The Fallacy of "Calling High"

Last Updated Jul 12, 2011 5:22 PM EDT

Call high! Call high! It's the advice that sales managers the world over give to their B2B sales reps. And it's often very bad advice.

The reason managers want you to "call high" is so you can have discussions with the "real" powers-that-be -- the top executives who make the truly strategic decisions. However, in most cases, it is doing the customer a disservice to make a "strategic" sell without first involving the people who actually own the tactical problem.

For example, the main reason that sales training fails (which it does with depressing frequency) is that the sale of the training package is made to the CSO, who very likely has little understanding of what's actually needed inside the sales force.

Similarly, at the behest of aggressive sales reps, top executives (i.e. CIOs) often make "strategic" technology decisions (like implementing "integrated" ERP) that ends up engendering years of struggle with Byzantine software nobody really needs or wants.

You see the same shenanigans in the sale of marketing services. I've seen top executives of B2B companies "sold" on branding campaigns, replete with television ads, that are clearly more appropriate for consumer products, and of absolutely no use whatsoever in generating B2B sales leads.

In short, whenever a sales rep calls high (and doesn't lay the groundwork with the people who do the real work in the company) there will be a horde of customers at the mid level of the company, who are (at best) irritated that they weren't consulted or (at worst) committed to the eventual failure of the solution that's been foisted on them

That's why it's important -- nay, essential -- to work with the the official "owners" of the problem before you "call high" and get executive approval.

There are two primary benefits to this approach. First, the customer is far more likely to achieve its higher level goals and objectives. Second, the mid-manager decision-makers will be seen, by top management, as positive contributors to corporate success, and they'll be grateful to the sales rep for helping them achieve this.

Can you make a sale just by "calling high?" Absolutely. However, such sales almost never result in a long-term relationship between vendor and customer. The reason is simple -- the mismatch between what's sold and what's actually needed will eventually lead to the failure of the project.

Note: The above is based on a conversation with a guy who, in my opinion, is one of the most business-savvy thinkers in the sales consulting arena: Randall Murphy, the president of Acclivus R3.

READERS: Do you agree?

RELATED POSTS (Read only if you plan on ignoring the advice in this post!):