One of the most stressful moments for most sales people comes at the point when they have to decide whether or not to go around someone they have been dealing with to that point, be they client or prospect.
Some call it end run, backdoor, go over someone’s head, run around, what ever you call it, it’s never an easy decision, and certainly not always the right tactic; having said that it is more often the right choice than most sales people believe.
There are a number of factors in determining if and when to do an end run in order to win a deal. The value of the product/solution to the client organization; how pervasive is your solution in the client’s organization; how the client goes about purchasing both in terms of deciding and executing the purchase. And most notably, how good the rep is to begin with.
Assumably, top notch sellers will not get pigeon holed in a way that will force them to make that decision, but experience has shown that when they have to, they tend to go for it and usually win.
At the same time reps who sell solutions that rightly or wrongly have traditionally had lower perceived value or commoditized products/services such as packaging, office supplies, print services, copiers and office equipment, promotional items, industrial supply, and others, are the most reluctant to do an end run. These are the very reps that should be expanding their sales beyond their traditional buyers. The same reps who usually confuse users (the wholly grail end user) with real decision makers, sadly too many settle for dealing the purchasing.
Consider this, in “32 percent of the situations a corporate buyer has no say in what they buy”; further “while it’s in only 32 percent of the situations in which they have no say, those situations cover 68 percent of the dollars spent. In other words, the bigger the ticket the stronger the probability that the buyer has no say in what they buy, so you must get to the decision maker for bigger ticket sales (and the sooner the better). ” Lawrence L. Steinmetz, William T. Brooks: How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors: Winning Every Sale at Full Price, Rate, or Fee
So if you are dealing with “end users” or purchasing (buyers), and are reluctant to move for fear of retaliation or loss of future business, you are doing yourself and your company great harm. If you view these individuals as your clients and not their company, it will cost you. Yet we still hear a lot of reps tell us that they can’t abandon their “champions”, “I can’t do that to my contact”. Bear in mind that today’s champion is tomorrow’s albatross.
It may be stating the obvious, but one way to avoid the dilemma is to begin the whole process differently. By staying away from the wrong people at the start of the sale you will save a lot of sorrow and effort later in the process. If your solution has impact across the organization, you need to align with people who also have influence across the organization. If you are selling a ten pound service, there is no point in talking to someone who can only carry a five pound bag. No point in trying to sell a six figure product to a five figure guy. Many managers have a timeframe of weeks, so if your product doesn’t fit that timeframe, you heading to a point where you’re going to have to do an end run.
And that’s alright, you have little to lose, and if you do it right, you’ll end up with much more powerful allies than the person you just went around. It all has to start right, as mentioned above, the company is your customer not the individual, individuals and their role are much more transient than entire companies. Sell to the company from the outset; tell your contact you appreciate the opportunity to talk to them, as you will with others in the company who will benefit from your solution. Ask them how they have made similar decisions in the past; why they have chosen to do it that way, and you’ll soon discover who else needs to be involved. Probe and validate their buying process and you’ll find a straight line to others you’ll need to engage. Then ask them to bring these people into the process, if they turn you down, go it alone, their bark is worst then their bite.
Again at the risk of stating the obvious, you can always start at the top. It is true that not every decision requires an executive, but it doesn’t hurt. They know what’s going on and why; they can certainly give you the insight you need to get to the project level decision maker; and your relationship with them can be the ultimate tie breaker. They certainly see the big picture more clearly than folks you’ll do an end run around. How many times did you stick with “your contact” only to find out that the decision was made by someone higher up the food chain?
To illustrate, take the example of an industrial supply (MRO) company that was continuously mired down with purchasing managers who spent their time squeezing pennies from their reps, always holding up quotes from competitors until price concessions were made (isn’t that sort of like a reverse end run?). They were finally encouraged to go around these managers and took their sale to the CFO’s and VP’s of finance. At that level the discussion went from pennies to big dollars; from incidental savings to major cost take out, not only in terms of pricing, but the value add in the form of systems, inventory management, fulfillment, invoicing, allocation, etc. In other words they had the right message in the right language. The end result was bigger contracts, since CFO’s have influence across the whole company, and since the purchase managers reported to someone who reports to the CFO, their role and influence was limited to implementation and facilitating the needs of the new value add strategic supplier.
So go ahead, liberate your stalled sales, and get past your obstacle. If you don’t you can bet someone else is, why not you!