Here in Chicago, we just finished another successful IMTS Show. Even in this difficult economy the show was thriving, and sales were being made right on the show floor. I was fortunate to add new clients to my already extensive list of marketing professionals.
What really popped out for me was the number of top level people, from the exhibiting companies, that were in attendance. CEO’s, CMO’s, and COO’s were right there among their sales staff in the booth. This reinforces the notion that sales drive everything. It was a refreshing phenomenon that these executives came down from their C-level suites to partake in the ever so important sales and marketing process. The involvement of top executives in the marketing of their companies and products is a trend that will not go away anytime soon.
Before calling ourselves C-level rainmakers, we must go through a long and rigorous initiation. As professional account executives, we must get used to selling to teams. As we prepare for our presentations, we must accept the fact that a company’s top executives will be part of the decision making process.
Selling to the C-level executive takes a lot more than presenting an eye-catching design within a given budget. In fact, our companies’ capabilities are not even close to being the first thing on a senior executive’s mind as they listen to our pitch.
Getting directly to the decision making executive carries the highest probability of making the sale. What an accomplished account executive does before, during and after that presentation increases the chance of closing the sale.
My top five tips to becoming a true C-level rainmaker:
First, do your research. Don’t go after every large exhibitor on the show floor; pick a top five or 10 to focus your energies on. This will also help manage the resources of the exhibit house. As I wrote in an earlier article, as we target specific clients and industries, you need more than just a show book and phone.
We want to find the clients that fit the ideal growth profile. Develop war boards where you print out floor plans and highlight my targeted clients. Find out as much as possible about the executive and his competitors, along with new products the company is promoting. Google is a must have for this type of research.
Second, develop strong rapport with the executive’s assistant. Find out the name of the executive’s assistant and build a rapport from day one. This is the person who will set-up meetings between you and the executive.
Third, use a loose script. From your initial contact with the C-level executive, you must come across, not only as professional, but natural. If you come in with a script, the executive will catch on that you’re reading to him and quickly dismiss you. As part of that loose script, don’t talk about what capabilities your company has to offer, but what you are going to do for him and his company.
Include items you have found out about his competitor’s weaknesses uncovered during your research. Discuss the exceptional results of your efforts as a successful account executive, and then ask for the meeting.
Fourth, bring your ideas and talk about results. Senior executives are all about results. They don’t want to hear about an exhibit company’s products and services. They climbed the corporate ladder by producing results year in and year out. Talk about return on investment more than design and quality of the exhibit. If they’re letting you in, they expect good design and good quality. Discuss results, with a C-level executive, in terms of dollars and cents rather than improved image, or something subjective like that. As you help them increase their own sales, you will become a trusted confidant, and receive introductions to their C-level friends.
Lastly, keep your C-level client informed of changes in your company. Every company has turnover, and nobody knows this better than a C-level executive. When a favorite account manager or field supervisor leaves the company, be the first to inform your important clients. Make them part of the solution by letting him know that arrangements have been made and the transition will be seamless. Reinforce the relationship between the account executive and the client and minimize the negative effects of the change. This also gives the seasoned account executive a reason to reach out in the off season.
With competition in the exhibit business getting tougher and tougher, relationships with the ultimate decision makers become more important. To be a C-level rainmaker, an account executive must thrive in this competitive environment.
One of my favorite quotes is from Semon Knudsen that says, “In business, the competition will bite you if you keep running; if you stand still, they will swallow you.”
Good Hunting and Good Selling!!!
Joseph Houle is the Vice President of Strategic Development at LAB Exhibits. He is available for speaking engagements and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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