The conventional sales wisdom has always insisted that a salesperson enter a prospect as high up the organizational chart as possible. The idea behind this approach is that authority to sign a contract is normally found at the higher levels of an organization, and that it is a waste of time to start anywhere else.
Whenever one commits to a single approach, they necessarily cut themselves off from other options that may prove effective. It isn’t always necessary to start at the top, and it isn’t always effective.
It doesn’t matter where you enter an organization, as long as you know what you need and where you need to go.
Entering at the Top
The benefit of starting at the top of the organizational chart is that it is more likely that you are gaining access to the person with the authority to bind the organization to a deal. They can almost always grant access to others within the organization, including the decision-influencers, some of whom may be necessary to actually winning the deal. They have deep relationships within their company, as well as throughout the business community.
The highest titles within a company or organization are also terrific resources for enterprise-wide information. They will understand their company’s strategy, their opportunities and their risks in the marketplace, and the initiatives they are undertaking to remain competitive in an ever-changing and disruptive business climate.
There are also some disadvantages to entering at the top.
Those residing in the boxes at the top of the organizational chart may be harder to reach. Worse still, they may not have (or acknowledge) any dissatisfaction around the area that your product or service is designed to improve. If what you sell is something that creates a strategic partnership with the enterprise, they may also have deep relationships with the current provider that make penetrating the prospect at this level more challenging.
Entering at the Bottom
There are great reasons to enter a company somewhere lower on the organization chart. Chief among them is that this is where the dissatisfaction is often found. Usually, when something isn’t working, those who are closest to it are the first to feel it. The dissatisfaction almost always creates receptivity, making it easier to gain access to the organization.
Even though the stakeholders at lower levels of the company may not have enterprise-wide information, they are extraordinarily good sources of information, and can almost certainly provide you with the competitive information you need to know in order to create value. They can also grant you access to other decision-influencers, and many of them will have influence or authority over other stakeholders in the organization.
The real downside to entering lower is that the person you are meeting with may lack the authority to bind their company to a deal.
More often than not, however, they can unlock access to the authority. And sometimes, even though they may need a signature from higher up the organization chart to bind them to a deal, they are the ultimate decision-maker simply by being the closest to the source of dissatisfaction; they are responsible for the area where the dissatisfaction is occurring.
Moving Up (Or Down)
To be effective, you need to know what you want and where you need to go once you get it, regardless of where you enter.
If you enter at the top of the organizational chart, it is almost certain that you need access to other parts of the organization and those lower on the organizational chart. You need the opportunity to meet with the people closest to the dissatisfaction so that you can develop a solution and a case for change.
Too often salespeople make the mistake of selling the authority alone, failing to develop the dissatisfaction within the organization and failing to include the people who will ultimately be served by the solution in its creation.
If you enter at the bottom of the organizational chart, you need to develop the dissatisfaction and work to understand how a solution may be created. You need access to all of the people within the organization who would be affected by the decision to choose you and your firm to create a solution. Later, after you have won, your success will depend on these relationships.
Ultimately, you need the relationships you have developed at lower levels of the organization to gain access to the authority. It’s almost always easier to create value for the authority when you have already worked to understand the dissatisfaction at the lower levels; having done so allows you to have developed some idea of a solution and the expected return on their investment.
Conclusion: Just Get In.
Just get in. The sooner you get in, the better. If you can access the top of the organization chart, enter there. If you cannot, enter where you can. Wherever you enter, know what you need to do and what you need from the contacts where you entered.
Knowing what you need based on where you enter the organization provides a flexibility to approach, and opens more possibilities for entry points.
Remember, committing to a single approach cuts you off from other possibilities that may be effective; there is never one best way.
1. I am committed to a single approach? Do I always try to enter a company at the same level, regardless of whether or not it is successful?
2. Where else could I enter the organization?
3. Where is the dissatisfaction within this organization found?
4. How do I get access to all of the decision-makers, decision-influencers, and stakeholders who would be affected by the choice to use my product or service?
5. Who would benefit from the improvement my solution could create?
6. Outside of the person necessary to sign a contract, who is the real authority?
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