Prospecting One Level Below The Check Writer: The Impact On Closing Ratios

Would you choose to work 50% harder to get a meeting if you knew you were 6X more likely to get a close?

I’m going to share with you a rule of thumb I have used in high level prospecting I call the 6x rule.

The origins of the rule came out of an appointment setting project I did years ago, for a management consulting company that worked across the United States.

They had very strict rules for their appointment setters. The meeting must with the President or CEO of a company with 1,000 or more employees, or, the head of a distinct business unit with budgetary authority and responsibility for bottom-line results that had 1,000 or more employees. No exceptions allowed.

Sales Results: 6 meetings for a starter project worth $25,000, 1 in 3 starter projects convert to a larger project worth $500,000 or more. 

Their results were that for every 6 meetings set, one would convert to an analysis project worth about $25,000. One in three analysis projects converted to a larger project worth a minimum of $500,000 and often $1 million or more.

Now this consulting company had been doing this for a very long time. They had a team of independent appointment setters; they paid for meetings set and held and they paid very well.

They had studied what worked from every angle and shared with me a fun fact that I have embraced. This lead generation rule of thumb I am about to share with you has been an integral part of my thinking on every project since then.

That fun fact I learned that has stuck with me ever since? It’s this.

An account was 6X less likely to close when the sales process started one level below the decision-maker. Set the meeting one level below the ultimate check writer and it is 6X less likely you get that check.

For that management consulting firm, even if the process started a whisper away from the CEO at the Executive VP level, the result was the same. It was 6X less likely that this management consulting company walked away with a gig. 6X. That was a fact, not a guess.

The prospecting concept is not the surprise. It is the number.

Now the concept is not what is significant. We kinda know that the odds of closing a deal go up when we start with the ultimate check writer. We know that it is harder to close a deal and takes more time if we start at a lower level and must work up. But 6X? Whoa.

I have never had a client since then that studied and tracked that as well as that management consulting company did. But having worked on many projects in many industries over a long period of time, I believe that number to be consistently true.

You are 6X less likely to close a deal if your first meeting is one level below the ultimate decision-maker.

That does not mean that it may not still be very profitable and worthwhile for you and your team to start the sales process at a level below the top decision-maker. That may be A OK for you. But the reality remains that the odds of closing a deal go up by a factor of 6 when you can start with the top dog. Six.

What consequence does this have on your b2b appointment setting strategies and tactics?

You have some choices to make. Quality vs quantity. Activity vs results.

If you go direct to the top dog, it will be harder to get in, it will take longer to get in, but you will close much more frequently. On average, I believe 6X more frequently.

Would you choose to work 50% harder to get a meeting if you knew you were 6X more likely to get a close? How about twice as hard or even three times as hard to score a meeting?

What prospecting price in extra effort would pay for that increased closing result?

Many sales teams and individual reps start at lower levels, thinking it will give them practice, be easier to get in. Starting at a lower level makes you feel good. Hey, I’m getting somewhere, have meetings on the books. Another reason a rep will start low is that it gets their sales manager off their back. If you have the misfortune of working for a lousy sales manager in a major sales environment, quantity and activity is emphasized rather than results. Calls, meetings, more, more, go, go. Sales environments that over emphasize activity are mediocre at best.

The problems with feeling good in the short run or escaping your sales managers’ wrath temporarily by booking meetings that are unlikely to lead to a close, is that at some point those chickens come home to roost. At some point, you must face the reality that you are doing a lot of work and not closing much.

A good reason to start at the top? You learn how to do it.

Top dogs think differently than those below them. If you are going to earn a meeting with the ultimate decision-maker or top dog, it takes a certain peer-to-peer swagger, a confidence, and different language to earn some time with them.

Those at the top think more long term, more strategically and are more bottom-line oriented than those below them. You want to develop the small details of difference that enable you to start your sales process at higher levels. You need to develop that muscle memory.

Where is it best to gain entry into an account

My belief is that you should always try to get in at the top first. Make that investment of time. Learn how to do it. Develop the habits, the confidence and the language to earn meetings at the top. Those meetings will sharpen your thinking, presentation and interactions.

Once you reach the point of diminishing returns on those efforts, you should strategically choose whether it is worth the effort to prospect for meetings one step below or move on to another prospect company.

If you spend most of your time at lower levels, when you reach the top, you are in unfamiliar territory and closing results will reflect that.

In the case of that management company I referenced, they simply did not allow anyone to start their process other than at the top. Because they knew projects were 6X more likely to close. It simply was not in their DNA to start any lower. So they refined the skill set to do just that and reaped the benefits of it.