Permission to Sell C-Level Support for High Value Sales


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published November 26, 2003

In high value sales, prospects need to provide permission to sell before salespeople can fully engage. Why? Getting permission to sell transforms the selling process from a constant act of pressuring and psychologically tricking prospects into a value added sales process. In a value added sales process, customer challenges are discussed openly, potential solutions are explored fully, and the best solution is determined with mutual best interest. When mutual best interest is created, not only is a sale made but, importantly, a customer evangelist is created.

The granting of permission to sell moves to higher levels in the decision making ladder as the value of the decision to purchase increases. For low value products and services, such as office supplies ordered by office managers, C-Level agreement with respect to the vendor is rarely required. However, products or services valued over $100,000 and sold to companies with a few million dollars in revenue requires CEOs and owners to agree to the purchase. And, as the revenue of the prospect company increases, C-Level attention requires even higher valued transactions while $100,000 decisions are pushed down to other business decision makers.

A business decision maker’s permission to sell indicates to both the salesperson and the executive’s company that a business decision will be made. It enables the salesperson to execute a consultative sales strategy. In consultative sales strategy, the salesperson investigates the requirements, assesses the potential to create customer value, and develops the business case for purchase. Consultative sales strategy also enables the salesperson to meet the buying influencers and buying committee. Meeting these members of the customer’s team enables the salesperson to craft a selling message to which all parties can say “Yes” and none will say “No”.

Getting permission to sell is not a game of asking “Mother May I”, but a dead serious sales tactic of a thorough sales strategy. This sales tactic uses a three step process: (1) the value offering is presented; (2) the potential exploitation of the value by the executive and his/her company is discussed; (3) the executive and salesperson agree that further exploration is required to demonstrate that the value offered can truly be captured by that company and that a sale is possible.

1. Presenting the Value Offering

In getting permission to sell, the first step is to present the value offering. This is an executive level presentation of the key problems solved and of the value provided through the service or product.

As an introduction, the elevator pitch or standard marketing message is appropriate. An excellent formula for this message is “Our company is the best at solving these types of problems for companies in this industry as demonstrated through these supporting factors and differentiators.”

Need a specific example, try these:

  • SpeedRead provides the best solution for reducing the total cost of utilities for tenants and enhancing overall property value for apartment owners. Our customers typically achieve 10 times their return on investment with highly reliable technology.
  • GSQA is the best solution for managing the blending ingredient supply chain for quality conscious manufacturers as demonstrated by our successes with Goodyear and Sargento.
  • Adica Consulting provides robust, accurate and relevant insights for Policy Makers and Market Participants needing to understand untested electricity market structures with advanced analytics created by Argonne National Laboratory.
  • Blue Heron Consulting provides utilities the greatest value in implementing and maintaining their CIS systems with highly trained experts at competitive prices.

As can be seen from the aforementioned examples, creating an elevator pitch is easy. Key requirements of the elevator speech is that it keeps the value proposition simple, it communicates the value in words understandable by any executive in the target market, and it creates an opening for further clarification and exploration of the value offering.

2. Customer Exploitation of the Value

Once the introduction of the value on offer has been made, the salesperson needs to shift gears from claiming mountaintops towards questions and listening. While elevator pitches are designed to quickly grab an executive’s attention and create immediate awareness that relevant value is being offered, salespeople must help this elevator pitch achieve this result through body language, tone of voice, and clarifying statements.

Executives need to know that the value being offered is relevant to their company. While the value being offered may be significant, the executive will rightfully question the ability of his/her company to exploit the offer and capture the value. In this step, salespeople must create and develop an executive dialogue that explores the full value offering, supports the claim to create that customer value, and clarifies the potential for that customer to exploit value on offer.

3. Agreement that an Investigation is in Mutual Interest

Permission based selling only comes after gaining agreement to move forward. This agreement must be mutual to be of any value. The executive prospect must agree that due diligence is in order and that the salesperson can provide support for this process. And, the salesperson must agree that the executive prospect is a qualified prospect.

Qualifying a prospect in permission based selling means that the salesperson has uncovered three key facts that indicate a future purchase. These are: (1) the prospect has a challenge that the salesperson’s company can solve; (2) the prospect is interested in means to overcome this challenge; (3) the prospect is able to pay. If the prospect does not meet all three qualities, then the prospect is not qualified to enter into a consultative selling process. Further consultative selling efforts to unqualified prospects are unlikely to yield a sale. In these cases, the selling process may be continued for training purposes but revenue is unlikely to occur until the prospect is qualified. Qualified prospects however are highly likely to close.

If the prospect fails to grant permission for beginning the sales process, the salesperson should move on to the next contact. Permission based selling is based on providing value to the prospect, not in forcing a prospect into a purchase or finding a skunk in the woods. Salespeople can always call again next quarter when chance may make the value offering more relevant to the prospect.

Executive agreement for due diligence by the salesperson opens the door for value added and consultative selling. In this process, the salesperson executes a selling strategy focused on uncovering facts that support a business case for purchase. Key questions in a consultative selling strategy include: How is the challenge managed currently? What if the challenge was overcome with the value offering? What other challenges would be overcome? What is the value in overcoming these challenges? And, most importantly, if the salesperson can demonstrate that these challenges would be solved with the offer, will the buying committee and business executives agree to the purchase?

Customers like to say “Yes” when the value is spelled out in relevant and believable terms. At the end of this process, not only has the salesperson gained permission to sell, but he/she has also earned the right to close.

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About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.