‘Sharpening the Axe’: Preparation creates the platform for success

‘Sharpening the Axe’: Preparation creates the platform for success

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln

So how do you “sharpen the axe” to take down the big opportunities? There are only two things that a sales rep can do to increase the net-new portion of his (or her) sales: (1) Increase the number of net-new deals; and (2) Increase the sizes of those net-new deals.

Part of the preparation comes from finding prospects that are available to pursue. Most dealerships have their sales reps look at their territories and identify 250 prospective, net-new companies to go after. Inside those 250 prospects, the rep should identify his top one, five, 10 and 25 prospects to pursue. All too often the rep identifies those top accounts but does not attach a different strategy to gaining brand awareness, trust and an audience with key players at those large accounts.

The “down-the-street” business strategy, which works with smaller opportunities, is a different approach. That approach is often comprised of foot canvassing, phone calls, voicemails and emails, and social media prospecting. However, larger prospective accounts, by their nature, demand a different strategy. They require in-depth research before approaching them. To gain meetings with the largest prospects, you, the sale rep, must take steps to do things differently. There are several pieces of data that need to be collected.

Step One — Identify the account’s key players. You should specifically identify key executives like the CFO, CTO, COO, CSO (chief security officer), vice president of networking and infrastructure, and vice president of global technology. Midlevel titles include director of IT, director of security, manager of global networks, vice president of technology infrastructure, head of IT, director of knowledge management and IT professionals.

Many of these professionals will be on LinkedIn. One tip is to look to the right-hand side of your prospect’s profile page where you will see people who have viewed your prospect on LinkedIn. This will often give you a list of other executives at the prospect’s company that provides additional names for you to add to your prospecting list. In addition, using lead databases like Hoovers and Sales Genie (which have free trials a
sales rep can sign up to gain approximately 100 free leads) are another way to find key Clevel players inside large prospects.

Step Two — Make sure your LinkedIn page has a smart, professional headline. Use something smarter than “account executive.” For example, try changing your headline to: “Leveraging business technology infrastructures to increase profits and operational efficiencies” or “Creating cost-effective customized technology infrastructure solutions to increase profit.”

If you are going after a prospect, there is a good chance he may look you up on LinkedIn. The first thing he will see after your name is your professional headline. Indicating what you do for clients in your headline is effective.

Step Three — Use social media. Sign up to follow the prospective company’s tweets and blog and create a Google Alert for the company so you know what is happening within that company on the Internet in real time.

If the prospect’s company is a public company, look up its annual reports and 10k filings (the difference between an annual report and 10k filings is that the annual report is the glossy version with pictures). Pay attention to the prospect’s risk factors, as well as any strategic initiatives that are discussed around its technology infrastructure inside the reports.

Step Four — Using LinkedIn, connect with as many people as possible inside your prospective account prior to approaching the real decision maker. When you do finally go after your decision maker, he will see that you have many first-level connections inside his company.

All of this preparation creates a platform for success and the time will be well spent. Getting into these large opportunities can take time — even years. The most successful sales executives in technology create a book of business with large companies. These companies are going to hire someone; it can be you if you are professionally prepared and persistent.

Kate Kingston is founder and president of Kingston Training Group (KTG). With more than 17 years of success in making appointments with decision makers, she is a recognized authority on lead generation, cold calling and new business development. Kingston can be reached at Visit

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