We all appreciate the importance of gaining access to senior executives and other decision-makers, and the difficulty. What are the most and least effective ways? According to a survey sponsored by Hewlett Packard, "Eighty percent of senior executives become involved in key purchases early in the decision cycle." Participants ranked all but one of the methods salespeople commonly use as "ineffective." For example:

  • 80% of respondents would "never" or "only occasionally" grant interviews to someone making cold calls. (Whew! Now we all can relax.) An email sent before a call is not likely to improve the odds of getting an interview.
  • Outside referrals are also no guarantee of an interview. Over 50% of respondents prefer not to be introduced to sellers by people outside the executive's organization.
  • An inside recommendation is the most effective means of getting on an executive's calendar. 84% of respondents indicate that they would "usually" or "always" grant a meeting with a seller who was recommended by someone inside the respondent's firm.

Just one caveat to that encouraging third bullet: Don't assume that getting a meeting is, of itself, valuable. What the study doesn't say is what percentage of those interviews are granted as courtesies to their organizational peers. This puts a premium on cultivating a Guide who, for reasons of self-interest, wants you to make this sale. Cultivate as many Guides as possible to assure access to those who can say "Yes."

Why would a potential Guide care whether or not you make this sale?

Self-interest is reliable. Let’s say you’re trying to get hospital systems to embrace a different approach to managing their litigation portfolios based on emerging artificial intelligence capabilities. You’re partnered with a tech company on this solution. They’re delivering the AI, and you’re delivering the legal savvy that informs the algorithms.

The decision may ultimately rest with corporate counsel, but who else has a stake in this? It shouldn’t be hard to compile a list of those with a meaningful interest.

  • How about the VP Finance? If she knew that your approach could reduce cost by 15%, helping ease overall budget pressures, might she be strongly motivated to make sure you’re seen by the right people?
  • How about the head of Investor Relations? Surely these cost savings would contribute to better earnings reports.
  • What about the person in charge of Acquisitions? A better balance sheet would reduce the cost of capital and enable more competitive offers for attractive assets.

These are just a few among many examples of the type of self-interest that might motivate someone to open the right doors for you. They see that they’re more likely to get what they want if you make this sale. They may not even have an opinion about your as a lawyer; that’s not their acumen. They only know that, right now, for this issue, your interests are aligned.

Last week, I shared an example of this in practice, where line-of-business executives went to bat for an M&A lawyer because the way his team and he managed acquisitions made them more successful. This was a case of them helping him keep a client, but you can see how the same motivation would work on the front end.

This is yet another argument for aligning yourself with an industry so you’ll become known by corporate counsel and their internal clients, and why you should talk about business problems rather than legal expertise.

Mike O'Horo