Sometimes big companies seem like impenetrable fortresses. If you’re like many sellers I know, you’re stumped by the “Who do I call?” question – especially if you don’t know anyone who works in the account.
In checking out their website, you discover info on the top-level corporate officers, but still don’t have a clue who’s in charge of making decisions for your product or service. And when you see all those different business units, the challenge becomes even more daunting.
Where do you start? How can you find the right person to contact?
First identify the possible job titles of someone who makes decisions in your area. In sales organizations (my clients), my key contact may be called VP of sales, national sales manager, sales director or even VP of Marketing.
In searching for names, sometimes you have to explain what this person does so make sure you can deliver a clear explanation of this decision-maker’s role.
When asked, I always say: “I’d like to speak to your chief sales officer – the person in charge of this division’s sales organization.” But if that doesn’t work, I willingly toss in other titles till something sticks.
Other times I call to find out “the person responsible for selecting speakers for your upcoming sales meeting.”
Next you must realize that big companies are really a bunch of small organizations that make autonomous decisions. Very few decisions are made for the entire organization.
After reviewing the organization’s website and/or annual report, decide where you want to go in the big company. Sometimes your targeted niche is well defined and you only do business with manufacturing or legal.
Other times your product/service fits better in certain areas of the company. Maybe you have a better chance for sales success in divisions that are growing? Or maybe you do better when they’re struggling? I work best with B2B sales organizations involved in a complex sale so that’s where I direct my prospecting.
Even if you could work in any area of the company, you’ll want to narrow your focus to get your foot in the door. So pick some places to get started and be specific. You want to be able to say, “I want to speak to the person in charge of:
- Logistics and warehouse design in the supply chain area.
- Management training in the pharmaceutical business unit.
- Making decisions on plastics suppliers at your Chicago plant
- Shortening time-to-profitability in new product introductions.
- Evaluating price optimization strategies for retail markets.
When you’re really clear on who you’re targeting, then it’s time to start digging. It often takes multiple contacts to identify the exact person you want to see so don’t get discouraged if you run into dead-ends initially.
In Cold Calling for Women: Opening Doors & Closing Sales, author Wendy Weiss states that the best way to get in is to simply to pick up the phone and call the receptionist – whose job is not to screen but to put you through.
Weiss points out that the receptionist’s question, “What’s this in reference to?” is different from a gatekeeper’s and its purpose is to connect you with the exact right person.
She also recommends you use the following Magic Words to get the decision-maker’s name before the receptionist puts you through:
“Before you connect me, (PAUSE) I need to reach – (give
title). Who is that please?”
Speaking from experience, I can assure you that this phrase will save you from much embarrassment. More than once I’ve been sent to the right buyer, but didn’t have a clue who he/she was.
How else can you find the names of big company decision makers? Last month, readers of this newsletter shared their secrets with me – and they have some pretty good ideas!
For years, Jeff Eskow from Ultimate Office achieved only mediocre success finding the right names when he asked to speak with purchasing. Then he changed his approach.
When contacting a big company today, as soon as the phone is answered he says, “Hi! I have a question about doing business with your company. Can I ask you?” A surprised switchboard operator almost always agrees.
Then he says, “I want to send a short letter that introduces my company. Would that be okay?” The operator generally responds, “Well, okay.” (Note: He’s now received 2 ‘yes’ answers.)
Finally Jeff says, “If I tell you what we do, can you tell me who to address it to?” The response is almost always affirmative – and he gets the name of the person he’s looking for.
Also, Jeff recommends that if you reach one of those totally automated systems with no way to get through to a human being — go to Accounts Payable. He likes to start his conversation using humor: “This is Jeff from Ultimate Office and you do NOT owe us money!” The result – 9 times out of 10 he gets the name of the appropriate buyer.
The sales manager for a telemarketing organization within a services firm told me that she’s found that Human Resources is extremely helpful in finding the decision-maker’s name.
Additionally, she instructs her staff to check out the company’s annual report to identify the executive’s names. If the title they’re looking for is not listed, she recommends phoning anyone whose name appears. 90% of the time you’ll get his/her assistant and this person will usually tell you the name of the individual you need to speak with.
John Collins from KTSM TV in El Paso recommends starting with a thorough search on the internet, taking down names and numbers of everyone from the top down. He figures that if they’re important enough to be listed on the corporate website, they’re worth knowing about.
When he calls the local office, he wants to talk to customer service people and/or switchboard operators rather than calling directly into the “Office in Charge of …”
Why? Because these people are there to help and he gets better information than if he ended up with the administrative assistant of some big wig who knows how to “block” callers.
John also suggests talking with other people who’ve been doing business for a long time with your targeted big company. Specifically he suggests other salespeople (from outside your industry) who really know the company because you’ll not only get names, but also great insights into the corporate culture.
An account manager from the pharmaceutical industry told me that the decision makers she needs to meet with are so well insulated in their companies that it’s virtually impossible to find them. Yet it’s imperative for her sales success to be able to deal directly with the end users.
How does she find them? She regularly scours the publications related to her field. If someone (from a corporation of interest) writes a journal article in Science magazine on related drug research, she knows that the first name on the list of authors is typically the end user, while the last name is the decision or head of the lab.
Also she’s an active member of industry-related associations because she knows at least one person from her targeted prospects will attend the conferences. Not only does she get to meet them at these events, but she also gets their membership directory – which is the perfect prospecting tool.
When Ron Suokko from Per Mar Security encounters companies that won’t release employee names, he isn’t stymied. Instead he looks in the manufacturer’s or service directory for a person’s name or title that could be a likely fit – and calls him or her directly.
He’s also found that the controller or head finance person is a good contact because they’re always looking for ways to save money or to improve quality at the same/lower cost. Usually he’ll end up with a referral to the appropriate person.
Finally, Ron recommends asking to speak to the president of the company because the call generally goes to the administrative assistant who can direct you to the proper party. The best thing about this is that your call is being transferred from the “office of the president”, so it’s usually answered – not sent to voicemail. (Note: Make sure you’re prepared to speak if you do this!)
All these strategies for identifying decision-maker’s names are effective – and that’s what counts. What do they have in common? The sellers were clear about who they wanted to reach and they made the effort.
If your prospective buyer is hidden deep within an organization, it will take multiple calls to find the ultimate decision maker. Just keep asking for “help” along the way. Most people are more than willing to give you guidance if you’re specific enough about who you need to speak with.
Then when you make your next call you can say, “I just talked with Terry in marketing and she suggested that I get in touch with you.” (It’s true!)
Make it an ongoing practice to constantly be on the lookout for names that can help you get into accounts. Scour the business sections of your local newspapers. Read trade journals. If you work with a distribution channel, leverage their contacts.
Find other salespeople or business owners in related market segments and form a “consortium” where you share information and knowledge about key accounts.
There’s nothing glamorous or easy about locating your decision makers. It’s work. It once took me seven calls to find the exact person I needed to meet – but I can assure you it was well worth the effort!
Contact Jill Konrath at www.jillkonrath.com