Your buyers from the top C-level echelon to lowly subordinates will stick by you if you continue to meet their needs. Likewise, they will switch to competitors if you don’t. This means, if you want your competitors’ accounts, get to the c-level leaders and show them you can satisfy their needs and wants.
Two notes of caution:
1. Never believe for a moment that by working with the subordinate/s only, you’ll maintain your business or break into your competitors’ accounts. Sure, you’ve done it before, but you were at the mercy of the subordinate to deliver your message and keep the top dogs satisfied. Once your competitor breaks into the C-Suite, or vice versa, you into theirs, the account is open for grabs.
2. Price is never the issue at the top. Cost, affordability and profitability are. Price is what the lower echelon use to beat you up.
Therefore, to maintain your accounts is you must be constantly probing the top echelon as well as the lowly subordinates about needs and desires. This requires two very crucial tasks.
Ask Probing Questions
Most will say something like, “How is everything going?” or “Anything additional I can do for you?” or some version of either. The typical answer from the buyer is, “Yes, everything is OK.” Or “No, we’re all set right now.” They just want to close the conversation and move onto what they were doing. It’s just like seeing an acquaintance and they ask “How you doing?” “Fine, good or good good,” are the usual answers.
A better approach is to assume there is a problem or a hidden desire. You will be right more often than not. Then, probe with questions like, “What about such-and-such? What would you like to see done differently?” or “What is the best solution you can imagine?” or “How could it be improved?” or some version of these. Most sales people don’t like to ask these, especially with their existing accounts because they are afraid that what the buyers say, want or need, they may not be able to handle. “Price” is the one most people fear to hear, and buyers know this. They also know it’s a great way to end the conversation and move back to what they were doing. But there are many more needs and desires out there not being surfaced because of the fear of probing deeper. Unfortunately, these unmet needs and desires are what leave your clients open to competitors and theirs to you. A simple statement such as, “OK, I hear you about price, but what else?”
So the first crucial task is to suck it in and ask these probing questions and listen. Keep probing deeper. Get them to let it all out. Once it’s all out on the table, you can start determining a plan to improve the situation. Start by asking another tough question, “What would you suggest I do to improve this or clean it up?” Again, just listen. If they say, “Price,” just say, “OK, what else?” Give them a chance to think about it and no matter what they say, you don’t have to agree to anything. You just want to know how the buyer wants the problem solved so you can go to your boss and figure out what to do.
As for our favorite, “They just want it cheaper.” Ask, “How much cheaper?” And, by the way, how would s/he want you to do it? Then, just listen. Don’t argue or try to justify. Then ask, “What else would you like to see different or changed or improved upon?” Again, listen and don’t retort.
What you will hear is what it will take to keep your account buyers happy. Figure out how to give them what they want, not what you’d like them to have. Likewise, if you want to steal your competitors account, use the same questioning and listening process.
Get to the Leaders
The second crucial task is making it a priority to get to the top echelon executives, the leaders, General Managers, CEO, Executive VPs etc., and regularly probe. These C-level types are looking at the situation in a totally different way than subordinates. Subordinates want to minimize effort, not change, do as little as possible and get rid of you. So they will say everything is OK or they just want it cheaper.
C-Suite management on the other hand is going to tell you what they need or want to increase profitability, grow revenue, beat competition, and survive into the future. However, you’ve got to make it a mandate to meet with these people as often as possible and ask the questions mentioned above. Their answers will be very different but very revealing. Here, you will have to be very careful to not push products and features, but to listen and offer suggestions only. You want to test their feelings. Eventually you’ll want to unfurl solutions – solutions that you’ll have to think about and create with the help of your management. So don’t be so anxious to have all the answers immediately.
Now this takes more effort and more visits which you probably don’t want to do. And if you think you know what they are going to say and therefore you can skip these meetings, this is a gigantic mistake. Even if you do, they don’t know you do. So how can they assume you will take care of their future?
You like most just want to sell your product or service and move on – to what, I don’t know. But if you can be a solution provider to top management, and they see, touch and feel that you are, you will own that account and competition will never crack it. Conversely, be a product / service vendor and you become one-of-the-bunch, working in the trenches with all the competitors arguing price.
So in summary, get to the powerful people – the leaders, the C-Suite, General Managers, CEO, Executive VPs etc. and ask probing questions to reveal needs and wants. Then try to create solutions, if you can. If not, realize this account is vulnerable and you can only be one-of-the-bunch, no matter what you think of yourself.