Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Selling to the C-Suite

Selling to the C-Suite reads like a manual on how salespeople can gain and maintain access to the c-level. This short, easily digestible book contains a wealth of practical information on:

• Why executive involvement starts early in the selling cycle
• How to identify the right executive who is driving the project
• How to gain access to that executive
• How to work that executive and her subordinates
• Why most purchasing decisions are made in response to a business need
• Why most purchasing decisions are made before the RFP is created

Unlike most sales books that are based anecdotal evidence from salespeople, “Selling to the C-Suite” is based on conversations with c-level executives. In 1995 when HP was trying to create a new national sales organization, the company worked with Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz to interview c-level executives in North America and at the HP Business School in China. They wanted to understand the executives’ perspective the sales relationship. Bistritz and Read supplemented that research with other interviews, ultimately interviewing over 500 executives.

Their exhaustive research means is used to substantiate the claims they make in the book. For example, when Bistritz and Read write “salespeople who want to build executive-level relationships must enter the picture early in the buying process,” we know it’s because when 80% of executives get involved in major purchase decisions. Once the decision to buy has been made and the selection criteria has been established, senior executives step back.

Major technology purchases are made to solve a particular business problems. The technology purchase only comes into play once the scope of the business problem has been determined. When an executive wants to improve customer loyalty, she doesn’t enter “CRM systems” into the search, instead she types “improving customer loyalty” or asks experts what other companies have done.

Bistritz and Read argue that a salesperson’s goal is to be an expert or a “Trusted Advisor,” someone who can bring value by delivering what the customer’s organization cannot. A salesperson who is a Trusted Advisor is an expert who helps set the search parameters and writes the RFPs.

Trusted advisor status is gained and maintained over time. Bistritz and Read argue that it’s maintained by continuously reporting back on the value that you deliver. In fact, many salespeople miss this final step. They assume that executives know the vendor’s solutions are meeting expectations, but in many cases the executive does not the value the solution delivered. It’s the salesperson’s job to close the loop and report back on the results, establishing that he can deliver on his promises.

The book’s structure makes for an easy read. Seven distinct chapters cover:
Chapter 1 - When do executives get involved in the decision process?
Chapter 2 - A brave new world for sales and marketing.
Chapter 3 - Understanding what executives want.
Chapter 4 - How to gain access to the executive level.
Chapter 5 - How to establish credibility at the executive level.
Chapter 6 - How to create value at the executive level.
Chapter 7 - Cultivating loyalty at the C-suite.

The end of each chapter summarizes that chapter’s two or three major takeaways, reinforcing the lessons learned.

An afterword provides an excellent section on customer research, associations worth following and joining, and recommended readings. We have read many of the books on the recommended reading list and agree with the choices, a few of which may be the subject of future book reviews.

“Selling to the C-Suite” has one failing. While book explains how and when to get in front of the right executive, it’s short on telling salespeople what to say. It preaches providing value to executives, but provides less than one page on how to discuss value in the language of business, the language executives want to hear and what the HP Client Team learns in the License to Practice course.

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