I like Seth Godin. His books are smart, his stories captivating and his ideas compelling. Most of his ideas.
Recently he posted advice on his blog that B2B sellers should start selling in the middle rather than the top. There are 4 reasons why this advice is wrong:
1. He makes a false assumption that the top is the CEO when’s that is not the case for most B2B sellers. The top is relative. The top could be any C level executive, VP, Director, or mid-level manager. The top is product, service, customer, and price dependent. As a Professional Service Seller the top for me is a VP sales or a business owner. At Open Text the top included a 4 star General and we never had to make a call to POTUS.
Today the top could be a non-managerial employee because at $25 a month for faxing service, an admin assistant owns the budget! (True example based on a current Engage client)
Lesson: Know who your top is and don’t assume it’s always the CEO.
2. He talks about “pitching the CEO”. No professional seller would waste a meeting with the top – let alone the CEO – by pitching. Pitching is not selling. Having been in the B2B trenches my entire selling career I know (and you do to) that pitching at any level is the wrong approach. Sales meetings are dialogues. Conversations.
Lesson: Regardless of you are meeting ask questions. Don’t pitch.
3. Seth assumes that going to the top or going to the middle are mutually exclusive; that you can do one at the same time as the other. B2B selling is not an either/or decision.
Selling is an AND decision.
You go to the top AND at the same time you go to the middle. AND, go to the bottom. While you are at it, go left AND right on the org chart at the same time. B2B sales are complex and require multiple decision makers.
Lesson: Selling to only 1 person is risky. You will lose the business unless you build multiple relationships. Reduce your risk by building consensus throughout the organization while you are building top down AND bottom up support.
4. Seth claims that starting in the middle is about “storytelling and connection and substance. It’s about imagery and totems and credentials and the ability to understand and then solve the real problems your prospects and customers have every day”. Only second half of that sentence is correct. Selling at any level is about understanding and delivering value to the client. Why restrict understanding only to the middle? Why not the C levels too?
Lesson: Understanding client requirements, needs, challenges and goals so that you can propose solutions that leave them better off is how you sell effectively at ALL levels. As an aside….I’m not sure totems have any place in the sales cycle unless they are tied to value and relevant to the customer somehow.
My overall assessment of this advice? Not all ideas are good ones. Not all ideas will work in real life. If you want to be successful in sales sell wide and deep, focus on relationships and conversation and deliver value during every meeting. No matter who you are meeting with.
Dedicated to increasing your sales,