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The Best Person to Speak With
By John Barrows | August 4, 2016

Who is the best person to speak with about this?

I’ve been a huge fan of the top-down prospecting approach for a long time now. This is where you craft and send a targeted e-mail message to a C-level executive asking for direction on the best person in their organization to speak with about your service or product. When they give you a name, you use that as an internal referral to increase your chances of scheduling a meeting with that person. I’ve used this approach to crack into some of the largest accounts in the world and have seen countless results from others using the approach. But, unfortunately, it’s becoming less effective and more annoying due to overuse and abuse.

I had a CEO of a public company stand up during a sales-kick-off event where I was recently presenting and tell me that he gets over 50 e-mails a day from sales reps asking him who the best person is to speak with. He went on to say that he doesn’t respond to any of them and finds the request annoying, especially when its blatantly obvious in most cases who the right person is based on the service. Since I’ve been successfully using and training the top-down approach for years I asked him for clarification on the quality and relevance of the content in those e-mails. Were they highly tailored, focused on his business, and based on research or were they generic template e-mails with a brief description of the company’s value prop and a few client names? Thankfully he said the latter. I then asked if he would respond to a tailored e-mail based on research that was highly relevant to his business and he said “Yes.”  

I know training companies and people who promote sending out mass e-mails to C-level executives with a brief description of their value prop, a few client names, and a request for a referral to the right person. This is no better than a marketing e-mail in my opinion and needs to stop. If you’re going to reach out to a C-level executive and expect a response, you need to do your homework. Otherwise, don’t bother.

I don’t think researching an account and sending a tailored message will ever go out of style. The question is: who should that message go to? I still believe in the top-down approach and think the message should go to the highest level executive in the appropriate department. For example, if you’re selling financial service software, go to the CFO. The question then becomes: what do you ask for?  Do you ask for a referral or do you ask for their time? The answer to that is based on the level of value you can get and give to the person you’re reaching out to. If you can get and give value in a conversation with this person, ask for their time. If you can’t get and/or give value, ask for the referral.

I’ve written before about the importance of selling to priorities and how it’s critical to align your solution to the top priorities of the business in order to drive urgency.  Often, I can get the preliminary information I need about a company’s priorities or challenges from basic research on their website, especially if they’re a public company. If the information is readily available, then I probably don’t want to have an initial qualification call with the highest level executive, so I’ll ask for the referral. If the information is hard to find and I need insights from them I ask for their time. If I ask for their time I also need to make sure I think through the value I can bring to them during the discussion. This value usually comes in the form of insights based on client results or industry trends.

It’s getting harder and harder to break through the noise these days but by taking a thoughtful approach and always seeking to add value you can still make it happen.

P.S. I’ve put everything I know about taking a thoughtful approach and adding value when prospecting into my online portal here: https://learn.jbarrows.com/

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