handled the account.

I reached out to my contact, explained my situation, and asked for helped, emphasizing how delicate I needed to be in going over someone’s head. I asked if he could reach out to his senior contact and put in the good word for us.  So far, so good.

Then I called the HR person, asked him not to shoot the messenger, but shared that we work with the same law firm his company does, and my contact there mentioned our name to one of his senior people, discussing some of the work we had done for other clients. I was open and honest and told the HR executive I wanted to give him a heads up in case the senior executive mentioned conversation.

I made the sale.

Five Step Takeaway

So, what have we learned from this post?

  1. Don’t mistake problems for symptoms; solve the problem.

  2. Build and follow an effective sales process

  3. Do meticulous research; be relentless

  4. Work your prospect company from the top down

  5. Relay on peer advisors to leverage entry

Napoleon Hill, the great sales master, once said:  “The ladder of success is never crowded at the top.”

And that’s why there’s room for you.

Your confidence and reputation as a subject matter expert positions you to open a C-suite door.

Follow your process. Find success.


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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