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Your CEO Suggested I Give You a Call

How would you gain access to the VP of IT at JR Simplot?

For years I’d been preaching to salespeople and their managers that getting access to the highest levels within a company was always recommended in big-ticket, complex, B2B sales.  Start at the top. Get yourself referred down.  You know the drill…

A while ago I participated in a panel discussion at a sales and marketing conference.  With me on the panel was Bill Friend.  Bill had served as the VP of Information Technology and Logistics at The J. R. Simplot Company, one of the largest privately held firms in the U.S., with annual sales of more than $3 billion.  Bill and I had worked together before.

One of the participants in the session posed a question to me.  “If you didn’t know him already, how would you recommend getting access to Bill if your business was selling IT products and services?”

That was an easy one. I said something like, “I would leverage my network and see who might have a connection to Simplot’s CEO.  I’d organize a meeting with the CEO, and, based upon the research I conducted, open a dialog about a critical challenge or opportunity his company was facing and how my IT solutions would provide significant and quantifiable business value.  I would then request a referral down to Bill, and the commitment from the CEO that he and I would regroup once I had done my initial discovery.”  Asked and answered…  (Rather smartly, I thought.)

“And Bill,” the questioner said, “what would you do when you received that phone call from your CEO telling you to work with Dave?”

Now it was Bill’s turn.  I remember this being his response. “I’d thank the CEO for sending Dave my way.  Then I’d wait for Dave’s call.” Bill looked over at me and smiled.  I smiled back.

Bill continued, “I’d have him come in and we’d discuss his products and services and the contribution he felt they would make to my operation.  I’d dig in very deeply.  In fact, I’d probably ask Dave to bring in additional resources so I could fully understand his technology and the breadth and depth of his offerings.  I’d keep this going for quite some time, but I would never, I repeat, never buy anything from him.  I get fifty phone calls a week from technology vendors.  My team knows where to find vendors when we need them.  No one is going to shortcut that process by going to my CEO.”  Bill looked over at me and smiled again, very broadly this time. 

The room fell silent.  I was speechless.  My friend Olin Thompson, who was moderating the session, asked for the next question.

Unfortunately Bill died of a brain tumor not long after that session.

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3 Responses

  1. Dave, this is a great and touching post.

    What I’ve found is that, unless you have a very tight personal relationship with that executive already, arranging a meeting with that executive is going to result in a lot of wheel spinning and his staff will do exactly what Bill mentioned.

    A better, probably more efficient manner, while against everything in sales 101, is to gain the trust of a champion and get that person to make introductions based on milestones. In other words, if we deliver ‘X’ will you introduce me to ‘Bill’.

    By doing this, and continuing to do this, not only are you ultimately gaining access to the person with the purse strings, but you are also building a team of trusted champions underneath the executive. When you are finally in front of her, she has already heard the stories, knows your name and, most importantly, the people that she trusts the most are endorsing you.

  2. Good story, Dave.

    For a decade, we’ve been told to “call as high as possible”. We have a sales process that tells us to do it. We have sales experts that write books about it. We know that getting top down buy-in will make deals move forward. We know we have a better chance of closing business when we do it our way.

    Except, once again proven in your story, it’s not about us.

    If our sales process, our diagnostics and our assessment tooling doesn’t provide superior value (or if we’re unable to communicate that value) over the skills and knowledge our client has at their disposal, they’ll do the evaluation and benchmarking their way.

    if we’re lucky we get a chance to pitch the only tool we have left – our product. And in this example, that’s exactly what Bill allowed you to do.

    Once again, great story.

  3. Dave,
    I can relate to Bill’s response. I know of a Fortune 100 Company’s CEO who was from Europe telling his American management group to utilize some packaging machinery from Germany because of its high quality. Due to his endorsement the German company and its US based group were never able to crack into the US market with this company. They did spend a lot of time presenting their product line to no avail. Even though the company is a multi-national manufacturer and had great success in Europe with the equipment there was no way the Yanks were going to bow to the offshore CEO. Something about people not liking the gates to be bypassed in the “wrong” order.

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