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Penetrating Other Departments

How to sell deeper into your existing client’s business

I received a call from a sales executive (let’s call him Carl) recently about a dilemma he was having. He said, “Russ, I have a great suite of products and services that can address the needs of various departments and functions within a company. But once I get the first sale in one department, I just can’t seem to penetrate other departments at this same account. I just seem to hit a brick wall. I looked at most of my accounts and I noticed that I only sold one product or service to each one. I rarely sell multiple products to multiple departments within the same company. What am I doing wrong?”

So I said, “Well Carl, how have your meetings been going with the managers in the other departments?” I knew I was setting him up with this question, but I wanted him to realize it himself. His response was, “Other managers? I haven’t met the other managers. In fact, that’s part of my problem.” Bingo! That WAS his problem. What Carl was doing, it turned out, was asking his client, the manager in the department who purchased his product, to speak with his counterparts in the other departments about how great his product was doing. You see, Carl told me that once he gets into a company with his product or service, they love it. So he thought that the manager could help him by “spreading the word” throughout his company. He was expecting his client to actually spend his valuable time “selling” Carl’s product to his peers. That is if he even remembered to do so, since I’m sure he is busy like the rest of us and probably barely had time to even say hello to his peers.

The process of selling deeper into an existing client account is very similar to networking. When you meet someone at a party, business event, mixer, or whatever, and you are trying to make more business connections by networking, you don’t just give them your card and say, “Hey, if you know of anyone who needs help with their financial planning, tell them about me. Will ya?” If you think they will hold onto your card, remember you when they are meeting with their clients, colleagues, or friends, and actually go the extra effort to talk about you, then you’re misinformed. The truth is, you’re the last thing on their mind when they are talking to their clients about their own product. So, unless an opportunity falls in their lap that could involve you (“Hey Fred! You wouldn’t happen to know of a good financial planner, would you?”) then you need to take a different approach.

But wait! There’s even a bigger reason why you shouldn’t expect someone to do your selling for you. Let’s say I meet a financial planner at a networking event (Oh wait! I have. About a million times already!) and he gives me his card so I can refer him to my clients. Now, assuming he already has a great reputation which was validated by being a member of this networking group to begin with, then exactly how am I supposed to “sell” him to my contacts? I know virtually nothing about financial planning, except what my planner has told me about my finances and situation. So what am I supposed to say about this guy to my clients? I can’t give good examples because I don’t understand what he does. Or, I can use anecdotal stories about how he got one of his clients a 16% return on their 401K. But how good a job can I really do for him? In fact, I will potentially do more harm than good by setting wrong expectations or inadvertently giving out wrong information.

The best way that networking works is to swap cards with someone, then contact them a day or so later and have a longer discussion about what you do and the kind of clients you are looking for. Then ask your newfound friend if they could introduce you to some of his clients. You don’t ask if they know of anyone who could use their services. Why not? Because you shouldn’t expect them to know enough about your services to know who can use them. That’s your job. You just want to get him to introduce you to his contacts, who might have similar interests, so you can do the selling.

What does this have to do with Carl? It’s the same thing. First, Carl can’t expect his client to do his selling for him. Second, and most important, he shouldn’t WANT his client do his selling for him. His client is not trained in how to sell Carl’s products and services. So what will his client say besides, “He did good by me!”

What I told Carl to do is to get his client to introduce him to the other managers. Coach him as to exactly what departments he wants to meet and then have Carl’s client make a phone call or write a letter of introduction (he can even write the letter for his client). Include in the call or letter information about how pleased he is with Carl’s product, but don’t elaborate on what it could do for them (He doesn’t really know!). Then the letter can say, “I recommended to Carl that he contact you directly to set up a meeting since I believe you might benefit from what he has to say.” Ideally, a better scenario is to set up a lunch meeting with Carl and another department head for the next time Carl visits the account. This way the meeting is more informal, the new department manager gets a free lunch, and Carl’s client is there to make the introductions and help transition Carl to the other department head, along with all his compliments and accolades about Carl and his products. This way, Carl will do the selling, not his client. His client’s role is different, yet vital.

You might recognize this as the “referral”, which is what it is, plain and simple. Unfortunately, a lot of sales people either don’t ask for referrals or don’t know how to ask for them. Carl hit on both counts. He has since tried this new approach and is finding it lots easier to penetrate his accounts. In fact, it is easier and less costly to sell into his existing accounts than to find and sell to a new one. In fact, statistics show that it costs seven to 10 times more to find and sell to a new customer than to sell to an existing one. You just have to know how to do it. And using your existing client to introduce you to his counterparts is a great shoe-in for you to do your job of selling.

Russ Lombardo