Selling. it's more competitive than ever. It's more important than ever. You practically have to be a super-hero to pull it off. As never before, a company's fortunes depend on the performance of its sales team. Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr calls sales the fuel that drives every up-and-coming organization: "In a small company, everybody is selling all the time," he says. "Believe me, selling is honorable work — particularly in a startup, where it's the difference between life and death." Because you're always selling — not only your product but also yourself, your ideas, your team, and your company — we've decoded the secret powers of three sales superheroes who are retooling the basics of selling for use in the new economy. Their secrets will empower you — no matter what you sell.
Sales Superhero: Rubber Man
Super Power: Wriggles out of any dilemma and strrrrrretches to an organization's highest levels.
The days of pitching to the head of purchasing have gone the way of polyester neckties. Smart salespeople sell as high on the corporate food chain as they can go. "As companies have become less hierarchical, CEOs and presidents have become more accessible," says Doug Dayton, president of Dayton Associates and author of Selling Microsoft: Sales Secrets from Inside the World's Most Successful Company. "Win the support of a CEO, and suddenly he becomes a coconspirator, an advocate who can call in his VP of R&D to meet with you."
When Dayton was manager of sales and contract support for Microsoft's Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) group, he closed more than 40% of the company's OEM contracts, helping to sell new business to big-name customers. A veteran of many top-level sales calls — often with Bill Gates himself in tow — Dayton delivers four insider tactics for selling at the top.
Use your ultimate weapon: bring your CEO to meet their CEO. How can you get into the executive suite? Use your CEO to break down the door. "Your CEO is best at presenting the corporate mission and providing assurances in a very personal way," says Dayton. "If Bill Gates promised that Microsoft would service a product around the clock, people believed him, because Bill was in a position to make that happen."
By taking Gates along on critical sales calls, Dayton quickly discovered that a CEO could talk to another CEO in a way that no one on the sales team would dare duplicate.
"We were in Silicon Valley to meet with a hardware manufacturer, one of the big 20. The other CEO wasn't focusing on the meeting. Gates actually got up on the guy's desk and shouted at him, 'What planet are you on?' He wanted to get the guy's attention, and he did. I closed the sale at our full off-the-sheet price."
Remember that you are not there to sell a product. Sales pitches don't work in the executive suite. "When I first meet with a CEO, my goal is to build a long-term relationship," says Dayton. "The conversation should center on how you can help the customer."
While it's critical that you make a good impression, avoid flashy sales tactics. "You take a big risk if you try to dazzle a CEO. Most of them are pretty savvy, and they're not easily confused by smoke and mirrors. Give hard, indisputable facts instead of opinions."
Walk tall — but don't forget where you're coming from. Selling successfully to a CEO requires a bit of a chameleon act. Exude confidence when you go into the meeting, but don't try to prove that you're equals. "Instead, be task-oriented. Take your cue from the CEO, and orient your selling style to suit him. If the guy thinks he's a Big Cheese, you have to accept that."
If you take your CEO along on a sales call, remember who's running the meeting — you. At the office, your CEO is the boss. At a sales meeting, your CEO is a means to gain access and to build credibility. For the call to succeed, you must use your boss wisely. Dayton recalls several occasions when he and Bill Gates skull-sessioned while en route to a client: Dayton would talk about Microsoft's relationship with the client and flag problems. He would also clarify the goal of the meeting and explain how Gates could help him achieve that goal. Once the meeting was under way, they rarely discussed numbers: "Gates was smart enough not to talk price. If your CEO gives a number away, you can't take it back."
Coordinates: $20. Selling Microsoft (Adams Media, 1997); email@example.com
Sales Superhero: Wired Woman
Super Powers: Cruises the Net at warp speed. Carries all of her business intelligence in the palm of her hand.
In January 1996, when Hewlett-Packard decided to muscle-build its marketing campaign for handheld computers, the company tapped a middle manager to head its North America sales team. Her name was Stacey Wueste. Given all the superstars in HP's elite salesforce, Wueste must have seemed an unlikely choice: she's anything but a technogeek. But then, that's precisely the point.
Wueste knows how to use high-tech tools without letting them use her. And that's a necessary thing, since her job goes far beyond simple selling. Her challenge is nothing less than to change the computing habits of multibillion-dollar operations such as Harley-Davidson and the Seattle Mariners baseball team. How does technology help her sell? To find out, we tracked a day in her life.
Wednesday, 9 PM Wueste returns to her Chicago hotel room after a dinner meeting with her Midwest sales rep, who's given her a heads-up: people from the blue-chip prospect she's pitching tomorrow will want to know how HP's 320 LX palmtop can help its sales force. She plugs in her HP OmniBook 800 laptop and fires off an email to her product manager in Singapore, where it's 11 AM: "Please send latest slides on salesforce-automation solutions."
Next, Wueste logs onto HP's intranet, which contains a mine of information for its global salesforce. She can pull down white papers, join live problem-solving chats, or view slides of products that are still in alpha. Tonight she grabs the latest research on the growing market for handheld computers.
"I can take the intranet anywhere. It's like traveling with a giant filing cabinet. Getting critical information in real time lets me do real-time problem-solving."
Road Rule #1 Use email and your company's intranet to leverage colleagues in distant time zones. When a far-flung partner is working on your project, you become a 24 x 7 worker — without losing a night's sleep.
Thursday, 8 First thing, Wueste negotiates a quick trip through Web sites that she's bookmarked — including CNN, C-NET, and HP's competitors — to find data that will help customize her presentation.
Computer Reseller News's "Shadow RAM" column is reporting fractures in the partnership between Compaq and Casio, which supplies handheld computers to Compaq. She checks the report against other sources and decides that the news is reliable. Now she can spin against her biggest competitor: "Compaq doesn't have a future strategy, because its current strategy is on the rocks."
Road Rule #2 Use the Internet to keep your presentation current and provocative. "Referring to big announcements or major changes in the stock market," says Wueste, "can help make a powerful presentation."
Thursday, 11 AM Wueste arrives at the prospect's office. Her presentation is decidedly low-tech, save for using an HP 320 LX palmtop that's loaded with her notes.
"I don't use a notebook computer for presentations. It would keep me married to the order in which I show slides and make it harder for me to listen. Without the notebook, I'm more responsive."
When a CIO asks about the type of connection required to transfer email from a sales team's palmtops to its desktop computers, Wueste is stumped. But just for a moment. She punches an email into her palmtop (which is equipped with a wireless modem) and sends an urgent query to her technical marketing manager in Cupertino, California.
The email exchange adds value to her presentation: instead of offering an artificial demo, she shows how the product has become an essential tool in her business life. "Believe me, it makes a big impact when you can use the product to answer a client's questions in real time," she says.
Road Rule #3 Showing is always better than telling. And by showing how she can use the palmtop to answer the prospect's questions immediately — rather than several days later — Wueste closes the window of opportunity on her competitors.
Thursday, 4 PM As soon as the day's final call wraps up, Wueste rewires. Otherwise, as she runs from one sales call to the next, she might fall behind in her follow-up work: replying to the questions that she couldn't answer in one meeting, laying the groundwork for another chance to make her pitch.
"When I'm at an airport, I go to the Red Carpet room and download new email. On the plane I write replies and new messages, attach files, and put them in the outbox. As soon as I check into my hotel room, I get online and hit the Send/Receive button. All of my email goes out, and everyone else's comes in."
Road Rule #4 Much of selling depends on momentum. Smart salespeople leverage technology to steer clear of speedbumps that can derail a sale. And using technology to stay close to the customer helps Wueste to deliver her personal brand message: I'm fast, I'm reliable, you can depend on me.
Coordinates: Stacey Wueste, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sales Superhero: The Mad Giant
Super Powers: Cold-calls at twice the speed of mere mortals. Smashes through to the toughest stonewallers.
Ralph R. Roberts, coauthor with John T. Gallagher of Walk Like a Giant, Sell Like a Madman, has figured out how to play the old game of selling in a new way. Working the unglamorous field of residential real estate, Roberts sells harder, better, and faster than just about anyone in the business. A high-flying agent might close on 200 to 300 houses a year and feel pretty good about it. Not Ralph Roberts. This past year, he sold more than 600 homes and residential properties.
Sales have been so good that he's broadened his Warren, Michigan-based business to include financing houses as well as selling them. To build a customer base for new mortgages, Roberts pitched the Detroit-area Health One Credit Union: in exchange for referring its clients to his company, he offered a percentage of the profits that would result. Trouble was, he hadn't proven himself to the credit union. It took a year of meetings to close the deal. Here's an inside look at how Roberts worked his toughest sale.
The Cold Call
The Old Way: Make the call, close the deal as fast as possible, and get out of town.
The New Way: A cold call is the first step toward generating goodwill. And goodwill often produces revenues — or at least a recommendation — several calls later.
The Mad Way: At first Roberts can't get through to Health One's president, Jim Perna. It turns out that Perna once tried to launch a mortgage business on his own, and failed. Still, Roberts is undaunted.
"Most people give up after the fourth call," he says. "After the tenth call, I feel as if I'm starting to develop a relationship. The goal of a cold call is to create a warm call." Six months and 50 calls later, the two meet for lunch. Perna later admits that he agreed to the meeting only because he knew that otherwise he'd never get rid of Roberts.
The First Meeting
The Old Way: Put on your flashiest suit and drive up in a luxury car. Walk into the prospect's office, act like you're king of the world, and go through a scripted sales pitch.
The New Way: Don't even try to sell during the first meeting. View it as a strategic fact-finding mission, a step toward understanding how you and the prospect can become partners.
The Mad Way: Roberts is a relationship builder. He reaches out to Perna by asking questions. "I phrase things so that Jim's answers are longer than my questions. If you get yes-or-no answers, you lose control of the conversation. While trying to learn as much as possible about his company, I also work hard to build common ground. By the end of the lunch, Jim knows he can make money with me."
The First Presentation
The Old Way: Do the presentation over a three-martini lunch and agree to let the attorneys work out all the particulars. Six months later, the deal falls apart because the particulars are unworkable.
The New Way: Use the presentation to prove your worth to the prospect. Recognize that it may take a long series of presentations to nail the sale.
The Mad Way: A day before his presentation, Roberts faxes his agenda to Perna. To reduce the risk of getting sandbagged during the meeting, Roberts asks Perna to add any important topics that aren't already listed.
"When I do a presentation, I'm so prepared that I'm no longer asking questions," says Roberts, "I'm making statements and taking the offensive."
The Old Way: Apply pressure — before the competition arrives.
The New Way: The closing is an organic part of selling. Do it right, and customers sell themselves on buying from you.
The Mad Way: "The closing occurs when Jim Perna and his people stop asking questions. So my objective is to address every single concern they might have."
As the ninth meeting winds down, so does the flow of questions. "Everything looks good to me," Roberts tells the executives from Health One Credit Union. "I'll incorporate this last round of changes into our proposal. Once that's done, when do we execute the agreement?"
Jim Perna gives Roberts the answer he's looking for: "As soon as you get the changes back to me."
Coordinates: $25. Walk Like a Giant, Sell Like a Madman (HarperBusiness, 1997); email@example.com
Michael Kaplan (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes for Smart Money, New York, and Los Angeles magazine.
A version of this article appeared in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.