For years, I have used a technique of securing an “Executive Sponsor” early in a sales process as a way to gauge true interest as well as to set expectations for a buyer in a large and complex sale. There have been occasions in which I have asked more than one person in a prospect company to serve this role.
Even though I asked for Executive Sponsorship in these sales processes, it wasn’t until the past few years that I have had clients write down what it means in a 1-page document and give it the candidate in a meeting. The previous approach had been effective but the use of the 1-page has been amazing.
Here is what it looks like, on your letterhead with the title at the top “Executive Sponsorship”.
“We know that moving forward with a partner requires the work of a number of people. We also know that without senior executive sponsorship, the work of the day and competing priorities keep organizations from moving initiatives like this along.
We are not asking you to agree to doing business with us at this point. It’s too early. We are asking for you to be our executive sponsor through the process.
For us this simply means:
- Access. Your assistance on connecting to the right people is very important.
- Priority. Setting the appropriate level of attention for your organization so that the process is supported.
- Interest. We will be communicating with you throughout the process what is happening. Let’s stay connected back and forth on the progress.
- Logjams. If the process bogs down, we need to be able to come to you and be able to count on your assistance.
- Clarity. There are times when we will need to better understand your company and its unique culture. If we are confused, we ask you to provide clarity.
That’s it. In being our Executive Sponsor you are only ensuring that the process of determining our best fit with your company is fully executed.”
When to use it. Once you have identified the key decision-maker in the process and have secured his or her interest, then you ask for Executive Sponsorship. It is absolutely paramount that the person understands you are not asking them to agree to doing business with you. You are ensuring that he or she is engaged in the process, will provide you the resources necessary to do a good job for them in the process and that this isn’t some lukewarm interest.
What if they say ‘no’? That is great! It tells you that you either do not have enough interest generated for them to provide the basic professional courtesies outlined in your agreement, or they were just looking for free consulting. Go back and generate more interest, or leave happily knowing that you were not going to get the deal anyway.
Does it have to be in writing? – Yes. Tepid attempts to secure a verbal commitment without clearly stated expectations do not give you real traction. I know because that was the way I started out doing this. Then I tried it with the 1-page document and the results were much, much better. I challenge you to try the Executive Sponsor document in your next big sale process. Let me know what happens.
Full disclosure: I have 6 clients using this approach right now with fantastic success so I know not only that it can work, but that it is working right now.