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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