Making a major sale is a process of nurturing relationships, egos, and interest within an organization while pushing your own company's agenda. "Nobody likes carrying someone else's water," says Tom Cottingham, who honed his selling skills for the last 15 years negotiating complicated multimillion-dollar joint venture agreements. "It's got to be the middle manager's idea that's blessed from above."
Cottingham, who started his own newsletter-publishing venture, NarrowCast Concepts, in 1997, prefers the top-bottom-top approach to sales. "You meet a senior person at a conference and explain your plan. You see eyes sparkle. To me, that means take the sale to the next step. So, then you go to a middle manager and casually mention that the senior manager liked the idea." According to Cottingham, the worst thing a sales rep can do at this juncture is get the senior-level person to issue a memo. Instead, Cottingham recommends brainstorming with the middle manager on the project and allowing him or her to have highly visible input. That may mean verifying the company's need and enlisting the middle manager to help sell the concept within the organization. Then the middle manager can present the fleshed-out proposal to the senior manager for approval.