It’s a question that comes up a lot, and sometimes we even ask ourselves: How should you approach the c-suite? How do you get the attention and time of that elusive senior person who you need to get onside early and who, ultimately, can approve your deal?
Often, the answer is: you don’t. And you shouldn’t. Let me show you why.
Before we sell, we solve – so who is having the problem?
Often the person who can approve the deal is not the person who actually has the problem that the deal is going to fix.
If you go to the ultimate decision-maker, even the CEO of the business, she or he has hundreds of problems that they’re focusing on. The problem that you can fix may not even be on that list – but somebody in the business does have that problem. Which means there’s a legitimate reason that business needs to buy your product or service.
Imagine two rooms full of prospective buyers. In one of those rooms there are people likely to be affected by a problem that you can solve, but your competitors can also solve it. The other room is full of people who have the problem that only you can solve (or, at least, you solve better). Clearly you want to walk into the second room. You want your sales and marketing people to be talking to the people in that second room.
Yet, many businesses get distracted by the C-Suite audience in room number one.
You have to start with the person who has the problem, not the person who can approve the solution. Go to the person who has the problem, and you’ll get traction. Go to the person who can approve the decision and you may not. This is why Happy Meals have colourful, fun kids’ toys – even though it’s the parents who are buying it.
Identifying your (real) target
What this room analogy is really asking is who the target market is that we ought to be talking to in the first place? This is a critical factor for marketing and for sales to get right in the beginning. We clearly want to understand who it is that has the problem that we can solve and begin with them.
Often in a large business, it’s not the person who ultimately will approve the deal, it’s the person who’ll create the business case for the deal – and that’s who we want to influence. Eventually, of course, we need to have got to that ultimate decision maker. But that’s not who you begin with.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it really is the CEO. But we can’t assume that it’s the most senior person. I’ll give you a quick example:
One of the things that align.me does is to work on sales and marketing alignment. Companies that are frustrated about lack of alignment find what we do attractive. But in our experience, there’s an (almost) equal chance that the ‘problem haver’ will be either the CEO, the Head of Sales, or the Head of Marketing.
Going through all of the deals that we won over the last two or three years, we found a pattern:
- About a third of the deals were initiated by the CEO who got frustrated that the sales and marketing weren’t on the same page
- Another third of those deals came from frustrated marketers who said they just can’t seem to get sales on the same page
- And the other third were frustrated heads of sales who said the same thing about their marketing counterparts
In this example, we clearly need to target all three of those targets.
But it shows that we can never assume who our target is (you know what they say about assuming). Your target may be in a different company or different role than you’ve targeted in the past. Which is why we always want to focus on the problem that we can fix uncommonly well – and those having that problem.
Improve your target practice in 5 steps
The message is clear: Sell to the user buyer, the problem-haver, the ideal target. But this can be easier said than done. Identifying the one (or more) roles that are truly suffering from the problem you solve takes some work. But we believe you can do it in five very serial steps:
1. Be really, really, really clear on what problem it is that you solve better than your competition.
2. Decide on your chosen problem with all major stakeholders – sales and marketing, finance, ops, CEO – and ensure you all agree on the key problem you solve.
3. Make a list of the common characteristics of the kind of business that that problem really affects. Make a long list if you need to – is there a typical business size, location, capital structure, organisational structure that is more likely to experience this problem? What are the traits that really make the problem either turn up or when it turns up, hurt like crazy? Write them all down.
4. Determine what kind of businesses have all of these traits (and that you can easily find).
5. And finally, ask who is the role holder within each of those business types who most has the problem? It’s often a different role type by each business – you might even have as many as 10 segments here.
You don’t need to go straight to the CEO. Do it right, and the person with the problem will lead you to the main decision maker. It’s much easier to get in once you’re invited.
Identifying your chosen problem and target market are some of the very first steps to take when building your sales and marketing plan. If you need a little guidance, we can help – in a room, over zoom, on your own, or on the phone.
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