The Green Sheet Online Edition
February 14, 2011 • Issue 11:02:01
The power of selling at the top
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GS book reviews
Selling to the C-Suite
By Nicholas A.C. Read
and Stephen J. Bistritz
© 2010 by Nicholas A.C. Read
and Stephen J. Bixtritz
Paperback, 238 pages
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GS book reviews
Selling to VITO:
The Very Important Top Officer
By Anthony Parinello
© 2010, 1999, 1994
by Parinello Inc.
Hardcover, 205 pages
#dcf_Two recently published books, Selling to the C-Suite by Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz, and Selling to VITO: The Very Important Top Officer by Anthony Parinello, tout the need to target sales efforts to top-level executives in today's challenging economic climate.
As Neil Rackham (author of SPIN Selling) wrote in the foreword for Selling to the C-Suite: "The new role of the CEO is to create value at the organization's boundaries, to radically change relationships with suppliers, customers and alliance partners. This creates significant opportunities for the few salespeople who can relate at an enterprise level with their customers."
Both books detail ways in which to establish relationships with chief executive officers and other top (C-level) executives, as demanding and time-challenged leaders whose companies' futures ride on their judgment and actions.
C-level executives have perhaps always been the most productive starting point for sales efforts, given that it's usually an executive making the final decision on purchase of a big-ticket item.
As Parinello pointed out in Selling to VITO, "VITO always has the veto power on whether or not stuff actually gets bought or gets kicked out the door."
Selling to VITO, as the title suggests, advocates selling the CEO of a company on a product or service first so that the CEO becomes an early ally.
Much of Parinello's advice could be applied to approaching any high-ranking executive.
Know your target
Selling to the C-Suite covers selling to the "most relevant executive," who may not be the CEO.
"It can cost you the deal if the guy at the top isn't the relevant executive," the author wrote. "The relevant executive is the one who most feels the pain, most owns the problem you can solve, and will most richly reward you for providing a solution."
The books recommend conducting plenty of research before making the initial sales call. Selling to the C-Suite quoted one sales professional as saying, "So when my competitors meet the same executive and ask, 'What are your top three business objectives?' I can be in there saying, 'I understand your top three business objectives are X, Y and Z; which one is most important to you and why?'"
Given CEOs' focus on real-world business issues, the sales pitch should highlight measurable, attention-grabbing outcomes, according to Selling to VITO. Parinello boiled down CEOs' top priorities to increasing revenue, increasing efficiencies and effectiveness, cutting or containing costs, and staying in compliance with governmental regulations.
But how do you get your "foot in the door"? Results of a survey among C-level executives conducted for Selling to the C-Suite revealed the following as the most effective ways to gain access (in order of importance): a recommendation by someone from within the company; a referral from someone outside the company; a letter or email, followed by a telephone call; a cold call by telephone; and a contact at an off-site event.
Parinello depicts an assertive, detailed process for getting a CEO's attention, down to the level of language to be used in letters, emails and phone calls and the order in which these types of contact should occur. Every form of communication must immediately acknowledge the CEO's primary business objectives, express solutions in clear terminology and respect the CEO's time constraints, according to Parinello.
Advise with confidence
Parinello also describes at length the typical characteristics of a CEO, including a tendency to be direct, driven and dynamic. He suggests that, to sell to a "VITO," a salesperson must possess the same attributes so he or she can demonstrate what he termed equal business stature.
After providing an extensive list of VITO characteristics, Parinello asks readers to evaluate how many of the characteristics they can claim: "If your answer was two or fewer, give this book to someone else. Not only should you not be selling to VITO, you probably should not be in sales."
Both books recommend a "consultative" style for building and maintaining relationships with executives.
Read and Bistritz, in Selling to the C-Suite, assert that what "the executive is looking for is a Trusted Advisor relationship with salespeople who can speak on the executive's terms, discuss the same metrics and add value to the thought process."
Despite the similarity of theme, the tone of each book differs. Read and Bistritz drew upon "a combined 60 years of experience selling on corporate front lines around the world," but also "commissioned groundbreaking research" to support their concepts.
Parinello's strategies for Selling to VITO are based on his experiences of selling to CEOs of small, mid-market and "mega F-100 global enterprises," as well as "teaching and mentoring of more than 2.5 million salespeople." His style is anecdotal and conversational.
Taken individually, or collectively, the books offer insights to salespeople confident enough to engage with key decision makers.
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