The Owner as Salesperson
If your business employs salespeople, then you’ve probably had them bring an account challenge to you. “You need to talk to this customer, Boss. You can (fill in the blank) better than anyone else.”
The fill-in-the-blank part may be convincing, explaining your product, negotiating or being tough. Whatever is needed, it’s likely that your employees think you do it better than they do. In most small businesses, the owner is the best salesperson. Why is that?
In some companies it’s because the owner started out as a salesperson and built the business that way. But that isn’t true in all cases. Even in situations where the owner is the best technician, the best analyst, or the best designer, he or she is usually still the best salesperson.
That’s because owners have gravitas, the weight of ownership attached to their words. If they promise something, the customer freely (and correctly) assumes that such promises carry the reputation and resources of the company behind them. If the owner says something can’t or won’t be done, there is no court of appeal. The owner’s word is final.
The owner is usually better able to reach an understanding, because the party negotiating for the other side is more accepting of the owner’s positions. There are fewer things to negotiate, and more acceptance of the facts as presented.
So why do owners hate cold calling? I mean, everyone dislikes cold calling, but all the business owners I know hate it with a passion. Even those who grew their business with cold calls (and most did) steadfastly refuse to do it today. What makes it so loathsome?
The Owner’s Sales Identity
When you started out, you didn’t expect new customers to take you at your word. After all, your business had no track record, so why should a stranger believe you when you promised something? You probably weren’t too certain that you could actually deliver everything you promised. But as the business grew, you established your reputation for quality, dependability, integrity, and any other feature you take pride in. You carry that reputation with you as an owner. It is part of you.
It comes along whenever an employee introduces you to a customer. There is always a little bit of pride in hearing “This is my Boss.” or “This is the Owner of our company.” or “This is the President of ABC Corp.” It’s a position you earned- no one bestowed it upon you. It is part of you, of your gravitas.
All of that disappears when you make a cold call. To begin with, you are probably trying to make an entry through a gatekeeper who doesn’t know your company, and doesn’t care what you have to offer. His or her job is to deal with people like you, so that the real decision maker doesn’t have to.
Further, your aura of ownership is left at the door. Your words carry no more weight than anyone else’s. For all they know, you’re just another lyin’ salesman. It’s hard not to respond to their skepticism with “Do you know who I am? Do you understand the commitment that stands behind what I say?” They don’t, and they won’t.
Negotiation Strategy- Matching Levels
The underlying problem with owners making cold calls isn’t that they are uncomfortable. No one likes making cold calls. It’s not that they result in rejection that bruises the owner’s inflated sense of self, either. It’s that they aren’t an appropriate use of an owner’s time.
A basic tactic of negotiation strategy is that you match levels of negotiators. If their final decision maker isn’t in the room, your final decision maker shouldn’t be there either. Negotiations (and all sales are negotiations) can only take place between equals.
So it is appropriate for someone else to make the cold call. Teach them that it is their job to only put you in front of your opposite number- someone with the same ability to commit as you have. Then the work you put in to earn your stripes brings value into the room with you.
What do you think? Do you still cold call? How do you set up your gravitas before a meeting? Let me know.