I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this
– from “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Warren Zevon
When is it time for the heavy artillery in the sales process? When do you bring in the CXOs and how do you use them?
I have found that companies typically use CXOs too infrequently in the sales process, not too frequently (or not frequently enough). Regardless of frequency, though, there should be some guidelines as to how to best use your CXOs in the sales process. Let’s focus specifically on the CEO and the CFO positions for the sake of this post. Using their clout correctly can improve your sales processes and your yield on big deals.
The Do List
A CEO’s greatest power in the sales pitch is in conveying the following:
- Cultural alignment.The CEO’s role in the conversation is to communicate that our organization and their organization have similar vision, mission and values. That our people and their people can work together well and that we can smooth out any of the natural bumps in a relationship. This communication occurs between your CEO and their highest level people in the sales process.
- Financial and organizational commitment.The CEO has to be the one who communicates the company’s financial position. Where it stands, its history and what the financial future of the company looks like. This is not so much of a discussion of the balance sheet as it is a discussion of the underpinnings of the business and its plan for the future. Tucked inside of this is the CEO’s communication of commitment; “We are signing up to be your partner Mr. Customer and we are sincere in our commitment to you and to this work we will do together.”
- Creativity and flexibility. Big deals are often unique in their structure and need support. This requires the creativity and flexibility of the senior-most person in your company. When the CEO is not in the room for these conversations, the discussions devolve into “if-then” and “what if?” scenarios that may be creative, but end with a statement of “I’ll have to go and discuss this.” That sucks all of the oxygen and speed out of getting a deal done.
You want to make certain that you use your CEO on the bigger deals and in the right way. Careful use of the positional power and resource will help you to close more big deals.
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The Don’t List
Do not use a CEO to:
- Negotiate price.I have a simple rule: CEOs do not talk price with clients. Ever. This cheapens the CEO’s position as well as eliminating a fall back position for you in the sales process. This does not mean that the CEO doesn’t direct the pricing strategy. That is absolutely the case, especially on the big deals. However, when it is time to discuss price, the discussion should be handled by other members of the team, leaving the CEO in a better position to consider options and direct the negotiation.
- Set project scope and particulars. The day-to-day particulars of the project should not be defined by the CEO. Not only will he or she not be the one doing it, but by having him or her discuss project details you have effectively put the CEO in the position of Account Manager for the account. These discussions need to be handled by either the COO or the person most directly involved with the account.
- Manage non-Executive communication. I had a CEO client who was a control-freak. That is not unusual or necessarily a bad thing. In this case, however, he wanted to be on the line during all conversations with the peer-to-peers between his company and the prospect company. This is a terrible strategy and it makes the company look small. Not only that, but it kills all relationship building between the peers and guarantees that all trouble-shooting on the account will be elevated to him more quickly. Peer-to-peer communication starts in the sales process and the CEO must respect that.
One of the most under-utilized positions in the sales process is that of the CFO, even though organizations that regularly use their CFOs in the sales process see huge benefits and gains.
To say that having your CFO talking to your prospect’s financial people is a little obvious. The question is when? Here are some of our pointers:
1) Get your CFO involved in the conversations at the initial point of engagement with any personnel from your prospect involved with finance. Procurement, Purchasing, Compliance, RFP process management and so on.
2) Never talk to these personnel without your CFO. There is a lexicon that the financial personnel use that has nuances and meaning that is important to get right on the first try. If you don’t use your CFO you risk losing lots of time in the discussion trying to get your prospect’s requests met correctly. You also save yourself some of the frustration of being a carrier pigeon moving questions and responses back and forth between the two financial departments.
3) CFOs talk terms, not price. Pricing is an issue for the CEO to set strategy on and the sales team to communicate. The CFO is a part of that discussion and provides a great deal of insight to the conversation, but is not a part of the actual price discussion. Like the CEO, his power is best used behind the scenes. Once price has been established, then the conversation is about terms. Most sophisticated people recognize that terms are more important than price in the negotiation anyway.
There’s an old story about an emperor who sentenced a man to death, but allowed the man to choose his form of execution. The man responded to the emperor, “I choose death by old age.” Death was the price, old age was the term.
All of your CXOs bring a weight to the conversation that is valuable in the sales process. It is through careful use that you get the greatest amount of yield out of each of the positions.
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