May 18, 2005
How To

Market to Sales Executives: 3 Pain Points & 7 Tactics

SUMMARY: You'll find our new Special Report useful whether your target market is sales execs, or you just want to improve relations with your own sales department. You probably already knew that most sales reps (a) have ADD, (b) hate to read long memos, (c) loath paperwork even more than reading, and (d) are addicted to their cell phones. Plus, they're pretty sure most CRM systems are rubbish. Now find out why, and get seven practical tactics you can use in marketing to appeal to this hard-to-please audience:
By Contributing Editor Dianna Huff

What’s the #1 secret to marketing to sales executives? Understand their number one overwhelming pain point.

Pain Point #1. Meeting quota

Sales executives are judged by whether they make their “number” or sales quota – monthly, quarterly, yearly. If a sales executive’s quota for the year is $100 million and his sales force hits “only” $82 million, he is not a happy camper – and neither is the CEO.

The last thing a sales executive wants, if he works for a publicly traded company, is to have his CEO on the hot seat at the analysts' meeting. Wall Street doesn’t like it if sales projections aren’t met and will respond accordingly. When you hear those financial news summaries about earnings reports and stock prices going down . . . understand that behind that stock drop is one unhappy sales executive getting berated by his CEO.

Ditto for sales execs working for private companies – these people live or die by their sales quotas.

Secret #2 on how to market to sales execs? Get to the point, FAST.

A sales executive is stressed, he’s accountable, and he does not have time for poor salesmanship from a vendor. Says Mac McIntosh, B-to-B sales lead consultant, “The worst thing you can do is go in talking about fuzzy marketing activities like branding. Sales execs want results and they want them now. Show a sales exec how he can gain a competitive advantage – in the short term – and you’ve got a foot in the door.”

Confirms John Nuzzi, VP/Associate Publisher, Selling Power Magazine, “Sales executives don’t have a lot of time to read. Long drawn out letters, proposals, or telemarketing pitches with convoluted messages won’t get their attention.”

Henry White, an executive VP who oversees sales VPs at his company, All Seasons Services, a supplier of vending and office refreshment services, says, “Sales executives are very intolerant of bad sales. Just the other morning someone called me. I had no clue what he was selling and finally had to tell him to get to the point. Even after he did, I still don’t remember what he was pitching to me.”

Demographics & job profile of typical sales professionals

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, there are more than 4.9 million sales managers in the U.S and they supervise 17.2 million sales people which includes retail sales. (In comparison, there are fewer than half a million marketers.)

The majority of sales executives are male, 86.8% versus 13.2% female, according to reader demographics provided by Selling Power Magazine. More than half have college degrees ranging in subjects as broad as liberal arts to the more technical, including engineering and science. Roughly a third of those surveyed by Selling Power have post-graduate degrees.

Depending on the company, a sales executive can report directly to the CEO, the Chief Marketing Officer (who oversees marketing and sales) and or even the COO. The average salary for an executive (depending on the company) can range from $145K to over $200K, including bonuses and commissions. The median age of a sales executive is 45.

As to be expected, a typical sales executive is rarely at his desk. He puts in very long hours, especially if he’s supervising sales reps located in other time zones. Sales executives are very pressed for time. They are frequently on the road attending client meetings, trade shows and other sales-related functions.

For a sales exec, customers and sales come first – with everything else a distant second. Don’t take it personally if a sales exec reschedules your meeting – most likely, a hot prospect wants to see him NOW and he’s out the door without even thinking about it. If a sales exec is not in the field, he’s at the office meeting with the CEO or other executives and doing paperwork.

“Sales executives are moving targets,” says McIntosh. “They tend to be reactionary versus strategic, and they want to deal with things now, rather than later. They are also relatively easy to reach if they’re in the office because they do answer their phones.”

They also tend to be “early adopters” and love all types of gadgetry that keeps them informed and in touch with people. Cell phones, laptops, Blackberries and PDAs are all part of a sales exec’s arsenal of tools.

Sales Execs' #2 Pain Point

As has been stated, a sales exec’s main job – and his number one pain – is meeting his sales number on time. But he has another pain point and that’s retaining and motivating his sales force.

“Motivating the sales force is a real concern for a sales executive,” says Betsy Harper, CEO, Sales and Marketing Search, a contingency sales recruiting firm. “Rather than hire additional sales people and increasing head count, many companies are simply raising the sales quotas. This puts even greater pressure on the VP. He has to make sure his reps are performing – and performing well. Having a rep just meet his number is not enough. Sales execs want top performers – those who exceed their numbers on a regular basis.”

Indeed, according to a recent Sales and Marketing Management survey, 75% of those surveyed said their quotas will increase for 2005, with 42% stating those increases will range from 11-30% – a significant increase.

“A sales executive is like a good coach,” says Nuzzi. “Sales reps are up one day, down the next. Sales is a real roller coaster and a good manager understands this and helps his force through these highs and lows.” A good sales exec also inspires loyalty and trust: the more his sales reps know they can count on him, the harder they’re going to work.

In addition to motivating sales reps, sales executives also spend a great deal of time on employee issues.

Says White, “I often have to work with HR to develop compensation plans. Are we compensating our sales force enough? Are we using the right incentives? I also worry about companies stealing my good sales reps. Of course, I also have to work hard to ensure I hire the right people in the first place and that they do their jobs. Web-based tools like are wonderful.”

Which brings up another issue – CRM (customer relationship management) software...

Sales Execs Highly Cynical About CRM

Sales executives have “been there, done that,” when it comes to CRM. According to an unscientific poll on, of those answering the poll question, “How much do you trust CRM vendors?” only 10% replied, “Yes, the majority are trustworthy.” 26% stated they don’t trust any CRM vendor!

Says McIntosh, “Sales execs understand the value of CRM, but getting the sales force to comply is difficult. Sales reps would rather be in the field making calls and closing sales, not sitting at computers ‘filling in the little boxes.’ So if you’re pitching a CRM package to a sales exec, you better have done your homework and have a real pitch that shows a measurable – and short term – competitive advantage. Citing benefits and features will not get a sales exec’s attention.”

Pain Point #3 – Love/hate relationship between sales and marketing

“Marketing’s job is to help create sales,” comments Harper. “Marketing should be giving the sales force market and industry information, the company’s value proposition, and messages that clearly resonate with the company’s prospects. Instead, there’s a huge disconnect between marketing and sales.”

Part of this disconnect includes marketing and sales tools/collateral that can’t be used in the field. Reports one sales guy, who asked to remain nameless, “One company gave us professionally designed PowerPoint templates. They were very well done, but it was obvious no one had tried to use them. The first time I did, my prospects couldn’t see the light-colored letters on the projection screen. I ended up making my own template.

“Another thing my prospects wanted was data. I was forever asking for new data images on CD, but could never get marketing to give me what I needed. The final straw was the ‘sales kit’ they made for us. It came bound with a metal cover that scratched my prospect’s executive cherry wood desk. It also weighed a ton. If marketing had to carry that thing to meetings, they would have known no sales guy was ever going to use it. The whole marketing effort was a huge waste of money and incredibly frustrating.”

If you’re a marketer, how can you help your own sales people do a better job? McIntosh gives the following three tips:

Tip #1. Interview a couple of prospects and customers every week. This will help you better understand their needs and points-of-view – giving you the insight to craft on-target messages.

Tip #2. Regularly accompany sales people, reps, or dealers on sales calls. This will give you a better understanding of what your own sales people are up against and what sales tools you should be providing to help reps close more sales.

Tip #3. Treat your company’s sales people as if they are your customers (rather than just thinking of end-users as your customers). This will allow you to better focus on providing marketing programs that actually drives sales.

How to get in front of a sales executive – 7 marketing tips

Getting a sales executive’s attention isn’t hard, but it pays to be nimble. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing direct mail or telemarketing, the following tactics apply in any scenario:

Tactic #1 – Focus on one thing at a time: Advises McIntosh, “Don’t overload your emails or other marketing messages with too much information. Get to the point and make sure you give the busy exec only one thing to do – like respond to an invitation to an executive breakfast or golf tournament.”

Tactic #2 – Show quantifiable ROI: Remember, sales execs have to meet their numbers. They are short-term thinkers. “Sales execs are very competitive,” says McIntosh. “You’ll definitely get their interest if you show what their competitors have achieved.” In your marketing messages, show them quantifiable results that don’t rely on hype. Sales execs want to know: -> How to get more sales leads -> How to close more sales -> How to hire, motivate, and retain top-producing sales reps

Tactic #3 – Don’t discount less pressing pain points: In addition to meeting their quota, sales execs also have a number of other concerns, including developing and delivering presentations (a biggie for anyone in sales), sales training, and planning sales meetings (the big ticket kind for the entire sales force). Show a sales exec how he can do his job better in any of these areas and you’ll get his attention.

Tactic #4 – Use marketing best practices: Sales execs are just like you and me – they want to be “wowed” by good marketing. Says White, “I love getting boxes in the mail [three dimensional mailers]. Flyers don’t do it for me – I just toss them into the wastebasket. Boxes are great – it’s like Christmas – and I’ll definitely open them.

“The other day I received one – it was from a firm telling us about new construction sites that are possible locations for our vending machines. However, they sent me a ton of poorly designed collateral that was very hard to read. I threw it away. It would have been better if they had sent me one or two pieces with just one message. And, a pen or some other tchotchkey would have been nice, too – but not absolutely necessary.”

Tactic #5 – Do your homework: “Know who you’re calling and why,” advises McIntosh. “Have your pitch honed and practice before making any calls. Get right to the point and don’t waste the sales exec’s time.”

“You really need to give sales execs a compelling reason to meet with you” states Nuzzi. “Know about the company before you call, know the industry buzzwords – is an excellent tool for this – and personalize your message. Be creative in your presentation.”

Tactic #6 – Use the personal touch: “Nothing cuts through the clutter,” says Nuzzi, “like a handwritten note.” Take the time to send articles, magazines, or other items with a handwritten note that says, “Thought you might find this of interest.” You’ll definitely get an executive’s attention – because not everyone does this sort of thing anymore.

Tactic #7 – Follow Nuzzi’s rule: “Nothing takes the place of face-to-face”: Attend trade shows. Find a show in the industry you’re targeting, make a list of the sales execs you want to meet, then call them to set up appointments. Of course, not all of them will call you back, so go to their booth and introduce yourself. (Remember – get to the point, fast.) Once you’ve made the introduction, says Nuzzi, you then have the privilege to send the executive notes, articles, and build rapport.

Sums up Harper, “The best way to get a sales executive’s attention is to simply understand the pressure he’s under to achieve results. The more you can help him achieve those results, versus making another ho-hum product pitch, the better your own sales efforts and success rate.”

Useful links related to this article:

Mac McIntosh

Sales and Marketing Search

Selling Power Magazine

Sales and Marketing Management

All Seasons Services, Inc.

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