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Target the right people in an organisation

When you're selling to other businesses, you need to pinpoint and then target the key decision makers, i.e. there is no point selling to someone who doesn't have the power to buy your product or service.

The main decision maker is often the individual who signs the cheque - but this won't always be the only person you need to convince. Others may also play an important role in the buying process.

This guide will tell you how to identify and make contact with the key decision makers you need to sell your goods or services to.

People involved in the buying process

The size of a business will usually dictate who you need to address your sales pitch to for your product or service. Purchasing decisions in smaller businesses are often made by the owner or a managing director. In larger companies, you may need to target the head of a particular department, as well as the budget holder, if these are different people.

So when you're selling to other businesses, you need to identify these people and target them accordingly. It is worth carrying out some research to ensure you know who to approach before you plan your pitch. See the page in this guide on how to find out who to talk to.

It's generally best to aim as high up the chain as you can. So if you've discovered that it's the managing director who'll sign the cheque for your product, that's who you need to get in touch with first.

The person at the top of the chain may put you through to the manager of a relevant department or ask you to send them an email or letter. But at least the ultimate decision-maker will be aware of your presence.

Find out who to talk to

There are a number of methods you can use to find out who the decision makers in your target business are.

  • Use the Internet - organisations often give biographies and contact details for key members of staff on their websites. If you don't know their website address you can usually find it using a search engine.
  • Telephone the business to ask who's responsible for purchasing your particular product or service. It is a good idea to have your sales pitch ready before you do this, in case the relevant person answers the phone when you call and wants to know why you are calling.
  • Keep an eye on the trade press - articles on potential customers will often include a quote from a senior manager.
  • Get hold of marketing literature - it can be a useful source of contact information.
  • Attend trade fairs and exhibitions and chat to staff on the stands of your target customers. If you're lucky you may meet a decision maker - and even if you don't, the people there should be able to point you in the right direction.
  • If they are a business corporation, you may be able to find details of the directors on their company stationery or through the Registraire des entreprises.

Make that crucial first contact

Once you have the information on the key decision makers, it's almost time to make contact with them. Before you do this, make sure you know what you are going to say.

See the page in this guide on how to get the appointment.

In larger companies, receptionists, personal assistants and other employees may be asked to shield their managers from unwanted sales calls, especially if they get lots of calls every day.

Therefore you'll need to convince them to put you through to the decision maker. Be polite but assertive - you have a valuable product or service and you don't want them to miss out.

This will involve:

  • showing some knowledge of their business
  • explaining briefly how the decision maker would benefit from taking your call
  • being persistent and dealing with brush-offs - see the page in this guide on how to deal with common brush-offs

If the decision maker is not available or you are put through to their voicemail, you should explain who you are and your company name. Advise them that you will call back at a more suitable time, rather than leave a message. Don't try to sell your product or service to the call taker. Even if they pass on your message accurately, they will not have sufficient interest in your product or service to convince the decision maker to respond to your call. In smaller firms, the owner or other decision maker may answer the phone so be prepared to launch into your sales pitch straight away.

Get the appointment

The main purpose of many sales calls is to get an appointment with a potential customer. Once you get through to the person you're targeting, you need to persuade them why it's worth meeting you.

You should plan what you're going to say in advance. You may have as little as ten to 20 seconds to get the customer's attention before they lose interest - so you've got to say something that will make them listen. Be ready for brush-offs - see the page in this guide on how to deal with common brush-offs.

Most business people are busy and won't have time to see everyone who calls them, so make sure you quickly establish why they cannot afford to miss out. Pick one key benefit of your product or service and tailor the way you present it to fit the particular customer's needs.

If the customer sounds interested in what you've got to offer, ask for a meeting to discuss things further. Propose a time that's convenient for you and let the customer come back with an alternative if they wish. Always offer to visit customers at their own premises - they will be less likely to cancel the appointment.

Ask them who will be attending so that you can bring duplicates of any documents or handouts. Make sure you note down all the details of the appointment and plan in some time beforehand to collect information on the company and prepare your presentation.

Deal with common brush-offs

Getting the brush-off is a fact of life for any sales person. The key to success is learning the most common brush-offs and planning in advance how you will handle them.

Always aim to keep developing the relationship with the customer. The longer you can keep the conversation going, the more chance you have of getting them interested.

"Put something in the mail to me/send me an email."

  • "No problem. What is it that you're particularly interested in?"
  • "OK. I'll send you some basic information and then I can call you next week to discuss it."

"I'll need to think about it."

  • "Of course. What are your particular concerns?"

"I'm afraid I haven't got time to speak now."

  • "That's fine. I'll send you an email following up on our discussion."
  • "OK. When would be a good time to talk instead?"

Sometimes you will get an outright brush-off - the customer will make it clear they are not interested at all. If this happens, try to find out why. It may be that a follow-up call in a few months' time may be better received. If not, at least you may find out whether you need to change or improve your sales techniques. And don't let a refusal get you down - the next customer you speak to may pick up on any negativity in your voice.

Always make a list of potential clients that you have contacted and the outcome. This will help you to avoid contacting the same company twice by mistake. In time, you can revisit the list and try again as their situation may have changed or you may have a new product or service to offer.

Original document, Target the right people in an organisation, © Crown copyright 2009
Source: Business Link UK (now GOV.UK/Business)
Adapted for Québec by Info entrepreneurs

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