For sales success, don’t put yourself in a box

By Ben Paul

The main aim of many salespeople and those tasked with bringing work into their organisations, is to make contact and then get meetings with the senior decision makers. This, for many, is one of the biggest challenges they face, and even if they get that meeting, they soon find that they have been passed down the prospective client organisation to someone less senior.

So what is it that means the Senior decision maker – often at the C-Suite (CEO, CFO etc) level, doesn’t want to give up their time to you? It could just be the box that you have put yourself in. Do you genuinely think:


Firstly, if you do think that, you can take reassurance in knowing that you are not alone. It is one of the most common things myself and my colleagues get asked when we are working with teams.

Secondly, it is a self-fulfilling statement. If you do think of yourself as ‘just’ the technical service or the agent of the products you offer, then it is highly unlikely that the C-suite will want to meet with you. They are more likely to ignore you or pass you on to the person in the organisation who looks after what you offer e.g. if you are an IT sales person they will most likely pass you to the IT Manager not the CIO or CDO.

How to break out of your self-imposed box.

Hopefully, this next part won’t be too scary for some of you, but to break free from your box, you will need to change your mindset.

Forget your job title. It might help to imagine yourself going to the window with your box of business cards, opening that window and then throwing those cards out of the window. (Of course don’t actually do this, it is probably dangerous and recycling is much more socially acceptable!). In doing this you are hopefully starting the process of removing the self-imposed barriers which mean that your conversation or reason to meet will always be narrow i.e. tied to what you do.


Broaden your horizons. To have meetings with those at the top you’ll need to start understanding more about the
world they inhabit. These leaders run businesses and look to the future as well as ‘the now’, across a broad range of issues. So it will help you to start thinking about the types of issues or trends that are emerging for those at the top and also within those industries and companies you are targeting.

Be the meeting they look forward to. If you are going to meet with the C-Suite or are thinking of trying it, then you want to be the meeting that they most look forward to in their diary, when they look at the week or month ahead. This means that you should have promised something valuable that they will get from their time with you. Then of course you have to deliver that value. This value shouldn’t be your offering, it should be some insights or case studies on an area that, from what you know about them, is of interest. In many ways if you can simply ask questions that enable you to help them with their thinking, then they will most likely find their time with you, valuable. This of course takes confidence as you’ll need to research and think of question beyond your day to day role

Bringing it all together – How this works in practice.

A few years ago I was working with a senior business leader here in NZ. They had repeatedly tried to meet with the CEO of a large organisation in the construction sector. They had received replies, which as you know is unusual, but they were always along the lines of “thanks but we already have an existing panel of suppliers” etc. etc. On working through what my client knew about this person and what we could find out about the industry and the organisation, we began to find out some themes that were important to them. It turned out that the changing landscape of travel (think uber, driverless cars) was going to have a potential impact on their business. In offering to share some insights around what other organisations overseas where looking to do, and the plans they had in place to sustain growth in a changing market, to help this CEO with their thinking, the email came back within 5 minutes, “sounds great can you meet next week?”

This worked for my client, because they had found out what was important to the other person, had offered them some ideas linked to this that may help them, and they hadn’t talked about their service or offering at all. It took courage from my client to send this and then generate a meeting in something outside their comfort zone, and I admire them greatly for that.

Of course, the fun part came next, helping them plan for that meeting.

This post first appeared on Ben’s LinkedIn page. If you’d like to comment or join in this conversation, please visit the post here.

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