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The critical importance of buy-in at the top

When you are selling your products or services to a new customer, for long-term success, you will likely need to create buy-in across a large audience. Larger than you might think. Especially when the decision makers are not the check writers.

When I started my communications consulting business back in 2000, my very first client came from a referral. I was given a terrific introduction to the founder and CEO of a growing engineering firm, and had lots of buy-in before our first meeting even began.

My role was primarily to get exposure for the company in the trade media, and after some initial success, the relationship flourished and grew.

Looking back on it though, I realized I made a mistake in managing the relationship. Nearly 100 percent of my dealings were directly with the founder/CEO. You would think that would put me on firm footing, but as I found out, he didn’t control the budgets, and he didn’t want to micromanage or second guess the guy who did.

So when my contract came up for renewal, the person I really needed to convince was the CFO. The problem was, I had never had any contact with him at all, and contract renewal time was not the time to begin to develop the relationship.

Compounding my challenge, the CFO didn’t have any experience with, understanding of, or appreciation for the bulk of my work. In fact, he thought they could do everything I was doing in-house, and for a lot less money. He wasn’t reflecting on a relationship. He was looking at a spreadsheet. There was no emotional connection there. And no second contract.

They did turn out to be a great first client in a lot of respects, and certainly helped launch my business. But it was a lesson learned to make sure in the future I was constantly building my case for providing value and ROI, while developing relationships further and deeper into a company than my single, principal point of contact.

The TempWorks Template

Gregg Dourgarian is the founder and CEO of a company that has been a long-time client of mine, TempWorks Software. He understands – and appreciates – this idea of creating buy-in, and developing “champions” inside the prospect’s organization. Multiple champions even.

“When I catch wind of a deal up for grabs, my staff will hear me say, ‘Who’s your champion at the client site?’ Not being much of a people person however, I was slow to learn you can lose those ‘champions’ even after you find and develop them. They quit, get fired and move on.”

So what’s the solution for that scenario?

“A successful company owner taught me a ‘two deep’ rule,” Dourgarian explains. “‘Two deep’ means you better have two champions because of the previously mentioned problems with one.”

He says it’s different in every situation, and it’s something you can only discover by getting tight with your client way before your business relationship is threatened or up for grabs. I could have used that piece of advice for my first client.

Differentiate between decision makers and order placers

When I began my relationship with that first client, the decision maker and the order placer was the same person. Since he was also the founder and CEO of the company, I thought that would always be the case and he would always have the last word.

But the decision maker and the check writer eventually evolved into a pair of people, and I was slow – and late – to recognize that. In the end, it cost me a contract renewal.

Sales people often avoid the decision makers and instead spend the bulk of their time with the order placers. For the most part, you should be developing the relationship with the highest-level person who will directly benefit from what you have to offer.

That will differ, of course, depending on what you are selling, and to whom. Whoever it is though, make sure your selling and relationship-building doesn’t begin – and end – with a single person, no matter who they are or what their title is.

And it will serve you well to keep Gregg Dourgarian’s “two deep” rule in mind.

“We carry a spare tire in our car. We have multiple credit cards in our wallets. We diversify our investments. And to keep great clients, we need to create backup champions.”

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