“Call High and Wide” Said The Wise Man

champion selling

First a bit of history for the younger generation: The best VPs of Sales when I was coming up always pressed their reps to: “Call high and call wide”. Why? Because the best sales reps could map an organization and get to the right people (decision makers) in their sales process. These guys were our top performing field/direct reps as a result. (As I write this I realize that these types of reps still are out there and doing a great job. Keep in mind this post is for the Young Jedi — the new legion of young inside sales reps) One story comes to mind: I once did work for one of the best VPs of Sales in the Valley. Sitting through his sales meetings was like watching “Cops” — uncomfortable yet you couldn’t stop watching. But between his torture chamber style was some incredible insights. In his mind, you couldn’t talk about a deal until you had the decision maker buy-off. Even more — you didn’t really hear “no” until you heard it from the top. I remember the first time I shadowed a pipeline review:

  • Rep: “Company X is out, they are going to do ….”
  • VP of Sales: “Call higher”.
  • Rep: “Well, it was the Sr Vp of X”
  • VP of Sales: “Great, call higher”
  • Rep: “You mean the C-suite?”
  • Vp of Sales: “Great idea, next account….” (AKA — “You finally got it dude but I will say it in a sarcastic way so you know that I feel like you should have known this”)

Ok, so all the veterans who read the blog are saying “I knew that”. Well I know you do and that makes you awesome. Keep reading though because in the world of inside sales, reps don’t do that any more.

Present Times:

  • Inbound marketing means champion selling. The leads that fill out a form and walk through the door are influencers, recommenders, researchers, or even worse — “Seymours” (want to see more but not buy)
  • Huge conversion issues are emerging from first call to pipeline or close. Many companies are seeing a big drop off after that first call with a prospect. Many of those people go dark.
  • Young sales people are building their career on the phone and with inbound leads and do not understand how to triangulate on a deal in an organization.

This problem is acute right now for inside sales teams moving from tools (products an individual can buy and use in small doses) to solutions (things that move the needle for an organization or business). Here is a solution:

Old School meet New School

Many smart companies are training their inside sales reps to merge the old school methodology with the new reality and creating processes and plays designed to get higher and wider in the organization. Why? Because you have to. For many organizations, moving their average deal size up and improving conversion rates require that they sell beyond the “gatherer of information”. For the last couple years in the brave new world of inside selling aka champion selling, the practice of getting to the decision maker selling has been lost. That is changing.

One of my clients was looking at SalesLoft. Her replay: “After my sales call with the rep, 15 minutes later I hear them on the phone with my CEO.” Was she offended? No — she was impressed. She comes from years of selling in her background and knows the value of getting higher in the organization. She even said: “It makes my life easier because they sold him and I got approval quickly.” I had not seen “new-school” inside sales reps do this yet so I called Kyle Porter to ask him about their strategy. The net: A trend is emerging and a good one. He told me to check out some of the work from one of my favorite thought leaders, Hubspot’s Mark Roberge. This post was my favorite on the topic. Rich tidbits in there including: “Once influencer buy-in is achieved, restart the buyer journey for the decision-maker.” As I kept asking around, I kept hearing stories about how more of the really successful companies are implementing plays to get to the decision maker with their inside sales team.

Here are some thoughts for you on how I recommend getting to the decision maker in your inside sales process:

1. Identify your ideal customer profile

Yes, you hear this all the time but I hate to tell you this….it bears repeating: Figure out who is most likely to buy your solution — company type, role(s), challenges, etc.  My friend Charles Lawson told me once: “Get me the right person at the right company with the right pain and let my team do our thing.” When you identify that profile and you receive any “tell” (poker for clue or indicator, in this case, it could be a download), peel your ears back and confidently keep selling. Why do I mention this? Time is the enemy so running extra plays on an account to get to the decision maker should be reserved for companies you know are likely to buy, aka, fit your ideal customer profile. I just did a webinar with Leadspace where we discussed customer scoring which helps sales identify prospects that best fit your ideal customer profile.

2. Engage decision makers early

Inbound lead comes in…it’s a champion type of title that fits your ideal buyer profile. If you reach the champion right away good for you…go to step 3 below. If not, pursue this inbound lead like you would an outbound lead. Add new contacts that “surround” that prospect such as the decision maker and other related stakeholders and call higher and wider. In order to be successful, sales people need high-level messaging (business challenges versus features), emails, and content. For example, the “Six Reasons <Insert category here> is like a Justin Bieber Concert” is not going to get opened by the decision makers nor will they attend your webinar on “<Insert category here> is like a Box of Chocolates: The Forrest Gump Approach to …” A better example of decision maker content might be Lattice Engines “Sales Leaders Guide to Modern Sales Management” (yes, shameless plug — I helped create this wonderful ebook). Sales should make calls into other people out of the gate. They can mention the interest expressed by their champion and pursue the decision makers accordingly. Even if you never reach them (which is likely), you will get forwarded back down to the champion (no problem) and have started the trust building necessary to help win over the person who signs the checks.

3. Engage decision makers post first call

An experienced sales wise guy knows that what you hear on the phone from your champion may or may not be the same as what you will hear from the decision maker. Many sales people only focus on qualification on their first call, ie, is there a project? But the key to the first call is needs assessment . The sales person needs to understand the challenges (realized or unrealized) the organization faces today and use that information to sell. With the data collected in the first call, sales can craft relevant messaging directly to the decision maker or other stakeholders. First thing you should do is recommend to the champion that the next call is with a wider group including decision makers. If they can’t get the meeting, you should go high yourself. I once worked with a sales rep who owned a big account that was dominated by our champion. He relentlessly pursued the champion to the point where the champion called and asked him: “Why do you keep calling my boss?” Uncomfortable? Maybe for some…but his next deal at that company was the biggest in our company’s history driven by…you guessed it…the decision maker. His previous deal sizes were constrained by the budget of the champion…this one was 25X. (yes, 25x)

Organizations committed to winning over the decision maker should consider a couple things:

  •  Champion content —  I have written about this in the past. This is content designed to arm your champion with the ability to sell internally and in particular the decision maker. For example, InsideSalesTeam.com creates what they call the champion deck which has a bullet proof business case built in, a table that shows the differences between their solution, their competitors, and nothing, and customized solutions designed to solve that particular prospect’s overall business challenges. They prefer to deliver it themselves, but in the case that the champion blocks them — they can arm the champion to do the selling.
  • An attractive offer for the decision maker to be on the next call — The reason you are talking to the champion is because the decision maker doesn’t care about the details. Some of your prospects will be far enough down the buying cycle to invite the decision maker to the next call to hear more about the product. But in most cases you will need to provide a reason for the decision maker to engage early. Here is an example from one of my clients: During their first call with the champion, they spend less time on the product and more asking questions that allow them to create a customized benchmark report with real prospect data. They turn that benchmark report into a reason to have a meeting with the decision makers. It works. (Executives love benchmark data)
  • Call high and wide with your discovery data — If you have done a thorough needs assessment, you should have discovered the organization’s pains and challenges. Now it is time to call high and wide anyway. The key is to translate what you heard on the first call into a reason the decision maker should care about you. Use that information to introduce yourself to the decision maker. Young inside sales jedi: I am telling you, great field reps have been doing this for years. This is especially important when the champion isn’t willing to move forward. If the company SHOULD buy your solution, ie, they fit the customer profile, then keep selling until the CEO says “no”.

So, take it from the sales wise guys, call high and wide young Jedi Knight.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic and a co-founder of Topo. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Love this. Although going straight to the top isn’t always the best strategy, I’m still surprised that many sales reps don’t even try. Sales is hard! You’re going to hear no MOST of the time. But when you do reach a decision-maker and move that one opportunity forward, isn’t it worth it?

  • Mark Roberge

    Great stuff Craig. Appreciate the mention. This is such an important topic and ever so relevant as more and more companies diversify their outbound calling with inbound leads. I really like your point on the champion content. I often tell our sales people that once they have the champion developed, you are now sales coach, helping the champion get that deal done internally. Another important aspect to this topic is specializing the sales people by inbound vs. outbound. Craig, I think you actually taught me this a few years back. By doing so, sales people are much more likely to evolve to these best practices.

    • It is an important topic…I was reviewing an inside sales person’s recent meetings with him. He said: “This guy has to sell internally so I sent it back to marketing to nurture”. Why would we do that? We are the experts in selling our solution…we should help but right now, he would rather have marketing send more leads and play roulette until they find the low-hanging fruit. BTW, low-hanging fruit is often a competitive, price sensitive type of deal.

  • Dante Cook

    Thanks so much for sharing this Craig! As a young Jedi – I wish this article had been published back in the fall because I left a lot on the table by dealing with champions and not decision makers early on. Coming from a startup – I thought the prices for the solutions I was selling to champions really put stress on their budgets only to be acquired and see that I was selling a tool to a champion versus a solution to a decision maker. Looking back my thinking and deal sizes were confined to the REALM OF THE CHAMPION & not the decision maker. Thanks for the practical tips & advice.

    • Thanks for the feedback Dante. Sounds like you are on your way.

  • Great points. I strongly advocate aiming high – but only if you are expertly prepared, provide succinct value, and don’t waste an iota of time. Great sales reps know that they need to earn the right to be speaking to the C-level. Calling below a director’s level is a cop-out in most cases, just to show activity in the pipe – unless you are gathering intel to prepare to call the top. Often you are dealing with professional lookers that love to talk to you, let you wine & dine them….but they never buy – or elongate the sales cycle forever. I also agree with Matt Heinz, sometimes you need to aim lower in order to “spider” your way to the top. Right on Craig.

    • Thanks Gerhard — Great value-added comment. My guess is, you have been evangelizing this approach for years. What you describe is as relevant today as ever.

  • Letisha Millsap

    There is a big difference between the sales rep that has taken the time to “map” the organization and those that are relying on a single point of contact. Prior to my career in marketing, I was a “techie,” specifically a sales engineer. I sat next to many different sales reps over the years and I could not agree more with Craig’s thoughts: those that called high and wide simply knew what they were doing and could navigate the organization with both artistry and intelligence.

    • Artistry and intelligence. I am using that from now on. Thanks for the input…calling high and wide may become a lost art if we aren’t careful.

  • Brad Cooper

    Perhaps I’m more Obi-Wan than Anakin, but as someone who was just on the receiving end of this advice, I would be very careful not to upset the decision maker by calling high and wide when you already have the decision-maker. This tactic might work for big enterprise companies with a lot of internal politics and “Seymours”, but not with small companies who aren’t ignoring you, they are just super busy — a bit more patience may be required.