How to Reach Decision Makers and Close a Sale

Professional speakers, freelance speechwriters and entrepreneurs must learn the sales strategies and techniques that will secure appointments in today’s volatile economy.

That means getting past gatekeepers and getting to decision makers.

Armies of executive assistants and the sub-second attention span of crazy-busy executives are barriers to overcome.

Attendees at Saturdays’ meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association were given insights on how to crack new accounts, speed up sales and win more business.

The Secrets of Silicon Valley Admins

Silicon Valley Administrators
Four crack EA’s took time off from their busy schedules to spend time on a panel and share the secrets of the C-Suite:

This self-described “she-wolf pack of Silicon Valley” are fierce guardians of their executives time and the “gatekeepers” who can approve or deny your access. They emphasized that they are not the enemy. But if you treat them in an unfriendly or arrogant way, not only will you never get past them to their executive, but they’ll share information around the company and you will be persona non grata on all future calls.

The secret to success is really quite simple:

“Be friendly, be likable, be real. Use the word please. Be honest. Don’t pretend you know someone when you don’t. We’ll check you out on LinkedIn in a heartbeat.”

These women (and 99% of all EA’s are women) are open to being wooed. Starbucks and candy, handwritten thank you notes and other small acts of kindness work wonders. Just don’t be “creepy” or overly persistent. The best time to call is mid-afternoon.

Take the time to research the company and if you can give a legit name as a reference you will probably be put through.

Cement the phone call with an email. Following-up once a week is OK.

Don’t be too obsessed with reaching the senior executive. Calling high is not always the best strategy. You might get more face-time and a better result talking to someone lower down the organization the EA refers you to. It is even worthwhile to ask if the top guy’s EA can refer you to a more appropriate administrator. Ask “Could some of your colleagues help?” Another proven technique is to hire your own virtual assistant and have them make a “sister admin” call into the large company.

Whoever does the calling, be sure to make it real. Avoid sounding scripted. Get to the point. Don’t sound like a recruiter (who have THE WORST reputation of all). EA’s love to help so use the magic words “I need your help…”.

A professional website and LinkedIn profile enables the busy EA to check your bona fides. Consider if the web content looks good when it is printed and handed to the executive to read while they are in a meeting or on a flight. If not, add a PDF print option.

The killer suggestion of the morning was to leverage LinkedIn and review the membership roster of The Executive Assistants of Silicon Valley group. There are 2,967 members. Of course, to join you really should (ahem) be an EA, or maybe hire a virtual assistant who is (hint! hint!). These are the real decision makers of the Valley, executives just work for them.

Jill Konrath: Fresh Sales Strategies

Jill KonrathThe afternoon session kicked off with Minnesota native Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies and SNAP Selling. She faults the typical salesperson, or speaker selling their services, for combining a mind-numbing depth of expertise about their service with a ridiculously limited understand of the prospect’s world. Rather than spend more time exhaustively detailing product features, we need to focus our attention on customers and develop an in-depth understanding of their business environment, objectives, issues, challenges and, yes, their administrators’ preferences!

Jill reviewed key stages of a sales call:

Who Do I Contact?

Realize that big companies have business units and divisions. Break it down into component parts that you can get your arms around. Use LinkedIn for targeted searches. Other resources are Hoovers, Zoominfo, and Netprospex. It’s worth paying for the right prospect list vs. wasting valuable time being bounced between assistants.

What Do I Say?

Look for ways to jolt the prospect out of their complacency. Find out what they care about. Your goal is not to close the sale on the first call, but to have them say “Ooh, that’s interesting. I want to know more.”

Start by establishing your credibility as an expert. Use a referral name. Mention any homework you’ve done “In last week’s press release I noticed your company…” or “I’ve seen your senior executives presentations on YouTube…”

Then pique their curiosity by sharing relevant ideas and information: “I have some ideas…” “I thought you might be interested…”

The final step is a gracious close with an invitation to connect.

Kurt Shaver: The LinkedIn King

Kurt ShaverChapter member and Pro-Track class of 2011 graduate Kurt Shaver showcased his social networking chops when he shook the audience out of their mid-afternoon lethargy with a dynamic review of the many ways to use LinkedIn to supercharge sales and prospecting campaigns. His material came straight from his well-respected SalesFoundary classes which offers LinkedIn training to sales teams and individuals.

LinkedIn Profile Tips

Success on LinkedIn starts with a professional Profile.

Kurt’s tips include:

  • Make sure you profile has a full face and white background. Lose the photo of you with your spouse, kids and pets. Save those for Facebook.
  • Write a headline that is keyword rich, not just a boring job title. NSA/NC Past-President Jim Carrillo nails it:
  • Stop banging your head with the mouse; I can help with business technology. Customized video training for your needs.

  • Use each of the three website links allocated and make their titles something other than the default “My Website”.
  • Load up on applications such as Slideshare and a link to your blog posting. Professional speakers should take the time to display a video, even though it means jumping through these hoops.

LinkedIn Prospecting Tips

Once you have your Profile in order the next step is to add connections. The mother-lode in your network are the all-important “friends of friends” — the rather weird Scientologically-named “Level 2’s” in LinkedIn terminology. If you have, say, 1,000 immediate connections you can expect over 300,000 “Level 2” connections – the people your immediate contacts can introduce you to, or whose names you can drop when you are calling their EA!

Here’s an example from my own network. I know 126 people with the job title “CEO”. But there are 35,475 CEO’s known to my network as a whole. Far too many to call on, no matter how cooperative their administrators might be. However, within a 50 mile radius of my home there are 5,461 CEO’s in the technology industry who are “friends of my friends”. If I closed 1% of them that would be 54 keynote speeches a year to write – one speech a week would keep me busy…

Run customer reports in the “Advanced Search” under Contacts to find your own prospecting list.

Kurt’s killer suggestion was to then click on the green “+Saved Search” in the upper right of the screen and ask LinkedIn to email you a list of everyone who has met your criteria in the past week. This is the ultimate “Bluebird list” for your sales calls. A surefire prospecting tip. It’s a natural to call and congratulate them on their promotion and ask “How may I help…?:

Publish or Perish

Why create when you can curate?

Share thoughts, articles and nuggets of wisdom from content-rich websites with your LinkedIn network to boost your reputation as expert. Use the Share on LinkedIn bookmark widget to quickly and easily publish relevant content to your Profile, Groups you belong to, or specific individuals. Take the time to customize a comment for each posting and seed your remarks with a question or three to start the debate. There could be tens of thousands of eyeballs with an opportunity to see what you send out, so use this technique with care, and be sure you are adding value.

Next up: January 2013 NSA meeting

As good a meeting as this was, NSA/NC has an even better one scheduled for January 12 when National President and humor-meister Ron Culberson will help us add humor to our talks and the former CEO of Southwest Airlines Howard Putnam will fly in to share his tips on thriving in turbulent times. See you there!

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6 Comments so far
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THANK YOU for capturing this all – it was an amazing meeting and your fingers must have been flying to catch the fire hose of info so well! I can’t wait to implement what I learned. Thanks NSANC!

Ironically, NSA/NC Past-President Craig Harrison missed today’s meeting, but he has nailed the topic with this insightful listing of ways to get past gatekeepers and reach decision makers.


Thanks for this detailed summary. Brilliant to hear the feedback from the EAs.


Thanks Karen, I’m glad to hear my report helped you. Actually, I used my secret weapon to record the meeting: my Livescribe pen, which ensures I never miss a word.

Ian — Once again, you have provided information that is to helpful and useful. Thank you so much for being generous enough to share it with many of us for whom the task of reaching potential senior level clients often seems daunting. 🙂 Good show!

Great reporting. I know because I was there* but if I hadn’t been, I’d feel like I got the high points just from reading your summary. Well done. You ought to be a writer (ha).

* and thanks for the coronation to “LinkedIn King”.

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