How to Sell to the C-Level

Q&A | Steve Martin

This week we’re going to stay in that rarefied air around selling to the C-level. Earlier this week we discussed a recent a Webinar that tackled myriad ways that B2B sales reps can get in front of C-level execs. In a similar vein, we recently spoke to sales consultant Steve Martin about the delicate yet crucial role ego plays in getting buy-in from the tippy top. Martin, author of “Heavy Hitters Sales Psychology: How to Penetrate the C-Level Executive and Convince Company Leaders to Buy,” stressed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, B2B selling is not necessarily about alleviating pain.

ZoomInfo: When trying to reach C-level buyers, there seems to be an increasing number of gatekeepers in the purchasing process, from “fans” to “champions.” How do B2B sellers navigate this matrix in order to get to C-level executives?

Martin: There are two strategies. One would be the top-down strategy, when you’re contacting [the C-level] directly via one of three communication modes: e-mail, letter or cold call. The other is an indirect strategy, whereby you’re using your internal ‘champion,’ as an internal advocate to relay your message to that C-level executive so that you can get the meeting with the C-level executive directly. Both strategies require very clear messaging and the messaging has to be based upon a ‘business-operation’ language: how the solution you sell impacts [the buyer’s] day-to-day operation. If you have an internal champion, the psychological theory of ‘attached relationships’ comes into play, meaning if you have a strong relationship with that internal champion and that champion has a strong relationship with the C-level executive, the attributes of the relationship between the two of them will be imposed on you and you can get that meeting.

ZoomInfo: Once sellers do get an opportunity with a C-level buyer, why do they tend to ‘show up and throw up’ and bombard the buyer with information about products and services?

Martin: The number one reason is that it’s hard to get that meeting. And when sales reps do get that meeting there is a tendency for non-senior salespeople to feel compelled to explain the worthiness of their products and how great their company is. And it’s the exact opposite. You’ll be granted continued access to that C-level decision-maker when you’re able to explain how you help that person’s business. Remember, in [the buyer’s] mind you’re just a footnote to his day. You have to stand out and, instead of doing an infomercial, you’re there to understand and do an investigation of the person’s business and find out what’s on his mind and where the problems are. And then you can tell the buyer how your other customers are solving those [particular] problems.

ZoomInfo: Do think this notion that B2B reps should sell on alleviating pain for the buyer is a misnomer? If so, what are the alternatives to getting prospects’ attention and subsequently getting them through the sales funnel?

Martin: Pain is a great motivator. However, the greater motivation for big B2B purchases is ego.  Behind every major purchase there’s a huge ego that’s driving the purchase through the organization. There are two other elements to ego. The first is appealing to self-preservation; that is, buyers need to maintain position and status within a group. For example, a company buys SAP software, not just solely for the software, but now it puts them in league with the other companies using the software and allows the buyer to put SAP on his resume and be in league with people who are competing for jobs [at the C-level in that sector]. The other element is physical and mental well-being. Everyone wants to keep their job and a lot of products are bought so buyers can keep their jobs and stay mentally prepared for the future.

Contact ZoomInfo for more information about our B2B sales solutions.

Study: Schisms between sales and marketing dissolving

We’ve heard the laments from both sides of the table time and again: Marketing execs think sales executives fail to appreciate the trouble they go through trying to separate the good leads from the bad and sales execs, more often than not, bemoan the leads they ultimately get from marketers. And around and around they go. But that may be starting to change.

While there are still sharp differences between sales and marketing departments, several b-to-b organizations agreed the marketing-sales relationship had improved in the past few years, according to a survey released earlier this week.

The survey, titled “B2B Marketer Skills Snapshot Survey,” was conducted in March and April by BtoB magazine and SaaS solution provider It garnered 544 responses, 68% from primarily b-to-b marketing organizations. (Disclosure: I periodically contribute to BtoB.)

Asked about job difficulties, 39% of respondents put “working with the sales team” toward the “not difficult at all” side of a 1-to-5 scale, the survey said. In a reflection of budget constraints that are affecting both sales and marketing, 73% of respondents said “doing more with less resources” was “difficult” or “very difficult.”

Nearly half of the marketers (42%) said they meet with their sales teams once a week to discuss strategy, review success metrics and/or collaborate on marketing campaigns while 27% said they meet once a month; 5% said they meet once a year while 8% said they never meet.

Tracey Fanelli, senior VP-marketing and communications at Wells Fargo, told BtoB: “If anything, I would identify it as a strategic change. Over the last five or so years, I think b-to-b marketers are realizing that they can’t be successful without creating better alignment with their sales partners.”

Asked about the goal and mission of the marketing department, the largest percentage of respondents picked “to drive qualified leads,” with more than half (52%) saying this was marketing’s “most important” mission and 21% saying “to nurture leads” was the most important.

Sharing of data continues to be a sticking point between sales and marketing organizations. Asked how much data are shared with sales, 17% of marketing executives said “10% or less.” But when asked how much data they received from sales, 31% said “10% or less.”

For the full survey, please click here.

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Mining for sales gold in social media


Guest Blog | Sham Sao

Swing a cat and there’s another article or blog post about using social media for sales. But how do you cut through the clutter and make social media work for your sales engine?  It’s important to remember that social media is just another information source and many successful sales pros are finding ways to mine social networks and user-generated content for the hottest prospects.

Still, you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find the gold.  Take Twitter. While the micro-blogging network has some good information, it is also chock full of inane and useless information that has no relevance to you on a personal level, let alone sales. However, when you start using the search functionality, you can indeed mine Twitter for sales leads.  (A recent survey from the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that Twitter is an effective way to filter quality information.)

For example, if you’re an inside sales rep for an e-mail marketing service provider, do a quick search on Twitter.  I recently searched, “Looking for an e-mail marketing service” and uncovered the following Tweet – Looking for a pay-per send e-mail marketing service that allows me to view who has clicked through, any suggestions?”Now you can reply or use the Direct Message (DM) function on Twitter and possibly spark an immediate dialogue with this prospect.

LinkedIn is another valuable social networking resource that can help you find prospects who are seeking the exact products and services you’re selling.   The easiest way to use LinkedIn is to constantly keep up with your professional network(s) of contacts, so when one of your best customers moves on to another company, you can reach out to him and find out what his product and services needs are in his new position.

LinkedIn groups also provide an effective way to monitor your contacts for sales opportunities.  Often people will pose a question to the group to help them solve a problem.  Similar to the Twitter example, if you’re a sales rep for an e-mail marketing service, there are many highly focused groups you can join where you’ll come across tons of relevant queries, such as: “Looking for top e-mail marketing service to integrate with CRM – recommendations?”

The problem is overload.  How is a salesperson going to stay on top of all of these new Web sites, in addition to doing everything he or she was already doing?  For some, the next step may be to move from free tools to an aggregation service that fuses disparate information feeds with more structured business information and provide settings allowing sales reps to filter and sift through prospects according to their sales needs and preferences.

But if your company or sales organization is still trying to figure that out which subscription service to use, don’t let it hold you back from getting started with mining social media.  You can still dig in and find some hot opportunities.  Right now, someone is posting a question on a social networking site that you’re equipped to answer.  Get online, sign up and start mining for sales gold.

Disclosure: OneSource is a partner of ZoomInfo

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Sham Sao is CMO of Infogroup’s OneSource  (, which provides business information services for sales, marketing and research professionals. He can be reached at


Facebook changes are most daring yet

Recent changes at Facebook designed to allow users to open up their connections throughout the Web are sparking questions about privacy concerns.

The changes, which were announced by last week at F8, include “like” buttons that users can click to instantly share content on Facebook.  At the centerpiece of the changes: the “Open Graph” initiative.

“Today the Web exists mostly as a series of unstructured links between pages and this has been a powerful model, but it’s just the start,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (in a video embedded in the F8 link). “The Open Graph puts people at the center of the Web. It means the Web can become a set of personally and semantically meaningful connections between people and things. ‘I am friends with you…I like this band.’” (Er, I like this company/product/service.)

Zuckerberg said the changes are the “most transformative thing” the six year-old company has ever done online. There are currently 400 million people on Facebook and the rate is growing faster than ever, he said.  Indeed, social networks such as Facebook are gradually starting to eclipse search engines like Google and Yahoo as the initial platform on the Web.

Although users can limit the appearance of such “likes” on their Facebook profile, they should consider these likes and recommendations public information, meaning that they could appear elsewhere on Facebook or be accessed by applications and sites, Facebook wrote in an official blog post. Call it instant socialization. With the new changes, some sites will be allowed to take this ability even further, showing users personalized content based on the details of their public profile on Facebook, said Bloomberg Businessweek, which provides a helpful user’s guide to the changes.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that specifically mentioned Facebook, asking the FTC to provide guidelines that prohibit access to private information without user permission.

Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for the research firm eMarketer, told  “The biggest question to me is whether consumers and companies are going to want to cede the social Web to Facebook. And maybe some privacy concerns will come out that we haven’t even thought about yet.”

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Lack of sales process is poisoning the well

Guest Blog | Ben Bradley

According to the 2010 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, less than 20% of respondents said they use a prospecting plan. Yet, roughly 75% of top-performing sales organizations said they are consistent in this activity. Where’s the disconnect?

At some point, as your sales organization grows, you’ll find it more cost-effective to insert specialists into the process rather than ask your closers to manage the entire process. To triple sales – instead of tripling the size of the sales organization – the smart money looks for ways to triple the effectiveness of the best closers.

So how do sales execs approach this? What is the fastest way to break away from old habits and build new, scalable, repeatable and affordable processes to create new sales opportunities for your best closers?

  • The first task is the task of definition: Ignore the marketing purists who believe sales and marketing are different. As you think about taking the next step in the evolution of your sales organization – and you try to stretch a very limited budget – the job of marketing is to create new opportunities for sales.
  • Lead generation must become a core competency: Cold calling, trade shows, advertising and other big marketing tactics still work for lead generation. However, the time is not far away when a consistent program of long-tail content, SEO and word of mouth marketing will become your primary source of leads.  The time is now to start understanding this reality and begin preparing your organization for the inevitable.
  • Simple data matters: In b-to-b sales it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you can’t sell something to someone unless you know their e-mail, title, mailing address, company affiliation and phone number. In other words, you can’t sell something to someone unless you know who they are. Keeping the data clean and cultivating the contact data until the prospective customer is ready to have a conversation matters more than most think.  If you love your data, your data will love you back.
  • How many net new names did you add to the CRM each month: Don’t be content with your existing database. Every month there should a concerted effort to bring new names into CRM.  Even if you have a huge flow of inbound leads into your Web site each month, the acquisition of new names ensures your marketing remains proactive as you hunt for new key accounts.

The type of person who is comfortable cleaning data and is happy being the guardian of data is very different from the type of person happiest in front of customers. It may be the best qualified person for this role is not a sales person at all – but rather a specialist who appreciates the tools and techniques of marketing and selling.

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 Ben Bradley is managing director of Macon Raine, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation company. He can be reached at

Support for B2B Sales Reps is Hiding in Plain Sight

Q&A | Steven Rosen

When he was VP-sales for Biovail Pharmaceutical, Steven Rosen would run down his sales’ numbers every month and then send personal notes to those sales reps who had performed particularly well the previous quarter or recently closed a tough sale.  “The funny thing is, people would actually keep those notes,” said Rosen, founder of STAR Results, a sales consultancy, whose clients include Abbott Labs, Allergen and Novartis. “There’s no cost to saying, ‘Way to go.’ Everybody wants to feel good about themselves, so if you can compliment your sales reps, where you’re sincere and it doesn’t come off as fake flattery, it’s the easiest thing to do.” Sure, it’s easy. It’s also rare. But as managers seek to retain their top performers in a still slackening economy, taking the time to recognize sales reps – verbally or otherwise – has acquired a new currency, Rosen said. We spoke with Rosen about some of the other ways that sales managers can retain their top sales reps and improve the overall sales culture.

ZoomInfo: In light of all of the tumult in B2B sales right now, what are some of the roadblocks causing sales execs to perform below their potential?

Rosen: The biggest problem relates to focus. Sales executives are pulled in so many different directions that they forget to focus on their key success factors. It’s a business reality today that folks are being asked to do more with less and most sales managers are focused on the short-term sale in terms of delivering quarter-to-quarter sales. So the problem is getting sales managers to develop a clear plan and to ensure they keep their team focused on executing the plan. Sales managers are putting out fires, and when you’re putting out fires you’re not focusing on the business.

ZoomInfo: What are some of the major problems associated with sales coaching?

Rosen: Great sales reps who become managers find coaching very challenging. Sales coaching requires a different mindset; a great sales coach must shift their paradigm from one of ‘telling’ to ‘asking’ questions. If there’s a lack of training and role-definition [within the sales department], sales reps tend to take the path of least resistance and the managers end up doing the work, as opposed to the sales reps doing their own work. As a great sales rep you want to tell everybody why you were great, whereas the coach’s job is to facilitate the reps’ own thinking and learning.

ZoomInfo: What are some of the reasons top performers are leaving their companies these days and what are some good retention strategies for managers to deploy?

Rosen: People are driven by two things. One is the latitude to be able to do your job, which means you’re empowered to do what you’re paid to do.  The second thing is not money, but recognition. It’s true sales reps want to be making the top dollars, but they also want to work in an environment where they feel recognized for a job well done. People tend to work for their bosses and, if no one is taking the time to recognize performance, they leave.

For more information about how to support your B2B sales reps, contact ZoomInfo.



How ZoomInfo Increased Sales Productivity

When Brett Wallace took charge as VP-sales at ZoomInfo last summer, the first thing that jumped out at him was that the company’s sales reps were struggling to hit their monthly numbers.  “We were not set up to serve the different market segments in our customer base and, furthermore, there was no sustainable sales plan to help us get ahead of each month,” Wallace said. “While we were closing lots of business, we were in transaction mode and not set up to maximize our market opportunity and add more value to our customers.”

At the end of 2009, as a part of a long-term plan to build a sustainable business, Wallace reorganized ZoomInfo’s sales team according to three customer segments: new business (winning the next set of Zoom clients) and two client groups (one serving existing sales and marketing customers and the other recruiting customers).  This allowed the sales team to specialize in their markets and focus on specific parts of the sales process: winning, on-boarding and enriching customers.

“We [now] have a simple process that outlines how our sales team aligns to the customer-buying experience,” Wallace said. The focus on segmentation by market and simplification of the sales process has yielded positive results.

Wallace said that 75% of  ZoomInfo’s sales reps have made quota in the last three months compared with 30% at the end of 2009.  According to recent reports by CSO Insights and the Aberdeen Group, roughly 52% of sales reps made quota in 2009.

Wallace applauded his sales team. “While it’s important to specialize and organize people, you only see these results if you have a team that is dedicated and inspired to performing at a higher-level,”  he said. “The sales reps on this team deserve all of the credit because they are the ones in the trenches delivering these results every day.”

Another crucial element of the plan has been a sharper focus to the hiring of new sales reps. “It’s a fact of business that you are going to lose some folks in a reorganization, and new opportunities may arise in an improving economy. And, that’s ok.  But, you better have a process for quickly hiring and ramping talent,” Wallace said.

In addition to recruiting heavily, Wallace created a three-day intensive training program for new hires that features role-plays, sales certifications and tests to ensure new hires ramp up quickly. “As part of the re-organization, we also incented our top reps to act as mentors for our new hires which has accelerated best practice sharing and team ownership for the success of new hires,” Wallace added.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn how you can also increase sales productivity.


B2B Sales Execs Combat ‘Scarcity Mode’

Bill Rice recalls the late 1990s and the first several years of the 21st century, when lead-gen campaigns on the Web turned acquiring sales leads into a volume game. “Leads were plentiful and a 1% to 2% conversion rate was considered successful,” said Rice, chief sales officer of Kaleidico, which provides software for B2B sales.  But when the market collapsed in late 2008 so, too, did that particular model for B2B sales. “All of a sudden, the market drops out, customers stop inquiring about leads, call centers are scaled back and sales execs are in scarcity mode,” Rice said.

Although certain economic indicators suggest that the economy is starting to recover, 2010 is shaping up to be another lean year, with budgets still difficult to come by.  To combat the current austerity among B2B buyers, sales managers “need to get more adamant about creating disciplined sales processes,” Rice added. “If you look at the average CRM system it continues to promote bad behavior. You open them up and they generally look like an Excel spreadsheet – a list of names and phone numbers with which sales people can do whatever they like.”  He added: “Sales execs must demand lead management systems that enforce sales processes proven to consistently produce results in the sale organization.”  Rice, who blogs about sales on BetterCloser, talked with Follow the Lead about how companies can embed process into the sales gestalt.

ZoomInfo: When should a sales rep know when to stop “collecting” and start “processing?”

Rice: You’re processing immediately.  The collecting activity is something you always have in your process.  In the case of marketing reps providing sales reps with leads, that first point of contact is crucial because it enables [the sales rep] to gather momentum.  I don’t see collecting and processing as serial processes, one at a time, but parallel activities.

ZoomInfo: Is part of the problem a lack of process and the collecting of information – particularly in a digital age – starts to feed on itself?

Rice: Absolutely. They key area that always defeat a sales person is that sales is hard; there’s about 90% rejection and 10% affirmation. But when you are collecting names and phone numbers it feels good and when you have a bigger and bigger list you feel productive, but there are times when [sales reps] get distracted with that. So you have sales people defeat themselves because they never start the process. The Web makes it worse; a lot of sales people are going to social media because they can observe people in the buying process and think they can grab real-time opportunities. [But] there’s a danger there, too. I find salespeople who are just literally staring at the screen. The voyeurism is overwhelming.

ZoomInfo: Do sales reps automatically cut down on their chances of a successful sales cycle by targeting prospects with a title-based approach?

Rice: To some degree. The challenge with going after titles and levels is, because of the modern age and the way people behave all across organizations, there are more and more gatekeepers. With cold calls, the challenge used to be to get past the receptionist and get into the decision maker. Now you can’t even get into receptionist, and if you do get to the decision maker you get his voice mail because nobody answers their phone anymore. So if you’re going for whom you perceive as decision maker you’ll fail because there are so many barriers to overcome. The other thing is decision makers themselves are dispersed and organizations have flattened. You need to go in at various levels. You can get an evaluation by trying to talk to the CIO or CMO, but at the same time you can go through social media channels to reach network engineers [at the same company] who are already involved in looking at solutions. The chances of those two people meeting within the organization [and discussing your product] is powerful.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about B2B lead generation.

Dying is Easy, B2B Sales is Hard

Guest Blog | Tony Smith

I am often asked the following question by new and experienced salespeople and managers alike:  Why is selling so hard?

The answer may surprise you.  In reality, you’re not to blame.  The decision maker isn’t to blame.  Your boss isn’t to blame.  You simply ran smack up against the fact that what goes on between you and the decision maker isn’t completely rational and, in some cases, isn’t rational at all.  What’s more, decision makers are bored stiff from hearing the same old stuff from one salesperson after another. They’re sick and tired of it, but they don’t have the guts to tell you.  Fortunately, they told The Brooks Group, and we combined that intelligence with the research we did with watching more than 12,000 sales interactions across multiple industries and decision makers.

Do you want to know why selling is so hard?  Selling is like being blindfolded, everything is pitch-black, and you have a dart in your hand.  Your Job – just hit the target. But you’ve been groping around in the dark because you don’t have access to vital information about your decision makers.  Therefore, a lot of what you thought was true really isn’t.  Organizations and sales leaders are part of the problem because they are insisting on an outdated approach to selling.

The real issue is that too many organizations play it safe.  They are becoming less viable in today’s economy.  The sales team is fighting an uphill battle due to mediocre marketing efforts, a lack of taking risks and products that appear to the buyer to be commoditized in the marketplace.   Toss in the fact that buyers no longer want to be interrupted by a salesperson, are tired of manipulative tactics and overzealous persistence on the part of uninformed organizations and you have a recipe for disaster.  So what can you do?

Create compelling stories: No one really cares about the features and benefits of your products and services. They are more concerned with what they want and if you can provide a story that helps them understand how you can bring value to their own view of the world then you will win the day. By the way, a strong brand can breed a weak sales force so take stock of your team and get better people if you need to.

Metrics are not the solution:   Metrics are good for identifying gaps, sales trends, and other key information, but they are not the solution for a struggling sales team (CRMs are not the answer).  You really have to dig in and figure out what is causing the team to struggle.   You might find that they are being crushed by the competition that tells a better story, has a remarkable product and a better marketing plan.

Proper alignment must occur:  Marketing, sales, service, operations and the entire organization must be in alignment for success in today’s marketplace. The messages everyone sends have to be believable. Buyers are not stupid and they know when conflicting messages are being delivered.

Read more about sales and marketing alignment statistics.

Identify and dominate niche markets:   Stop trying to appeal to the masses.  Everyone cannot be your market because the stories that your customers spin are not going to resonate with everyone.   Find buyers that tend to have similar views, values and desires and focus on winning their support.

Innovation is the secret sauce:  If your organization still believes that marketing is not a component to sales and you are still selling like you did in 1985 (pounding lists with cold calls, for example) then you are seriously behind the eight ball. Buying is irrational and emotional and sales must be in alignment with that dynamic.  Trying to sell in any other way is like smacking into a concrete wall without a helmet.  Buyers demand greatness and only real innovation can penetrate the daily clutter they are exposed to.  If sales are falling, then it may be more than your team that is at fault.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about helping your b2b sales team.


Tony Smith is national accounts manager for The Brooks Group, which offers services for sales and sales management assessment, training and retention.  Tony’s blog can be read here. He can be reached at

Are sales reps an endangered species?

Right about now, we’d be entering our second decade of space travel. We would be living and working in underworld cities. A centenarian would be sliding toward middle age. These were just a few the predictions from twentieth-century scientists, novelists and social commentators, chronicled in Paul Milo’s “Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century.”

We were reminded of the book when we came across the following question posted on LinkedIn: How soon will the Internet turn your salespeople into dinosaurs?

The query, which was posted by Mark Sellers, CEO of  Breakthrough SalesPerformance and author of “The Funnel Principle,” has, so far, generated nearly 125 responses.  While many folks insist the Web is another channel to reach buyers, others said increasingly widespread acceptance of electronic communication may render sales execs obsolete.

“As someone who works with pharmaceutical companies I can tell you the day is very near,” said David Delong, chief customer evangelist at The Customer Management Group Pharmaceutical. “Increasing No-see physicians, decreased face time, most calls sample drops, physicians not trusting biased information from reps – the current rep driven promotional channel is getting close to irrelevance.”

The disintermediation of the sales chain caused by the Web can’t be denied. But if sales execs continue to demonstrate value in the sales process and provide concrete solutions they will stay viable for the foreseeable future, said Lee Salz, president of Sales Architects. “The Web makes it a more visible excuse, but sales people have been finding reasons why they can’t sell since the beginning of time,” he said. “It always comes back that the strongest sales execs are those who can build value with their clients. If all you’re doing is closing, you’re in big trouble.”

See all of the responses here.

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