One of the most instructive experiences of my early selling career was losing a sale to Google. That one deal could have launched my first company into international success and been worth tens of millions of dollars.
But I screwed it up.
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
I walked right into one of the common pitfalls of selling to enterprises: I thought I was selling to the company. So I neglected to sell to the people at the company.
If you can avoid this problem, you can close some seriously huge enterprise deals. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mid-sized company looking to expand or the founder of a tiny startup. You 100% can close those deals.
Take it from someone who learned it the hard way, and then wrote a book on enterprise sales.
All you need to do is follow some simple advice.
You’re not just pitching the CEO
If you have a connection at the company you’re pitching or an investor put you in touch with an executive, you might think you have it made. If the CEO is on board, everyone else will be, right? (Or, at the very least, they’ll have to go with it anyway.)
I learned this the hard way when my first company almost nailed a sale at Google. One of their senior directors was super excited about our product and wanted to implement it. I thought we had it made.
What I didn’t realize was that this senior director wasn’t the person on the ground making decisions. She passed the project off to a project manager who didn’t give a damn about our product.
The project manager half-heartedly went through the motions of taking a look at it and eventually said it wasn’t a good fit.
At the time, I thought having a senior director on my side was enough to clinch the sale. I was wrong.
You have to sell to everyone
When you’re selling to an enterprise, there are a lot of people who hold a stake in the decision.
Let’s say the CEO of a multinational likes what you’re selling. That’s a great start. But you might still have to convince the senior VP, a department head, a group leader, a mid-level manager and several IT people before you can close the deal and get your product implemented.
That might seem like an exaggeration, but you’ll be amazed at how many people have to either sign off on the purchase or put in time and effort to finish implementation. And if any of those people aren’t convinced, your sale could fall flat.
Research has shown that some of the most successful CEOs are open to revisiting decisions based on feedback from their team—so make sure that their team is on board with your deal!
Internal champions help, but won’t make the sale for you
Okay, let’s look at the other side of the equation. Say you’ve convinced someone in the company that your product is a good fit. They’ve promised to help you get the executive team on board with the purchase.
Seems like it solves the problem we had with Google, right?
It helps . . . but it’s not enough.
For one thing, you still need to be involved in selling other people at the company. Your internal champion just isn’t going to be as good at selling your product as you are. They might not be able to answer important questions or explain subtle benefits.
And other stakeholders at the company might not be on the same page as your champion at all. It’s hard to get a feel for the overall feeling at the company through a single person who’s excited about what you’re selling.
In many cases, your internal champion just won’t have the authority to make the decision you need them to.
Get to know the stakeholders
So what do you do instead? Sell all of the stakeholders. That means you work with your internal champion (if you have one), but you’re also involved in selling everyone else at the company, from the CEO down to the IT guys who will be implementing. The more people you need to bring on board, the more rejection you’ll face—but all of that is simply feedback to help you better understand the needs of the prospect.
You need to be in the meetings that your champion has with other teams. You need to talk to the IT guys that have to sign off on the security of your solution. You need to tell the executive team how your product will help them advance their company priorities.
And so on.
This means you need to know a lot of people at the company. And even more than that, you need to know a lot about the company. Which requires a lot of conversations with a lot of people. (That’s one of the reasons some enterprise deals can take years to close.)
Understand what each stakeholder needs
You might be thinking, “Okay, I can do that—I can sell to everyone at the company who needs to be sold.” But I’m going to throw another thing at you here. It’s not just about selling.
It’s about helping.
Remember that project manager at Google I told you about? She didn’t need to know more about the product we were selling. She needed to know how it would make her life easier and benefit her career. We should have shared KPIs, a roadmap for the pilot, internal marketing materials and a whole lot more.
That wouldn’t have guaranteed the sale. But it certainly would have made it more likely.
You might not need to share that many things with a stakeholder. But you need to know what each person needs.
Again, that means a lot of conversations with a lot of people. You can’t just know what the CEO wants. You need to sell to the company, the department and individuals within both.
Most salespeople have no idea that they need to sell on these three levels. If you can integrate that idea into your selling process, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors.
Remember that a single person can make or break the sale
It’s hard to balance meeting the needs of a company with meeting the needs of an individual who might not seem like they play a decision-making role. But it’s crucial for closing enterprise deals.
Meet each person where they are. Some might want to know how your product will help the company meet its annual goals. Others will want to know why you’re better than your competitors. Some might just want to know if you can make their jobs easier.
Selling to enterprises is complicated—but it’s like selling to anyone else. It just involves talking to a lot more people before you can close the deal.