Jeff Katz is a major-account representative for national waste-management firm Veolia Environment Services. A few years ago he pitched a large apartment complex on Veolia’s service, but lost the business to a competitor. Recently, with the contract set to expire, Katz tried again. But this time, Veolia had equipped him with a sales training program and sales coaching based on the Action Selling system.

Instead of going straight to the ultimate decision maker (UDM), Katz started with the maintenance manager for the apartment complex. As he had learned to do in the sales training course, Katz treated the man just as respectfully as he would treat any UDM. He asked great questions that identified needs—and the emotions surrounding those needs. The maintenance manager “kept getting angrier and angrier” as he discussed problems with his current vendor, Katz says.

The maintenance manager armed Katz with key information and arranged a meeting with the UDM. When Katz asked for the business, he says, the UDM called in the maintenance manager, “and the three of us worked together like teammates trying to solve a problem. It was entirely different from a seller calling on a buyer.”

Naturally, Veolia won the contract.

Think about that: You, a UDM, and the UDM’s trusted associate working hand-in-hand to solve a problem, with the trusted associate serving as your champion. It doesn’t sound much like a typical sales call, does it?

Make influencers your champions, never your enemies.

How often do you treat lower-level buying “influencers” as mere obstacles as you maneuver for a meeting with the ultimate decision-maker?

Far too many sales training programs and sales coaching sessions teach, overtly or by implication, that your goal should be to brush off middle managers and other influencers because they lack final buying authority. That is a terrible mistake. Those people can be your most valuable selling allies—or your deadliest foes.

If the sales training programs you’re using don’t tell you that, you need to find a better sales training program.

End users, middle managers, department heads, or vice presidents might not have the power to make your deal, but you can bet that some of them have the power to kill it. And they very well might, if you haven’t sold them. The UDM, after all, has more faith in their judgment than in your sales pitch. That’s why they’re called influencers.

In an ideal world—or in a world you might create by using truly professional sales skills–lower-level buyers would be your champions. They would want you to meet with the UDM. They would insist on it. They would coach you not only on how to make the meeting happen but on how to make it succeed. They would help you understand the company’s needs, and the UDM’s viewpoint, and how to speak the UDM’s language. They would guide you step by step through a sales strategy that would win you their company’s business. Essentially, they would serve as the best possible sales coaches for the deals you are trying to win.

Why would they do all that in the real world, not just an ideal one? They’d do it for the same reason the apartment complex’s maintenance manager became a voluntary sales coach for Jeff Katz: Because instead of treating the guy as an obstacle, Katz engaged him using the sales skills he learned in a genuinely professional sales training course. Katz asked great questions. He sold himself, sold his company, and finally sold his product.

A sales process becomes a thing of beauty when lower-level buyers are won over as your sales coaches and champions. It isn’t really magic. But it sure feels that way.

For information about how to improve sales skills and make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling at (800) 232-3485.

Duane Sparks

Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling.  He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations.  Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).