Selling To Corporate Executives

How well do you understand the challenges that your prospect faces?  Do you present your product or service differently based on the unique perspective of your prospect? 

In this article, we’ll continue with our three-part series on understanding different types of buyers by examining the perspective of the corporate buyer. In this issue, we’ll show you how to apply the same five strategies that we looked at for the entrepreneur to the unique buying agenda of the corporate executive.

Recall that in last article, we mentioned that different types of buyers may have very different reasons, or buying motives, for purchasing the very same product or service. Understanding each prospect’s unique buying motives allows you to present your product or service in the way that your prospect wants to perceive it – which makes it far more likely that your prospect will be willing to listen to you – and ultimately more likely that you’ll make the sale.

It bears repeating that you should never try to “snow” your prospect by just telling them what they want to hear. However, people generally make up their minds in the first few seconds whether or not their time spent with you is going to be valuable. You’ll want to be able to show that you understand their perspective, that you can speak their language and that you really are tuned in to their wants and needs.

With that said, use these strategies as a guide for understanding and communicating with different types of prospects – not as a substitute for genuinely focusing on your prospects and customers as unique individuals, asking the right questions and listening carefully to make the correct recommendations.

Here are the five strategies to help you sell more effectively to corporate buyers:

1. Building Rapport

It’s important to realize that in some respects, many corporate executives have a perspective that is almost the exact opposite of the typical entrepreneur. An entrepreneur’s success often hinges on their ability to forge their own path, try new ideas and implement change quickly. By contrast, many organizations look to their executives to help maintain the status quo. Corporate executives are often paid to ensure that the organization doesn’t deviate from its present course. Their role in many organizations is actually to vet new ideas and slow the pace of change in order to keep the organization from making chaotic changes in direction and focus.

Executives, unlike entrepreneurs, must be also answerable for their actions and decisions. In fact, many executives feel they are constantly trying to balance the interests of four different constituencies – their superiors, their peers, their team and their customers. This perspective illustrates why “teamwork” and “consensus” are so appealing to this type of prospect. Their success depends on their ability to gain approval from peers and superiors and to get “buy in” from the rank-and-file employees as well.

Because they often feel “squeezed from all four sides,” many executives seek ways to strike a balance between their leadership role and keeping a comfortable sense of anonymity. It’s important for them to be involved in major decisions, but they don’t necessarily want to “stick their necks out.” It’s often more prudent for the executive to make decisions by committee so that they aren’t in the position of taking an unpopular stand, or worse yet, taking the full blame for a decision that turns out to be a mistake.

What this means is that while the corporate executive may be charged with the responsibility of finding a product or service that fulfills certain needs for their organization, they’re also going to be looking to satisfy some of their more personal wants. Their position in the company often dictates a personal buying agenda that favors solutions that:

  • Promote teamwork
  • Are mainstream and widely accepted
  • Help them avoid “sticking their necks out
  • ”Are “sensible” or “mainstream”
  • Help the organization “advance steadily”
  • Keep everything on a “safe course”
  • Are predictable and reliable
  • Support and validate their previous decisions

For example, if a corporate executive is purchasing phone service for their organization, they are likely to stick with more conventional and predictable options. Unlike the entrepreneur who might be willing to try a completely new, innovative, Internet-enabled phone system in the hope of gaining more efficiency or substantial savings, the corporate executive is more likely to opt for something that offers a few relatively minor upgrades to the existing system. This is simply because the corporate executive’s best interests are served by making buying decisions that reinforce the path the company is on – not ones that launch the organization on a completely different course. With this perspective in mind, a good bonding statement to use with a corporate executive might be something along the lines of: “My sense is that making the right decision – one that will work for the entire group – is important to you. You may want to get “buy-in” from all the key players and keep your organization advancing steadily. To see if we can help you achieve that, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

2. Positioning your product or service

Before you start describing your product or service, you’ll need to “set the stage” or introduce your product by positioning it as the perfect solution for your individual prospect. The vastly different perspectives that your prospects have often means that you’ll need to develop different strategies for positioning your product. When you’re selling to a corporate executive, be aware that unlike the entrepreneur, radical shifts in direction are not part of this prospect’s universe, because shifts invalidate whatever the executive has worked so hard to sustain. Instead, every new purchase must be justified as one more complementary step, another building block that fits in neatly with all the previous steps and blocks.

With this in mind, you’ll want to position your product or service using phrases similar to these:

  • “Supports what you have already accomplished”
  • “Is not a departure from what you’re doing”
  • “Right in line with the direction you are taking”

An example of a product or service positioning statement: “Our products and services will support what you have already accomplished. These solutions are right in line with the direction your organization is already taking.”

3. Positioning your organization

In order to position your organization as the ideal provider for your corporate prospects, you’ll need to understand that unlike the entrepreneur who answers to no one, the corporate executive feels pressure to choose providers that are acceptable to superiors, peers and subordinates.

Every provider they bring in represents a visible decision on their part that reflects either negatively or positively on them personally. That’s why salespeople who represent small and/or less well-known companies are so frequently disappointed when corporate executives decide to go with “old tried and true” providers with the big names and fabled reputations – the “least risk” vendor scenario. Even if their solutions are sub-par, ineffectual or over-priced, at least they appear to be safe and easily defensible. (This is also one of the reasons that strong brands can breed poor sales skills.)

Despite what you might believe, these decisions often have little to do with features, benefits, price or any of the other conventional issues. Sometimes, it’s strictly a matter of which provider has the best chance of being the most acceptable to everyone involved.

Since it’s rarely prudent for this type of prospect to take an approach that defies consensus, an objection from any direction – peers, superiors or subordinates – can kill your potential sale.

When talking to a corporate executive you’ll want to use phrases like these to describe your organization:

  • “Team players”
  • “Widely accepted”
  • “Mainstream, balanced”
  • “Committed to a team-oriented approach”

For example, here’s a provider positioning statement that you might use when speaking to a corporate executive:

“Let me tell you a little about our company. We are widely accepted within all of our clients’ organizations because we pride ourselves on being team players with a balanced and mainstream approach.”

4. Describing your benefits

The chief benefit that a corporate executive may be looking for is the ability to avoid close scrutiny. Since taking the heat for a bad decision could mean “career suicide,” the corporate executive is likely to want a solution that they won’t have to defend or explain later.

With this in mind, you might want to position the benefits of your product or service in the following terms:

  • “Nothing you have to defend or explain”
  • “Nothing you have to apologize for”
  • “Results everyone accepts”
  • “Outcomes that are widely approved”

Here’s an example of a benefit positioning statement that might appeal to a corporate buyer: “Our product is designed to deliver results and outcomes that everyone in your company can accept – it’s nothing that you will have to defend or explain.”

5. Positioning your price as a true bargain

We mentioned in the previous article that your entrepreneurial prospect wants a price that makes sense in relation to the kind of return they can expect because the money is “coming out of his or her pocket.” The corporate executive doesn’t want to overpay either – but for different reasons.

For your corporate prospect, it’s more a matter of personal credibility. This prospect needs to be seen as a sensible steward of company resources. They need to demonstrate to everyone at the organization that they are conscientious about adhering to the approved budget and that they are making purchases priced within a standard and reasonable range.

Your corporate prospect is likely to be seeking products and services with prices that could be described in terms like these:

  • “Priced within the mainstream”
  • “In line with the industry”

For a corporate buyer, you might position the price of your product or service by saying something like: “Let me stress that it is absolutely in line with the industry and is certainly priced within the mainstream. I’d also like to be sure you know everything it includes…”

In the next article, we’ll finish this series with an in-depth look at the unique perspective of a purchasing manager. You’ll learn how to refine these same strategies to sell more effectively to this type of prospect and you’ll discover why selling to a purchasing manager might require a completely different approach than selling to an entrepreneur or a corporate executive.