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Are You Selling to the Wrong Exec?

Don't worry about who's signing on the dotted line. Instead, use this advice to find the right customer target.

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Conventional wisdom says that you should direct your sales efforts to the person who has final approval--often called the "decision maker."

In many cases, however, you're better off selling to the executive (or director or manager) who will be responsible for putting a project into motion--that is, the person who will actually apply whatever it is that you're selling.

According to Dr. Steve Bistritz and Nicholas A.C. Read, authors of the bestselling book Selling to the C-Suite, sales efforts at the customer firm should be directed toward the exec who possesses the following characteristics:

  • A job title relevant to the area that your offering addresses.
  • A position on the organization chart that is relevant to the area your offering addresses.
  • A history of being a successful leader within the organization, especially implementing similar projects.
  • A reputation within the firm for making a genuine contribution to the firm.
  • A tightly "plugged in" network within the organization, with others bound "by mutual advantage."
  • Enough extra influence to control company events and activities, and to alter the firm's status quo.

Such executives may not have the financial authority to "sign on the dotted line," but they almost always get what they want and need from the official "decision-maker." And that includes a signature on the contract.

Needless to say, you may have to do some research (and interview some customer contacts) to locate this all-important individual.

Once you do, though, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll be applying your sales efforts where they'll have the most impact.

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Last updated: Jul 13, 2012


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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