Coaching Sales Reps to Reach Higher-Level Decision Makers

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A common complaint I hear from sales managers is that their sales reps are stuck selling to low-level decision makers: supervisors, purchasing agents, clerks. People at those levels are often concerned only about price, and they treat your offerings as commodities. To break out of that trap, you need to your help your sales reps learn how to reach higher-level decision makers. If your reps can help those higher-level people appreciate the full value of your offerings, price becomes less of a factor in the decision.

Here are three things all sales managers should work on with their sales reps:

1. Help your salespeople to identify the top people involved in the decision

It is rare these days for any single person to be in charge of a major purchasing decision. So no matter where or how your sales rep gains entry, make sure they understand the necessity of identifying:

  • The person who has the budget authority (usually the most senior level)
  • The power broker: the person who wields the most power and influence (this may or may not be the same as the person with the budget authority)
  • The anti-sponsor is anyone who may be opposed to your solution.
  • The gatekeeper: the person who controls the flow of information and whom your reps will need to go through to reach the other decision-makers

2. Make sure your salespeople can talk intelligently to the budget authority & power broker

Salespeople get delegated to the level of person that they sound like. Newbie sales reps are usually pretty good at spouting out the features and benefits and pricing of their company’s offerings, and so they get delegated to lower-level buyers.

To make sure your reps know the jargon and mindset of middle and senior executives:

  • Ask your senior sales reps to talk at a sales team meeting about the types of decisions makers they’ve encountered on different deals. How did they talk with the most senior people?
  • You or your best sales reps can do role plays with the younger sales reps until you’re comfortable they will sound credible when speaking with higher-level people inside the account.

3. Teach them how to get around a gatekeeper

If the gatekeeper isn’t an influential person in the decision, then your sales reps need to get past that person as soon as possible in the sales process. Here are five techniques they can use:

  • Ask the gatekeeper questions that he or she can’t answer—something about functionalities or requirements of a different department in the business, for instance. If the questions the sales rep asks are important to understanding the prospect’s needs from different perspectives, hopefully you’ll get the gatekeeper’s permission to talk to the person who has the answers.
  • Offer to gather information from other people and then report back to the gatekeeper with their findings. That leaves the gatekeeper in control – it’s as if you are working for them. Ask, “Who else might help us with the insights we need to make sure everyone gets their needs met?”
  • Take the assumptive approach. Say, “At some point we’re going to need to talk to those who would be involved in looking at this. Who are we going to need to talk to?”
  • Sell the gatekeeper on the benefits of involving higher level decision-makers. (For example, one possible benefit is that the money to buy may come from the budget of someone other than the gatekeeper.)
  • If they must, they can go over the gatekeeper’s head and directly contact other decision makers. Obviously, this can alienate the gatekeeper, but it can be useful if done early in the process (keeping with the well-known theme of asking forgiveness rather than permission).

By using these techniques, your salespeople will be more successful in reaching the higher-level decision makers and no longer finding themselves caught in a commodity trap.


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Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.

1 thought on “Coaching Sales Reps to Reach Higher-Level Decision Makers”

  1. It is so important that sales reps learn how to identify and contact key decision makers. Not everyone is good at this at first, so it is important that they be coached through it. Once they master this skill, they will be able to close more deals.

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