May 14, 2009

How to make the PA your sales ally

Personal Assistant - friend or foe?
Anybody who is reaching out to prospects at C Level in large organisations knows that they are going to be talking to many more Personal Assistants and secretaries than senior executives. However, even very clever sales campaigns can fail to adequately take this into consideration.
I have spent hours and even days in campaign planning mode with clients, devising the message and the materials to make a C Level campaign effective, including carefully worded emails, Pdfs and conversation guides (or scripts as others call them).

The preparation means we are clear on the proposition to be communicated, the benefits to be highlighted and the objections we may encounter. The message has been tailored to the audience by vertical as well according to their job title, or functional area. The only problem is that in most cases that same message is going to be delivered by a third party, someone who very often does not get factored into the equation.

The key success factor in most sales campaigns is actually getting to talk to the people that we need to talk to. For those of us who need to sell to the top, as opposed to the middle, or the bottom of the organization, access to the right people depends on our success in communicating with an audience that our well chosen C Level message, or script was never written for – that is the PA.

Treat the PA as your friend and ally.
Here is the issue, we spend hours training a telemarketing person, or role playing a telesales script, all the time ensuring that the person making the calls has sufficient product knowledge and understanding to confidently engage the prospect in a conversation. However, our success so often depends on our message being communicated third hand by a PA and in a way that may be completely outside of our control.

Our sophisticated message may be reduced to a simple ‘Gavin called from ACME Ltd they sell software solutions, if he rings back will I put him through?’ That is unless we make it easy to communicate our message in the way that we want.

The PA is the gateway to C Level, the essential conduit for our message. That means its needs to be distilled so as to ensure that it can easily be passed on to the manager (whether by a full time PA or a temp) and still remain intact. By necessity it has to be a simpler and more pointed message, one that is not aimed at selling your proposition, but on selling the reason why the C Level manager should listen to you.

Tips on how to turn the PA into your sales ally :
  1. Respect the PAs position, ask her, or him what is the best way of getting information to the boss, ask when is a good time to call, ask her if she wouldn’t mind passing it on, ask perhaps if she knows whether he, or is actually the best person to receive it?

  2. Don’t pressurize and try not to sound like a sales person. Be friendly and polite. Get the person’s name, keep it and use it. Make a note of any conversations, together with how friendly the person was and comments they may have made (e.g. a reference to future holidays, etc.). When you call back refer to your previous conversation, so that you don’t seem as a stranger.

  3. Remember you are not trying to sell to her, or even to her boss. Your objective is simply to exchange some useful information (which in turn can lead you closer to selling).

  4. Provide a reason why she should pass on your message, or your email. Your objective is to communicate how what you have to say could be of benefit to the manager and to assure her that you are not going to be a nuisance (i.e. sales) call if you do get put through. So ask yourself how could the manager lose out if he, or she does not talk to you, or read your information.

  5. Respect the position of her boss too, saying for example ‘John is probably very busy, but I thought this information might be of value to him because…’

  6. Use your material as a crutch. If it has been crafted properly your material can communicate your proposition and why it is of relevance more effectively than the PAs third party interpretation of what you have said. The objective should be to ask the PA to put the item on the manager’s desk and see if he/she is interested. So, say you want to pass on some information and explain why it is useful. Of course, you are redistributing the weight of effort onto the email, or letter you are going to send, so it will take a lot of work and experimentation to get it right.

  7. Gentle persistence. You don’t earn the right to get put through on the first call, or maybe even the second. However, keeping in touch with the PA over time means that your name becomes recognizable and your contact will build up a head of steam.

  8. There are many other techniques, but in my opinion many of which are more trick than technique. Here is one that is legitimate however - if you are sending an email, or a letter, than it can be useful to put a note on its saying that you will call. That means you can legitimately say to the PA ‘I promised Mr X I would give him/her a call’ which may in turn distinguish it from a cold call. Others include calling early and late, as well as during standard holidays, times when the executive may be in but the PA is not.

  9. Experiment and try different things. If your particular message of the present does not resonate and deliver the success you need, then next quarters’ could have a different effect. That again reinforces the importance of adopting a keep in touch mindset.

  10. Engage in a little chit chat and be personable, this is the sure way to make sure that out of the many salespeople that the Personal Assistant talks to today, or this week, you will be the one remembered.

  11. If you really want to talk to the manager, then try calling slighly outside the normal office hours when the PA is not at his/her desk, for example calling at 8.40am as opposed to 9am, or 5.35pm as opposed to 4.30pm.

I asked for a view from North America on how to make the executive assistant your ally. What are successfull marketers doing there to tackle this issue. Pretty much the same thing, here is the advice of Steve Lightstone the President of C Level leads generator to many big name vendors, Corner Office Leads:

''Earn her trust instantly by setting her at ease, letting her control the process. Right away, let her know that you won’t go around her, you won’t approach her executive directly and you will work through her. Her primary role is to protect her executive from unsolicited outreaches from outsiders like you, but she also lets some through. When she knows her executive is protected she’ll become your Guide, not your Gatekeeper. Differentiate yourself from all the others by your approach.''

Good advice Steve, it sounds like the same sophisticated approach is required on a global basis.

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