The Filling The Funnel Blog

See All Posts

Going Over Someone’s Head Without Pissing Them Off
go over someone's head without pissing them off | JBarrows
By John Barrows | June 9, 2015

This is one of the hardest things to do in Sales in my experience. You have a good relationship with someone below the Power Line who is telling you what you want to hear and being just nice enough for you to stay with them even though you know they can’t get the deal done for you. They will never be able to say yes, but they can definitely say no and ruin the whole deal if you piss them off by going over their head to the real decision maker. Unfortunately there is no great solution to this one.

However, I’ve come across a few things that have worked for me from time to time that I thought would be helpful to share.

Starting high

This is the most obvious and isn’t helpful once you’re below the Power Line but I thought I would add it to reinforce the importance of starting your prospecting efforts at the highest levels and getting referred down. If you prospect into the C level without trying to sell them and ask for a referral down to someone else you have an open door to go back if you get stuck below in the future. Also, after getting referred down and having the conversation with the person at a lower level you can inform them you will be following up with the executive who originally referred you as a courtesy to keep them updated on the conversation.

Leveraging your manager

This is my least favorite approach but I’ve seen it be effective from time to time. At a certain stage of the sales process you have your manager or VP reach out to theirs and you stay at the level of the person you are connected with. You tell your contact this is part of your process and once a deal reaches a certain stage or size you’re VP automatically gets involved. It allows you to remain in decent standing with your contact since you’re not the one who went over their head and you can ‘blame’ your VP. The main issue with this approach is that it immediately diminishes your value and takes you out of the driver’s seat for the deal. If the deal continues to move forward your manager or VP will need to be a major part of it which isn’t ideal for anyone.

Leading the process instead of following it

I like this approach. Instead of asking to be introduced to Power you tell them you’re going to reach out and why. This takes a certain amount of confidence and you need to present it the right way but it works well with someone who isn’t used to making decisions. You rely on your process and position yourself as the expert. You actually can tell them (or at least have the mentality of) “I sell this every day and I see where people make good decisions and where they waste a lot of time. When the process goes well, this is what happens….which is why it’s so important to get your executives on board now.” Again, you need a good reason why you need to engage with the executives and make sure that once you’re there you won’t waste their time but it does work if delivered properly.

Having a different reason

This necessitates doing additional research on the account even when you’re working through the sales process with the person below the Power Line. You need to find a different reason to reach out to the executives that is outside the conversation you’re having with the person you’re dealing with. For example, if you can find a quote from a CxO where they talk about something from a strategic standpoint you can reach out to them and say something like “I’ve been working with John to address some of your (tactical needs in specific area) and he has been a pleasure to deal with. As I learn more about your business I noticed where you recently said (“quote”) which is why I wanted to reach out to you directly to find some time on your calendar.” This way, if the e-mail gets back to John, at least you tried to make him look good and you have plausible deniability about the different reason for reaching out.

Asking questions they don’t know the answers to

This one is my favorite. I wrote a post a while ago about creating urgency and how the main way to do this is by aligning with the top business/executive priorities. If we can’t tie our solutions to one of the top 3 priorities the CEO sets at the beginning of the year then it’s going to be really hard to sell, create urgency or do anything else for that matter. This is why it’s so important to find out what they are and make sure we can align our solution to them. With this, I like asking question to people below the Power Line about the executive priorities and how what we are talking about aligns with them and how they are going to measure the impact/ROI. If it’s a public company I can find out what these priorities are beforehand and angle my questions to get clarity around them. If it’s a private company then I ask questions trying to uncover them and the details around how they are executing on them. Usually people below the Power Line can’t really give me a lot of insight or detail around the priorities and how the solution we are discussing align or how to measure the impact. This opens the door to ask for the intro to someone who can give more insight. The reasoning or justification is simple. You can tell the person you’re dealing with that you need this information to figure out the impact because if you can’t then it will most likely be a waste of both of your time going through the sales process together even if you both agree the solution makes sense. If you can’t align with the priorities then eventually when the solution gets bubbled up to the top for sign off the likelihood of it getting trumped by something else that has more of a direct impact on the priorities is pretty high. This approach also shows the person you’re dealing with the type of intelligent questions and reasoning you will use if they do introduce you to Power which may make them more open to doing so.

 

Again, there’s no great way to go over someone’s head without pissing them off but hopefully some of these ideas will help the next time you find yourself in that situation. Good luck and happy selling.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more blog posts and video sales tips. You'll get actionable sales techniques - no fluff, no spam.