Salespeople know they need a constant, accurate source of information that reveals the internal machinations of a potential customer’s selection process. These “coaches” are individuals who provide accurate information about the sales cycle and competition. Salespeople sometimes believe they have a coach when, in reality, they don’t. Heavy hitters (truly great salespeople) know they have a coach when the person not only provides them with accurate information, but also helps them by fighting for their cause. A true coach will represent and promote a salesperson’s solution to his colleagues and, even better, to senior executive leadership.
There are five different types of coaches, who bring varying degrees of value to a salesperson:
Frenemy. A frenemy is someone who befriends you so that you think he is a supporter. In reality, the frenemy is only acting the part and is truly working against you. Frenemies are extremely dangerous, because they lull you in Settings to a false sense of security that you are winning the sale, when they are really coordinating a plan to defeat you.
Well-Wisher. A well-wisher talks to you on an intimate, friendly basis. He provides information that you consider proprietary. However, the well-wisher is an extremely amiable person and is probably providing the same information to all the salespeople competing for the business.
Weak Spy. Weak spies are observers who provide you information about the internal politics of the selection process. They report the thoughts of the various selection team members and keep you informed on the progress of other vendors.
Strong Spy. Strong spies are not only observers, but also disseminators of information. They promote you and your solution to others within their company when you aren’t around. Strong spies have a deeper, more personal connection to you than weak spies do. They’re more akin to confidants than acquaintances.
Guide. Guides are trusted friends who will courageously defend you and your solution, since they have a vested interest in your winning. Guides can be considered best friends. Not only are they confidants who provide all the inside details about the internal politics of decision making, but they also help you plan and execute your strategy to win the business. Guides are usually seasoned employees. They’ve worked at the company for quite some time and understand how to get things done. They have the business acumen and the experience to provide adept advice on how to win the deal and get the contract signed. Most importantly, after helping devise the wining game plan, they play an integral part in executing it.
The ideal coach is the person with the highest authority or influence involved in the selection process. When this person becomes your coach, you will enjoy a unique advantage. For example, let’s assume the CIO who is making the $350,000 purchase of storage technology is your coach and he is a guide. You’re guaranteed to win!
However, the coach could be anybody inside the customer’s company, or even outside the company, such as a consultant working on the project. All of these advisors share a common characteristic. They have a selfish reason for wanting you or your company to win. This reason may range from the simple fact that they like you, to the complicated nature of politics, where your solution helps them gain power, prestige, or authority.
Quite often, salespeople mistake someone for a coach when, in fact, the person isn’t a loyal compatriot. You should always have a certain level of paranoia about your coach. Is he secretly coaching the competition? Is he acting as your eyes and ears when you are not around? Is he truthfully telling you about what the other vendors are up to and about the preferences of the various selection committee members? Is he providing privileged and proprietary information to you that the other vendors aren’t receiving?
One of the most important sales call goals is to develop a trusted coach — hopefully, a guide. Obviously, the more coaches you have inside an account, the better the quality and quantity of information you will receive. (Being at the mercy of a single person is a risky position to be in. What if your coach is wrong?) The information you get from these coaches can be used to determine your standing in an account, and help determine your course of action.
About the Author
Steve W. Martin teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business. His new book is titled Heavy Hitter Sales Linguistics: 101 Advanced Sales Call Strategies for Senior Salespeople.