The longer I've been in business, the more I realize that the business of selling any product or service has very little to do with the product or service. Sales is about building relationships of trust, and you build relationships of trust by finding common ground.
As a CEO, I always knew that I was in sales and that I was in a unique position to try and build relationships with my peers at the organizations we try to sell to. The problem is that Beryl is a small service provider in the huge health care industry. And I found getting into the "C suite" of a large hospital is pretty much like walking into a White House dinner without an invite. Not a high ratio of success. Even bigger possibility of being manhandled by guys in sunglasses on the way out.
What I realized over time is that the best way to sell is to "elevate the conversation" beyond the product or service we provided. Frankly, the higher up in an organization, the less interested the executives are in the features and benefits of your product. In fact, your product or service shouldn't be the topic for your first several conversations. Find another way to foster a trusted relationship. The sales will come. You just have to be patient and disciplined.
1. Become a thought leader
There isn't anything particularly sexy about what I do. I am in a commodity business: outsourced hospital call center services. So I started a separate entity, a research institute, to tackle the bigger questions and issues around patient experience in health care. The institute produces case studies and white papers chock full of data on topics that are top of mind for health care executives. It has given Beryl a level of credibility I could have never imagined, which results in a halo effect over our services business.
2. Find a common passion
My personal passion in business is company culture and employee engagement. Those are subjects most CEOs are ready and willing to talk about, especially in health care, which is going through a cultural transformation.
3. Share knowledge
When I connect with another CEO around a topic I learn he's interested in, I stay on top of the news to find and pass along additional relevant information. I often send a hard copy of an important article with a short hand-written note. (I'm an analog guy in a digital world.) The personal touch is still a very powerful tool in building relationships.
4. Ask for advice
Rather than sell a CEO something, describe your company vision and strategy, and ask if you are on the right track. A top executive is always more than happy to give you honest feedback. And now he will have some buy-in for your success.
5. Interview top executives for a book or article
I'm now writing my third book, which is specific to the health care industry. I've already interviewed 25 hospital CEOs and I'm not stopping now. An interview shows sincere interest and is non-invasive. Most people feel honored to be interviewed for a publication.
Notice something missing from these tips? The product. Many of my "prospects" may not yet know what my company really does. But, in the process, I've most likely learned about a potential new client's business challenges, know what he is passionate about, and have begun to develop trust and credibility.
If you follow this advice, it is more likely than not that your new friends will be asking you if you can help them. If not, you'll certainly have earned the right to offer up assistance. And now, rather than working through the organization and having to prove yourself over and over again, you've got sponsorship, and buy-in from the top.
I swear, you'll see your sales grow out of the relationships you've built, and feel rewarded helping to meet the real needs of the new, smart people you know.