Every champion of a product or service believes in their heart that their target is the CEO. They need to find a way into CEOs’ consciousness. That the illumination of their message will pierce the maelstrom like a lightning bolt and all, from there, will be smooth sailing. Scales will fall from eyes and money will rain from the heavens.
To them I offer a cold shower:
- This is not the way CEOs learn
- This is not the way corporate purchase decisions are made
We’ve just completed Prospect Persona research that involved talking to CEOs worldwide. We learned two things about their information behavior:
- Their number one source of new concepts and ideas is their peer network
- They look to the buying center to vet and recommend in all purchase decisions
Let me paraphrase one of the seminal remarks:
You marketing guys are all the same. Because I’m the CEO, you only want to talk to me. But that’s not how we make decisions.
We have many smart, talented people, each with specific responsibilities to gather information and assess what you have to offer. You must be sensitive to their needs and respond with the required information. I’m part of the team, but I rely on them.
Corporations rely on the buying center. Titles with subject matter expertise and/or skin in the game have responsibilities to the buying center. The buying center is virtual and expands or contracts based on the product or service being considered.
For instance, if a company is making a large purchase, perhaps a locomotive, there will be subject matter experts, operations, finance, union reps, government relations, the business unit executive and purchasing (and more) involved in the tire-kicking. They will arrive at a final recommendation. The CEO will be part of the team, towards the end.
However, if the purchase decision is less mission-critical, perhaps super-special office equipment, the CEO may not be involved at all.
What’s critical is identifying and understanding the key members of the buying center and their roles and responsibilities, the information they require and how they learn, to understand their often-conflicting business and personal goals.
John Eng, CMO of TradeShift, adds his hard-won experience,
“Our content and sales teams work to empower the buying center, to empower each participant to recommend us. We work hard to build the personas to integrate our efforts and focus on what’s really important to them.
“We must connect with these executives on a personal level to really be effective. It’s the only way to prove our competitive superiority. Otherwise, we’re just making noise.”
And I’ll add one last paraphrase from our research:
Get to know our people and our culture – don’t just sell to a “company”, become part of the team. Earn the right to do business with us.
That’s a worthy, and achievable prospecting goal. Three steps you can take now:
- Profile (and prospect) the critical lower-level influencers, not just the C-suite
- Create personas of the entire buying center team. Each brings a distinctive POV, and you can’t win without winning them all.
- Don’t make stuff up. Conduct real research with real prospects. Working from collective assumptions does not provide breakthrough insights on how decisions are actually made.