Appointments With Sales People Fall Short Of Executive Expectations


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Last Week I wrote about “We Have To Call At The Top,”  suggesting the concept of right level selling.  There are many times when calling at the “C” level is critical for our sales efforts, yet we struggle to get appointments with these executives.  I was interested to read a Forrester Research report on this topic, presenting the executive perspective.  Only 15% of the “C” level executives surveyed felt their meetings with sales people were valuable and lived up to their expectations.  They went further, based on the outcome of the initial meeting, only 7% would accept follow-on meetings.  No wonder they don’t want to see us, we waste their time!

  • The report goes on to look at the reasons sales people fail to meet executive expectations in meetings, several specific areas hit me:
  • Only 27% felt sales people were knowledgeable about their specific business.
  • Only 34% felt the sales person could relate to their roles and responsibilities in the organization, with 38% saying sales people understood their issues and how they could help.
  • Only 34% felt the sales person had relevant examples or case studies to share with the executive.
  • Only 38% felt sales people were prepared for the questions an executive might ask.

Clearly, sales people aren’t “connecting” with executives effectively.  In some ways it’s understandable–if you’ve never been in an executive role before, how do you relate to their roles, responsibilities and issues?  How do you know what to talk to them about, what examples to use, how to respond to their questions?  In a way, the sales person is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  How do you overcome this?

Many organizations try to do this through training–I think training is a key element–but training needs to focus on industry, market, and business training.  In addition to this, I think organizations too often overlook their own executives and their ability to help their own sales people understand the “executive” view.  For example, if you sell software to CIO’s, why don’t you leverage your own CIO to better understand the “real world concerns of CIO’s?”  If you sell to manufacturing execs, why not leverage your own VP of Manufacturing to help you understand the way manufacturing execs think?

The executives in your own organization can help you better understand the perspectives of their peers.  Companies could develop their own “executive training programs” by having the appropriate functional executives in their own organization.  Each functional executive and senior manager should sit down with sales people to help them understand what makes people like them tick.  They can discuss:

  • Their role and responsibility in the organization.
  • How they are measure and how their performance is evaluated.
  • How they measure and manage performance in their function and organization.
  • Key business issues that “keep them awake at night.”  What questions sales people should be asking them.
  • Issues and trends facing their functions.
  • What they look for when they meet with vendors and sales people.  Questions they tend to ask sales people and why they ask them.  Proofs they are looking for from sales people and why they are looking for that information.
  • What sales people can do to conduct a meeting worth their time.
  • Why they would even meet with a sales person in the first place.
  • How to secure an appointment.
  • Why they might delegate sales to a lower level.
  • ….the list can go on.

I guarantee, the issues your own functional executives face are not that much different than those their equivalents in the customers face.  Businesses will be different, strategies will be different, but fundamental issues for the function are likely to be very similar.  These conversations help accelerate the ability of sales people to connect effectively with the customer.  There is are important side benefits to these discussions.  It helps the functional executive to better understand their own sales people and the challenges they face.  Every once in a while, you are also able to leverage functional executives in your own organization to help you meet their counterpart in the customer.

Connecting with executives on the things that matter to them is critical for saless effectiveness.  Are you leveraging your own company’s executives to help you learn how to connect with your customers?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave: the problem you have identified is particularly acute in IT sales. As IT has become embedded in corporate strategy, CIO’s have recognized that job security depends on evolving from focusing on technical competencies to posessing business competencies.

    Opportunity missed for many sales strategists, who are continuing to “train” IT salespeople as techno-geeks with “street smarts.” Beyond that stuff, knowledge is what’s needed. No wonder salespeople aren’t seen as valuable, according to the statistics you’ve shown.

    Clearly, developing stronger business and strategic skills in sales executives is critical for salespeople (I disagree that a salesperson is necessarily at a deficit if he or she hasn’t served as a CXO). In an earlier blog, I recommended an MBA as a ready-made pathway to gain valuable knowledge. Knowledge that sets salespeople apart from also-rans in an increasingly competitive sandbox.

    But an MBA requires resources that are scarce in organizations and in people: time, commitment, and money. So your suggestion to use in-house expertise to get there is outstanding. Why don’t more companies use it? I don’t know, but my guess is that it has to do more with culture than anything else: non-sales executives don’t “want to get their hands dirty” with selling, and see skills development as a unique challenge and responsibility of the CSO. Those companies would be well advised to take up your recommendation.

    A company whose products I sold for many years was a manufacturer of IT hardware for automated data collection. The target buyer? CIO’s, COO’s, and VP’s of Manufacturing Operations. How many times did the company’s own CIO, COO, or VP/Manufacturing meet with the sales organization to share their knowledge? NEVER. A HUGE opportunity missed that sank straight to the bottom line.

  2. I’ve always believed everyone in an organization sells. What better way to leverage the experience of functional executives in a business than to have them help in the development of their sales people–multiplying their impact in selling. Thanks Andy!


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