10 Legged Sales Call – Never Enough Chairs

8 Legs Too Many

Having done startups for 25 years, I am used to working with few resources. Sales calls are not gang up events. 

A face-to-face call with a senior executive is an opportunity to share your solution, learn about that person’s issues, map events and build a relationship.

Except, with traditional software companies, a C-level meeting is actually an end in itself. It is that rarest of events and the sales rep wants his or her entire extended family involved and present.

Five years ago, I was brought into a software behemoth to launch a financial product that was way too hard for their order taking reps to sell. It had to be sold to the CFO and CIO, someone this company’s rep typically only saw in the annual report.

My third week I was invited to join another rep to meet two cloud execs from Shell. I went to the location, the Houston office, and into a conference room. There were 23 vendor people in the room, including me, and there were two (yes, that is not a typo), 2 people from Shell.

So picture this! Two Shell prospect people sitting in chairs in the middle of a large conference room. 23 vendor reps, managers, SEs standing in the outer circle, literally surrounding them.

The software giant brought in people from every product sector, and each attending rep needed his or her Sales Engineer. Since the Shell prospects had “director” titles, each rep brought his or her manager. And there was a software company VP to boot.

The meeting lasted one hour. After introductions, there were 9 minutes for us to speak with the prospect—and 23 people who wanted to ask questions.

Clearly this is an outlier. Or is it?

During these two years, there were scores of times when I scheduled a VP or CIO meeting and let the software company core rep know. In almost all cases, he or she had never met that person as these reps were low level, order takers.

Each rep came with their SE (sales engineer), their manager; what was supposed to be an intimate call with a prospect to learn how to help them get their IT costing in order, turned into 5-7 software people in the poor prospect’s crowded office.

In every case, the poor CIO or CFO had to find chairs for everyone. Sound familiar?

After a few of these, I stopped telling the software rep about the call. On more than one occasion, prospects commented on how refreshed they were that my sales calls did not bring a crowd.

I asked several of the CIOs about their view of 10-legged sales calls (that means 5 people). In every case, they loathed it. CIOs told me such calls were common from ALL the legacy vendors like VMware, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and others.

I repeatedly was told by the C-level they were irritated that their 20%+ maintenance payments for their enterprise products went into having a crowd visit when one person was plenty.

After several chats with this software company’s managers delivering this feedback, I thought this gang-selling practice would end. Quite the opposite. These managers started coming to the calls and they wanted their services leads to join too.

The prospect’s irritation was always palpable. But the 10-legged calls continued.

A friend who is a philosophy PhD and a sales rep (quite a combination, of course) said I did not see the unifying principle here—-These vendor people were order takers, not professional sales reps. To them, a face-to-face call with a senior executive was such a rarity that they cherished it for its own sake.

To them, it was a mark of progress. They were not so interested in selling anything, just in being able to report a “C-level meeting.”

Professional sales reps know better.

When you see a 10-legged sales call, you can be assured at least 8 of those legs are not needed. 

You also know nothing of value will transpire from the meeting.

Information from a C-level person is inversely proportional to the people in the room. Lots of people, little valuable info.

But, they need to do what unneeded legs do, so they take up space.

Perhaps there is a better way to make a sales call—-work for a startup.