Posted on 05 July 2012
Everything is going great with your prospect. You think you have a potentially huge deal, and are way down the road on closing it — then bam; your prospect stops engaging and you get an email that they went in another direction. Or how about this; you have been working with your client on a huge upgrade, and the next thing you know they are going in a totally different direction and their reasons make no sense. You are blindsided because you thought everything was going to happen, but after a bit more thought you realize its because the decision makers had the wrong information.
Do any of these stories sound familiar? If you sell a product like software, you are probably nodding your head up and down right now; a few of you have whiplash. What you just experienced is the culmination of two things:
- Your failure to get to the decision maker.
- Your contact is a B or C player employee who held all of the cards.
Think about it. You spent years building your product, hiring people, and creating your voice. Nobody can tell your story as good as you or the people that work for you. So when it comes to major deals, why are you leaving someone else in charge of your brand? That is what you are doing every time you rely on an employee.
Hiring A players is very hard. It takes time, trust, and a solid recruitment process. I have been told we have a long interview process which sometimes includes injecting the candidate into the business well before they are employed. Yet I still have managed to hire B players (not so much C anymore, our recruitment process has taken care of that).
So if it is that hard to find and recruit A players, and this process is something you are in charge of and work hard at, then imagine how many clients of yours either struggle with the same issues or have no process in place at all? The bigger the company is, the easier it is for these employees to hide. Unfortunately, the bigger the client is, the bigger the deals are. B players to me are people who do not take initiative and have no clue how to properly manage expectations. They have a hard time quickly comprehending things, they drop the ball, they do not approach a situation strategically, and they make poor decisions, over and over again. If this person worked for you, you would fire them in a heart beat.
These B players are out there, and they are working for your clients and lucky for you, your entire company’s reputation is in their hands. They will forget to preform critical tasks, they will not ask the right questions, they will tell their boss the wrong information, they won’t know how to sell you, and they have zero influence within their organization.
I have been devastated by B player employees. Huge six and seven figure deals have disappeared completely because these sub-par employees have not managed expectations. So what can I do to protect myself? I’m glad you asked:
Pre-Customer: If you are trying to win a deal and you feel your contact is a B player then you need to do everything you can to get to an A player, or the decision maker. I know this is sometimes easier said than done but you have to do it. B players know they are B players, so even if they have some authority or they act tough, there is always something you can say to have them get someone else involved. Ask questions like “how does your company make decisions?”. If they tell you the VP has to sign off, then don’t be afraid to ask them for an introduction. If they refuse, get honest with them. Tell them something like this; “I have spent years thinking about how to make _________ (insert the industry name here like “retailers”) successful doing _______ (insert solution type like “email marketing”). I’ve seen people succeed and fail and I want to make sure you guys succeed. I know how busy you must be with your daily tasks, and I wouldn’t want you to try and relay year’s worth of knowledge on how to be successful, so let me save you a bit of time and ensure that your company is as successful as it can be by having a quick call with the VP. If you schedule a call with Mr./Mrs. VP, we can do the call together and I promise I’ll make you look like a rock star.”
There is so much at stake here that you may want to offer an incentive. Tell them that if they sign up with you, you will give them a free month of service if they will introduce you to the decision maker. Tell them honestly that you want the best shot at becoming their partner and you want their business so much you are willing to give them a free month for one simple email intro. I don’t care if you ruin the relationship, you need to go around this person if it’s the last thing you do. And you might be able to do just that. Go on linkedIn. See what other employees your contact is linked to. Do a search for a title, and if you find someone that looks like a match, reach out. Tell them you are working with your contact and are working hard at making them a customer. Tell them you would like to get some insight as to how decisions are made and ask them nicely for a 5 minute call. Tell them that if they will give you 5 minutes, that when you are their partner, you will make sure that favor is repaid. If they are in the market to buy your product or service, and you feel like you are the best solution out there, then you might have more power than you think.
Post-Customer: So you have been lucky enough to close the deal but you realize that this is just the beginning of a long relationship that will buy more from you, the bigger and more successful their program becomes. If your client assigns a person to manage your company and they are a B or C player then you have a problem. I think this is even a bigger problem than working with a B player before you make them a customer because your reputation is on the line. B players will mess up and throw you under the bus. They will not take the blame if they messed up. It is so easy to just pass the buck. You could not only not grow their business, but you could lose the customer and create a bad reputation. If it is impossible to get around the B player you need to be very strategic and preemptive about everything. In other words, you need to cover your back. Find out who the decision maker is and work hard at creating a relationship with them outside of your contact.
Use titles to gain access to different players within the organization. For instance you might be a sales person or account manager who is working with another account manager within your client’s organization. It would be very hard for you to go above your contact. This is called breaking protocol and it could backfire on you, so use your own titles to move up the ladder. Your boss (a Director or VP) could have access to your contact’s boss, and your CEO might be able to go up to the VP or C level. Make sure you set this protocol up the right way from the start. Tell your B player contact that your CEO would like to meet so and so. Then let your executives create those upper level relationships so if brown stuff hits the fan, they can move up the ladder without breaking protocol or ruining a relationship.
Do everything you can to have a second contact within the organization and CC that fricken person on every single email you send to your contact. When you ask your contact to do something or they have a deliverable, make sure that you tell that other person who is responsible for what and when.
Always operate under the assumption that everything you told your contact will be forgotten, twisted, and possibly even purposely altered, depending upon how political the organization they are working for is. The more political, the more they need to change the facts to support their agenda. Find out in honest conversations with your contact what their goals are. Do they want to be promoted? Do they just want to not be fired? The more you know their agenda, the better prepared you will be when sharing information.
You need to make sure you cover your tracks. The worst thing that could happen is they drop the ball and blame you. When it happens there is really nothing more frustrating. You do not want to throw them under the bus because now you look like the vendor who cannot admit they are wrong, and of course you don’t want that person to be fired even though you secretly do. If you are really good at creating solid relationships, eventually people will start admitting to you that your contact is not great at their job and they might even help you navigate. Its amazing what people will tell you after a martini or two. Getting your customers drunk to pump them for information will be a follow up article. Haha, ok I’m only half joking.
Bottom line is that your brand is in a B player’s hands and if they are your only contact, you have already failed even before you have begun. I would love to hear some of your strategies for managing B player clients.