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Strategic Selling: How to Sell to Senior Executives

February 15th, 2012 by Jeffrey Baker
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Hong Kong, Germany, the U.S., and India: these are the four diverse countries in which we beta-tested our new program, Point of View Selling.

We expected to see some differences, by region, in salespeople’s’ reaction to this new method of selling.

Instead, we saw completely uniform responses in two important respects. In all cases, on all continents, the sponsoring executives (senior sales leaders) immediately saw the value of this approach to selling and how it was especially suited to executing their selling strategy. In fact, these executives were quite eager to have Forum “transform” their salespeople with this new method.

In contrast to the sales leaders’ enthusiasm, many of the senior salespeople who participated in Point of View Selling were highly skeptical. In every group on every continent we encountered initial resistance: salespeople said things like, “How can I call on a senior decision maker without a relationship? I certainly can’t provoke or challenge these senior-level customers!” “I don’t have the time it takes to prepare for this level of discussion.” Yada, yada, yada …

What do Senior Buyers Look For in a Supplier?

This resistance, and its underlying fears, come from understandable but erroneous beliefs regarding what senior-level decision makers care about and how they make buying decisions. The resistance also hints at people’s doubts about their ability to master significantly more advanced selling skills., When we recently asked 231 senior-level decision makers around the globe to rank the criteria they use in deciding whether to meet with a supplier , “knows me” came in dead last. “Knows my business” and “knows my industry” topped the list. These findings completely contradict the widespread belief that a salesperson must have a relationship with an executive before she can initiate a provocative business discussion.

Selling in 2012

At the end of our 2-day program in each of the four countries, nearly all participants demonstrated increased skill levels and a shift in beliefs about their customers.  The participants “got it,” they knew instinctively that senior-level decision makers expect more from salespeople today.  Buyers expect insight about how to achieve their objectives. The executives who invited us to test our new sales program with their teams understand this well—because they are themselves senior-level decision makers. Are your sales teams prepared to call higher in your customers’ organizations?


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2 Responses to “Strategic Selling: How to Sell to Senior Executives”

  1. Miles Austin says:

    Thanks for the excellent infographic Jeffrey. I have been “selling” for over thirty years and have always been taught and then taught others that “relationship” is the most important factor in selling success. Then the internet happened…

    And social platforms, and it was becoming clear that relationships, while still valued, are no longer the most important factor. My own experience validates what you found with the top two factors. What I found even more interesting was the green categories, in the middle, noting that “provides low-cost solutions” and “calculates ROI” are also at the bottom, right above the bottom.

    Thank you for the information. It would be helpful if you could provide more information about the 231 participants in your survey-company size, industry, country, etc. to further enlighten.

  2. Jeff Baker says:


    Thanks for your comments. Complete demographic details of our study are contained in our research brief, “How to Engage Senior-Level Decision Makers: Point of View Selling.” You can download here:

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