Creating a sense of urgency in the age of “Always Be Helping” requires that a salesperson leverage her experience and skill to ask the right discovery questions that reveal the reasons a prospect should move forward with a purchase.
Sometimes those reasons are straightforward and quantifiable, but often a prospect’s answers are vague and hazy. Vague and hazy responses are the nemesis of an efficient sales process, and rarely result in an effective outcome.
This situation can be especially difficult if your primary contact is junior and doesn’t understand the bigger picture of how your product or service impacts the overall company, is new to the organization, or is going through the purchasing process for the first time and needs guidance to ensure they are doing the right thing. There are also times where your contact is unable to make a decision because they are not empowered or they need internal support.
One way you can address this situation is to identify and leverage an executive sponsor to help your point of contact move forward. This is a natural extension of team selling and has traditionally been very effective in helping a prospect build confidence and trust, make a good decision, navigate their internal buying process and start a relationship with your company on solid footing for the long run.
1) What is an executive sponsor?
There are two types of executive sponsors — one from your company and one from the prospect’s. An executive sponsor is someone on the management or executive team who is directly interested in the outcome or result of your solution.
An executive sponsor from the customer side may be the economic buyer, your contact’s boss, multiple levels higher in the organization, or even the CEO. It can be someone who is a strong influencer or decision maker in the deal that can help make a decision. The right executive sponsor will understand the company’s goals, the severity of the problem, and know how to work the purchasing process in a way that builds velocity.
An executive sponsor on your side can be your manager, director, executive or someone in your organization who can work with you to create the dynamics to buy.
2) Do you need an executive sponsor?
If you feel that your prospect needs help in articulating the value of the solution or reinforcement that this is a good business investment or help getting final sign off on the purchase, an executive sponsor can really help.
3) How do you get an executive sponsor?
The easiest way is to get an executive sponsor is suggest the concept to your prospect in a way that helps makes the prospect comfortable that this will help.
Try these soundbites:
- “Is there a senior manager or director who particularly interested in this outcome?”
- “Is there anyone on the executive team who might be interested in this information?”
- “Does it make sense to include an executive in our conversation who can help vet this out?”
Sometimes the prospect will say, “I can do it myself.”
In those cases, explaining how leveraging an executive sponsor to increase the odds can really help. For example: “I have managed this process a few dozen times, and leveraging an executive sponsor can really help both of us.”
Another way to incentivize someone to bring an executive sponsor is to match your gorilla with their gorilla. Getting an executive sponsor doesn’t have to be a big deal, and you can always invoke a higher-up at your own company to ease your prospect’s concerns, like so: “You know, my [manager/director/VP/senior partner] likes to connect with her counterparts when we bring on a new customer. If I could get the right person, do you think that might be of value to the conversation?”
4) What does an executive sponsor do?
Depending on the size of the deal, an executive sponsor can play several roles.
Their most important job is to establish a relationship with prospects to ensure they get value with your company over the lifetime of working together. At its most transactional level, that involves a “getting started” financial incentive or discount.
Sometimes, an executive sponsor’s job is to periodically check in on the prospect’s progress over a prescheduled time. Sometimes, they merely connecting with a counterpart at the company to make sure everything is going smoothly and the customer is happy.
5) How should salespeople prepare their executive sponsor?
Making sure your sponsor is briefed is essential, and you are responsible for passing on any critical data they need. Sending information the night before on the logistics of a meeting (a conference call dial-in or an address of a face-to-face), the company (the website or LinkedIn profile), the contact, deal terms (information you pull from your CRM and any existing proposal), agenda, and the goal of the call can be really helpful.
The best way to bring an executive sponsor into the process is to schedule a 20-30 minute call that builds a human connection. In certain enterprise deals, this might be done in a face-to-face setting. Hosting the prospect at your office or going to theirs shows you’re invested in the relationship.
If you are setting up a 30-minute scheduled call and also pulling in an executive from your own team, your role is to ensure the executive shows up to the call (here’s how to prevent no-shows, and brief your executive on the relationship so far.
On the actual call, your goal is to introduce the executives, define an agenda, then hit the mute button. Only one person can control a call, and the executives will do most of the talking. It’s valuable to have your sponsor on instant messaging for immediate feedback or handling curveballs.
6) Does having an executive sponsor always close the deal?
It definitely increases your odds. Identifying an executive sponsor determines how serious the company is about addressing the issue. It confirms your prospect’s goals and reasons to buy. It accelerates their potential for coming to a decision and exposes potential objections. Using an executive sponsor gives you credibility and access and shows professionalism.
Following up with your executive sponsor is very important as well. If you have an executive sponsor, include her on all subsequent emails until the deal is closed. Keep your executive updated on the process. In the late stages, if the deal gets stalled, another call can be very effective, and you will improve your odds of closing more deals.
Have you used executive sponsors in the past? How have you used them? Let us know in the comments below.