Top Down Selling

Top Down Selling

Written By Jeffrey Gitomer

KING OF SALES, The author of seventeen best-selling books including The Sales Bible, The Little Red Book of Selling, and The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude. His live coaching program, Sales Mastery, is available at

Top Down Selling

What does the Guggenheim Museum (a classic modern art museum in New York City housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) have in common with sales success?

They recommend that you start at the top. The building is one big circular ramp. You take an elevator to the top floor and casually walkdown eight inspiring floors. It’s the same in sales.

Why start at the bottom and fight your way up through people who can’t decide and who’ll use their ounce of power to make your life miserable? Take the elevator and start at the top. Don’t walk uphill!

Where do you start? How high up the ladder do you dare go when making an initial approach to a prospect? The rule is: The higher you start, the more success you’re likely to meet. Getting there properly can be tricky. If you just ask for the president, the owner, the boss, or the fearless leader, you may get through, but it will pay you to prepare before making a call to the CEO, especially if the prospect represents an important sale to you.

Here is a four-step plan for contacting and scoring a CEO appointment:

1. Get ready before you start. You only have one shot at it; make it your best one.

  • Have a written game plan. Target 1 to 10 companies and define inwriting what you want to accomplish and what it will take to get whatyou want.
  • Be totally prepared to sell before you make the call. Have everything (sales pitch, concept, samples, daily planner) prepared andin front of you before you make the first call.
  • Identify the leader (by name) and get as much information and asmany characteristics as you can. Make calls to underlings, associates, and associations to get pertinent information before you make the big call.

2. Use the right tactics when getting to and getting through.

  • If you get the president’s secretary, get her name and use it.
  • Be polite, but firm.
  • Be professional.
  • Persist – you can’t take the first no or rebuff.
  • Get his name – You can try “How do you spell his last name?” but it’s embarrassing to hear J-O-N-E-S.
  • If they won’t put you through the first time
    • Get his extension number.
    • Get the best time to call.
    • Find out when he usually arrives.
    • Find out when he takes lunch.
    • Find out who sets his calendar.
    • Find out if he leaves the building at lunch.
    • Find out when he leaves for the day. EXAMPLE: You call; the secretary says, “Mr. Jones is on vacation.” You say, “Wow, that’s great, Sally. Where did he go?”
  • Get anything personal you can (golf, sales meeting time, staff meeting time, important new product) and refer to it subtly when you get him or her on the phone.
  • Make sure the person closest to the boss likes you.
  • Take a chance on humor. Try this line: “I know you actually run the company, but could I speak to the person who thinks they do?”

3. When you get him or her on the phone, shoot quickly.

  • Have your opening line.
  • Get right to the point.
  • Make it compelling (the best Power Question and statement of your life).
  • Ask for no more than five minutes (offer to be thrown out if you go past five).
  • Have five comebacks if you are initially rebuffed. Notes about the CEO and the process.
  • CEOs are hard to get to, harder to appoint, and easiest to sell.
  • If the CEO is interested, he or she will take you by the hand and introduce you to the team member (underling) who will actually do the deal.
  • The CEO always knows where to send you to get the job done.
  • If they try to pawn you off without seeing you, it means you havenot delivered a powerful enough message and they’re not interested. The solution? Fix it. Keep trying until you get an appointment.
  • If you start lower than the top, there is danger. No matter how powerful people say they are or appear to be, they usually have to ask someone else for final approval – EXCEPT THE CEO. CEOs usually just ask their secretary or administrative assistant if they liked you. Get the picture?

The benefits are obvious

  • The leader is always the decider.
  • The CEO may not be directly involved in purchasing what you’re selling, but his or her introduction after a brief interest-generating meeting can be the difference between sale and no sale.
  • The power of being introduced by the CEO down to the decisionmaker is as real as you would hope it is. Beware of the hand off. If the boss tries to hand you off too early (before the proposed five-minute meeting), don’t accept it. Say, “I appreciate your wanting to delegate, but the reason I wanted to meet with you personally is that this will impact your business significantly. I’d like five minutes to show youthe highlights and get your reaction before I talk with anyone else inyour firm. I know your time is valuable. If I take more than five minutes, you can throw me out.”

4. Make your five-minute meeting the best you ever had.

  • Have a proposal in writing.
  • Have notes on everything you want to cover.
  • Have a list of anticipated questions and answers.
  • Have samples or something to demonstrate.
  • Have credibility builders – your best letter, something in print.
  • Be early.
  • Look as sharp as you’ve ever looked.
  • Be knowledgeable – have answers in terms of how it works for the buyer.
  • Be memorable – The thing that sets you apart, the thing that gets remembered is the thing that leads to the sale.
  • Deliver – You have one chance. Don’t blow it by not following through. It’s the most challenging, rewarding fun you can have in sales! The secret of top-down selling is the 4.5 R’s
  • Be resourceful.
  • Be ready (prepared).
  • Be relentless.
  • Be remembered.

There is a 4.5 R – Risk it. It’s the only way to make it happen. Go for it.

The gift shop at the Guggenheim has a T-shirt that says Start at theTop. How much more of a wake-up call do you need? Call them and order a few today!