I had to take Latin for three years in high school and nearly ended up majoring in it in college. “Nearly” in the sense that I was runner-up at two different universities for full-ride classical languages scholarships. “Runner-up” in the sense that anyone who entered and didn’t end up winning received that designation. Coming in second place in a scholarship contest is about as lucrative as coming in second place in an agency search. Ample experience guides my writing.
The scholarship committees knew what they were doing when they mercifully sent me packing. I’m sure my high school Latin teachers, if they remembered my classroom exploits at all, would describe me as a guy who worked hard in his studies—not as a Latin whiz whose performance demanded subsidy from an institution of higher learning. Latin is an extremely logical language, but my strength wasn’t in picking up on the logic. Instead, it was in figuring out the global meaning of what I was reading, and writing well enough to communicate that meaning. It didn’t take me long to realize that, when in doubt, as long as I wrote something about a master and a slave and field—whether the master saw the slave in the field, or the slave saw the master in the field, or the field saw the master and the slave—I was going to get credit for a somewhat right answer.
It’s amazing what a poor knowledge of Latin can do for you.
A few months ago, in the depths of the recession, I wrote about a trend in the marketplace that I referred to as the Responsibility-Authority Paradox. Traditional buyers of products and services found themselves still employed and knew that in order for their companies to be successful, they were going to have to invest in the services that had historically supported revenue growth. So they contacted their historical vendors to solicit bids. And with winning bids in hand they confidently completed purchase requisitions, only to have them denied by a risk-averse financial type higher up the food chain. For vendors, it took a team of bloodhounds to track down their buyer, who was hiding for shame under his cubicle desk.
Fortunately, the Responsibility-Authority Paradox has started to loosen its grip on the sales process. Buying authority is slowly making its way back to traditional buyers whose bosses have more confidence in short- to mid-term growth and who wore themselves out trying to manage every dollar that left their coffers. But those bosses aren’t letting go entirely. So the Responsibility-Authority Paradox is now being replaced with another phenomenon I refer to, calling on my poor command of the Latin language, as Emptor Caveat: Beware of Your Buyer. (Technically, reversing the order of words in Latin does nothing to change their meaning. It should really read something like, Cavete Emptorem, “Beware, implied second-person plural, of the buyer!” But that doesn’t read nearly as well.)
The reality in strategic selling—at least for the time-being, probably from here forward, and perhaps all along anyway—is that you have two strategic targets: one whose interest is in the differentiators your product or service will demonstrate in its execution, and another whose interest is in how your solution impacts the bottom line. One appreciates your thoughtful description of your corporate philosophy, organizational history, and benevolent Hawaiian-shirt policy. The other wants to know why you cost more than another competitor and how that could possibly work in your favor. Unfortunately, you know which one makes the final decision. Fortunately, you also know which one influences that decision … and you have the ability to market smartly to both throughout the sales process to say what needs to be said when it needs to be heard.
Here are six quick tips for identifying your buyers and influencers and using that knowledge to land new business.
- Do your homework. If you’re targeting a new client, segment or industry, find out what challenges your solution solves for features-focused buyers and for bottom-line-focused buyers.
- If you haven’t already done so through organic networking or LinkedIn, use a list development service (or an agency that provides that service—I can think of one) to identify the various buying types within your prospective client by name and title. Create tools (e-mails, eblasts, direct mail or personal letters) with messaging unique to each contact and his/her motivations. In many cases, these tools are passed directly from the decision maker to other influencers, starting a conversation and setting the stage for your contact.
- After you’ve created awareness for your organization within the prospective client, connect personally at multiple levels. If it’s a new client, try to secure an appointment with whomever you can. The process takes a little longer, but it’s worth it in the end.
- Once you make a contact within the client, talk with him or her candidly about all of the people who play a role in the vendor-selection process. Work for an appointment with all necessary influencers and decision makers, avoiding the appearance of going “behind the back” or “over the head” of influencers as you try to find the buyer. That’s an easy way to lose the support of people who play a critical role in the selection of your company.
- Craft a sales presentation that speaks concisely to the motivations and concerns of all the influencers present, while remaining mindful of the concerns and patience of the ultimate buyer. You have a limited amount of time to make all of the points you need for all of the people who will be in the room.
- Don’t take for granted that you have an hour to present. Ask what amount of time and presentation format are preferred by the audience. (Just last week, at the request of a mutual friend, the CEO of a manufacturing company whose background is in accounting allowed me to test my theory by delivering a presentation that had recently won us a major account whose decision makers were predominantly marketing VPs and directors. The CEO with the financial background was good for about fifteen minutes before his eyes started to glaze over. “You gotta get to the point with me,” he said. “You get thirty minutes. Ten for introductions. Fifteen to show me what you’ve done for other clients and why it matters to me. And five for my questions.” That may not be the way you’d prefer to do it, but you’re not the one calling the shots. And what you really want are the shots called in your favor.)
Being aware of your buyer is critical in this market. The Emptor Caveat phenomenon, if understood and prepared for, can work to your advantage. Aside from the admonition in the photo at the top of the post (sage advice whatever language you speak), that’s all the bad Latin I’m good for anymore.