The prevailing wisdom has always been that you work to get in at the top of your dream client’s organizational chart and work your way down. Many sales managers, sales trainers, and sales gurus that grew up with this idea still hold it as an incontrovertible truth. The idea was that you get in with the person with absolute authority and let them push you downward, that way you are received where you otherwise might not be welcome, and you already had authority in the mix.
But the world keeps turning, with little regard for long held truths.
I have always been agnostic about where you enter your dream client’s organization. If you can enter at the top, you can find your way down into the organization and build and an opportunity. If you find your way in lower in the organization, you can use those relationships to find your way up, and you can gain knowledge that makes you more valuable to executive management.
Here are some ideas to consider about entering at the top.
Do You Know Enough?
One of the main challenges that you face in getting in at the C-suite occurs when you actually succeed. You’ve pursued the C-level executive, and now you’ve got her. But now you have to know enough to know how to create value for her.
In some cases, you may know plenty. You may have done your homework. You might have read enough to know what your C-level executive and her company are trying to accomplish and the challenges they face. But I would argue that in many cases, you don’t know enough specifics, specifics that could easily be obtained somewhere lower in the organization.
The truth is that the greater confidence business acumen you possess, the easier it is for you to create value at this level when you do get in. But it’s also likely that you’ll still have to go and build consensus around a deal, and that can be much more difficult.
Do They Care?
There isn’t a nice way to say it, but some executives within your dream client don’t care about what you sell (even if it’s strategic). Many rely on the members of their teams to be subject matter experts in some areas, and they delegate ownership of those areas to these team members. These are the people that care deeply about what you sell, and although they lack absolute authority, they have massive influence.
You can enter at the top and let your C-level target push you down to their lieutenant. Or you can go to the lieutenant directly. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches, and sometimes one is faster than the other. And it’s just as likely that some lieutenant has the boss’s ear and enough influence to move your deal.
Who Do You Really Need?
If you have the ability to create value for the stakeholders that do care deeply about what you sell and the value you create, do you really need sponsorship from the C-suite?
One of the reasons getting in at the top was so attractive in the past was that if an executive sponsored you down, you were sure to get the time and attention that you needed. What’s changed is that these executives are no longer likely to force their decision on their team members. They want consensus, and they want their subject matter experts to weigh in with their best advice and best decision. The C-suite hopes you have done the ground work.
In a lot of companies, the real authority isn’t found in the C-suite at all. The real question you need to ask yourself is “Who do I really need to create an win an opportunity.” That question isn’t as easy to answer as it once was, and getting in isn’t any easier either.
Do you always enter your dream client companies at the top?
Does that make it easier or more difficult for you to get in?
Does it make it easier or more challenging to create value?
What are the titles of the people that really care about what you sell and how you create value?
Who do you really need to create and win an opportunity?
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