Multi-level selling creates more direct conversations at all relevant levels of your prospects’ org charts. It’s clearly a solid strategy—but one that you do not want to implement cold.
“It all starts with a strategy,” says Judy Buchholz, SVP of Global Partner Ecosystems at Pegasystems. “You make a map of the critical constituents at your client, at all levels, who are decision-makers, and look at how to engage them from C-suite through to the people doing the job every day and understanding their process.”
In her decades-long technology career at IBM and Pega, more than half of which she has spent facing clients from services and consulting to client engagement and sales, Judy has been able to develop a deep understanding of multi-level selling practices.
First, you really understand, discover, listen, research and then map,” she says. “Who is going to be part of this life cycle of a decision process? What is your strategy for this client? How do you want to engage with them? Where do you believe your product or service is relevant in solving their business problems?”
We recently sat down with Judy, she shared her insights into winning at multi-level selling. Here it is.
Leverage a prospect’s peers
Identifying the right people to talk to in a prospect company is pretty standard practice for Sales and Revenue teams. Identifying the right people in your own organization to talk to them? That doesn’t always happen—and Judy sees the benefits of doing so.
“Step back and look across your teams at your firm,” she says. “How do you leverage the best people to face off in a conversation?”
For instance, if you’re selling to a finance team, you want buy-in from their CFO. That’s a tough meeting to land, and you end up relying on others on that finance team to champion your product. But if you could engage your own CFO to connect with the target CFO, that meeting is much more likely to happen—and to provide your target value beyond the sale itself.
Think of it this way: it just makes sense to have people with similar interests and experiences talk to each other, whether it’s executive to executive or sustainability coordinator to sustainability coordinator.
“They’re going to share insights and information,” Judy says. “They see peers as a chance to talk about how they’re running their business. It’s not just about what you’re selling to them. Relevance is important in who you align just as much as what you’re selling and how relevant it is to their business problems.”
Get your C-suite creating relationships
Of course, a cold call from one C-suite to another is still a cold call—unless a relationship already exists. Creating those connections before the sales cycle even begins is wildly beneficial.
“Typically, you’re not going to get CEO interaction,” Judy says. “So the natural thing is to go where they are. Are there events [aligned with your prospects’ interests] that the CEOs are attending and your C-suite should participate in?”
Finding opportunities to build these trusted relationships depends on understanding your prospects’ agendas. What are the most important things they’re trying to accomplish for their firm? If, say, ESG investing is a big deal to them, you could get your C-suite to speak at an ESG conference. Engaging in external forums like these improves your brand’s visibility as well as providing this sense of familiarity.
“It’s about discovery and learning, aligning their business goals to what your corporation can provide,” Judy says.
This proactive approach not only creates connections between executives—it makes it easier for you to call in your execs during the sales cycle. It’s hard to get executives (internal or external!) to take a call without having that relationship first. Just recognizing someone’s name eases that process and makes a call that much more realistic.
“Over time, they get comfortable,” Judy says. “They’re betting their business on you; they need to know that you are vested in them.”
Make your prospects’ partners your partners too
The best people to connect with your prospects may actually be outside your organization. Think consulting firms, systems integrators, other service providers. These groups might actually be better positioned to talk with your customers—especially if they understand the value of your offering.
Judy assesses potential partners by wondering if they are (or if they can be) an extension of your organization, in order to provide unique capabilities as one thread.
“As you’re working to map your clients, my advice is to know who their trusted partners are, who they go to for advice,” she says. “Understand that just as much as you understand the client.”
In approaching these partners, Judy recommends:
- Target the right partners. “Who are the people that are going to affiliate the best with your solution?” she asks. (Shameless plug: Judy identifies solutions like Rev’s AI-driven model to help determine the right client set.)
- Build rapport with those partners before pitching them anything—just as you would create relationships between executives.
- Bring them value. “Identify how your technology or service could aid them in what they’re trying to do, so that they have an interest in working with you,” she says. “Clients don’t take meetings unless they believe you are going to be relevant and impactful for them.”
Four health-check questions to assess partnerships
In the context of multi-level selling, where you’re trying to leverage partners as well as your internal experts, how can you measure the value of those partners?
After all, a successful partnership can bring a lot of credibility to your offering—especially if it’s a new technology. A consultant or other third-party firm vouching for your company enables a client to stump for the budget and champion your product. Similarly, a less healthy partnership can undercut your organization’s credibility.
Judy identifies four pieces that you can use to evaluate the health of these partnerships throughout your ecosystem.
- How well are they feeding your pipeline? “Are they bringing you leads and opportunities?” Judy asks. “What’s the win rate? The health of what they’re sourcing so that you can co-sell with them is a critical measurement.”
- How are they developing a practice around your capabilities? Any firm partnering with you needs to have this objective: they want their clients to be using your services. “At the end of the day, an SI or a consulting firm doesn’t want people on the bench,” Judy says. If they’re growing their practice and growing their bench, they see market opportunity. How well your service or product is being deployed by these partners shows how seriously they’re invested in you.
- Are they certifying and training for your capabilities? Partners’ representatives having the skills to represent your firm and your technology properly is crucial to a successful partnership.
- How satisfied are your partners’ clients? Client satisfaction with the projects these partners deliver is most important of all. If the clients aren’t happy, you’ll likely never work with them again. “This is the ultimate test post-sale,” Judy says.
Final thoughts: It’s all about relationships
A robust multi-level selling strategy comes down to this one word: relationships. Seller to buyer, CEO to CEO, vendor to consultant—every relationship a seller cultivates is just that. Building genuine, quality, valuable rapport creates sound relationships both within and outside of the sales cycle.
For many, the shift to remote communication has made building relationships more challenging. They want face-to-face connections. Others love the productivity and efficiency of the virtual world—you’re talking to people instead of traveling to them.
Which is better for multi-level selling? Doesn’t matter, Judy says.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “if what you have an agenda for gets the person’s attention and they’re willing to give you the time, be it on the screen or in person, it’s about relevance.”
Bring enough value to that conversation for them to have another one. Often, that means connecting them to the right person, as Judy stresses throughout our conversation:
- Whoever’s buy-in you need, get their peer in your org on a call.
- Enlist your executives to participate in the right external forums.
- Partner with the orgs that your prospects trust.
- Evaluate the health of your partner relationships to ensure ongoing success for both your team and your customers.
Interested in catching the full conversation with Judy Buchholz and Fred Mondrago, CRO at Rev? Watch it here.