Most successful sales people have learned the value of starting high when prospecting a new account. They understand the importance of "moving up the food chain" and work hard at not only making contact but using that contact to get in to see top level decision makers.
I've been amazed, however, at how often they make the effort to reach top level people and then easily allow themselves to be passed down, back into the quagmire of low level contacts that they have worked so hard to avoid! It takes more than just calling high to be a top performer... it requires both determination and skill to stay high and maintain those important contacts.
First, I'll make the assumption (and will provide answers and suggestions in upcoming posts) that you're doing a good job of getting in to see those high level contacts. You've learned that most of the time, your contacts in purchasing are not really "decision makers", but often are merely "decision implementors", implementing decisions that have been made by someone else. They get told what to buy and then go out and buy it. This does not mean that you stop calling on them but more importantly understand the limited power they really have (they'll never tell you this buy the way).
Now, once you've gotten in to see Mr./Ms. Big, you need to make a decision that if you get "passed down" what is the best way to handle it. We need to decide if it is in our best interests to let that happen and if it is not, how can we function to increase our odds of winning?? When you hear the suggestion "I like what you've talked about but you really need to see "Bob" in plant operations" make sure that you "hear what is meant". Sadly, because all of us tend to have "happy ears", we believe that we can go down to Bob with the blessing of our high contact and are sure with this referral we'll "get the business". Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way and is often nothing more than a "blow off"..
To avoid making an incorrect assumption you might consider asking the following questions:
I'd be happy to see Bob, If he likes the idea we've discussed what happens next?
I'd be happy to see Bob, would he make this decision without input from you?
The answer to this question will give you a good indication of whether you need to stay with your "High Contact" or not. If the answer is "yes", than getting passed down may be o.k. However, if the answer is "No, I'll still have some input" than you might want to consider the following step:
After I talk with Bob, can I come back and meet with you to share what I learned from him?
The answer to this question will give you insight into whether you are just being "blown off" or if there is a sincere interest in what you have to offer. A willingness to meet again demonstrates interest and is a strong indication that you have a good chance at influencing this decision through this contact.
Calling high is important, but it is equally important to "stay high". Make the decision to call the right people as well as the decision on what to do when you get there.
Action Step: Role play this situation with a colleague and master the questions and strategy so when you are confronted with this challenge you will be ready! Remember, planning without practice is a prescription for failure!