Marketing is often given mixed messages about what’s expected. Demand generation – creating a flow of leads – is not the same as the goal of reaching decision-makers, but it is often spoken synonymously.
When you’re tasked with reaching someone it really means getting that person to take your call, to react to your message, to transfer to him or her the offer and get them to make a decision. It means “engagement”. The decision at the end of the reach isn’t necessarily to decide to buy or not. It’s more often to allow the offer, the pitch, the sales dialogue to continue, to move forward, to the next level, the next decision-maker. It means that the train on the buyer’s journey will go to the next station where another decision-maker will, again, decide whether or not the train goes forward.
Reaching a decision-maker begins with identifying the decision-maker. Again, not the ultimate buyer, but the person who will agree to carry the message deeper in the organization, higher up the mountain to the someone who can see farther.
My long history with sales tells me that you often don’t know who the decision-maker is. Everyone claims to be an “influencer”, and that means that they bring value to your process. They can take your pitch further, or at least they can report to you who you should see, who really “owns” the pain you seek to remedy.
Defining a decision-maker by job title is possible but never perfect. The VP of IT sounds good, but he or she may not be tasked with decisions about IT security. To find that out you might have to make a few calls. You might actually have to engage that person and, metaphorically, ask them face-to-face. It’s not efficient, but sales processes often aren’t.
You can task a firm to do that research for you – build me a list of security decision-makers – and it can be money well spent. You should, however, be confident that the people making the calls are smart cookies who know the goal, the language and the possibility for false positives.
Okay, so once those true decision-makers are identified, how do you reach them? The options are finite:
- Call them
- Email them
- Mail them
- Get introduced by a connection
- Go to their place of work and ask the reception to summon them.
- Meet them off-site (trade show, workout club) unannounced
There may be more, but you get the idea. The cliché that these people are busy has no utility. We all are busy. It is a given. Some of these people may have “gatekeepers” who are, in this case, decision-makers, too.
Ultimately, you have to give them a reason to engage, to respond to your reach, to grasp your outstretched hand. And the most dependable way to do that is to offer them value. Not a gimmick. Not a threat. It has to be clear to them that by engaging they will receive something of value. What are the value options?
- They will receive value.
- Their company will receive value
- A co-worker will receive value.
- A friend or relative will receive value.
What are some of the valuable things you can offer? There are an infinite number of things you can offer, but let’s put them in categories:
- Information. A report. Advice about a trend. A competitive tip.
- A product for work. A Mouse. Free diagnostic. Seminar invite.
- A product for leisure. iPod. Polo shirt. Concert tickets
Throughout this process of reaching out, offering something of value in exchange for those precious ten or twenty minutes, you have to be absolutely professional. Your professionalism is your brand. Your offer (“Let me send you a whitepaper… “) must, first and foremost, be clear. “I want you to do X and you will receive Y.” Ambiguity, something that smells of a bait-and-switch, not only erodes your brand it will scare off the decision-maker. They will decide not to engage. If it is someone senior, you may have ripped up the tracks you’d laid down, across a succession of decision-makers, to get to that point. That’s the downside to reaching decision-makers: someone rather influential may decide to stop the train. And your ascent into heaven will have to wait a while.