How to Know Who to Contact Initially

Michele Warg
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One long-standing debate in the business world centers around who the initial contact person or group should be when it comes to a sales call. Some professionals believe it's best to target lower-level prospects first and then work your way up, while others argue you should go straight to the top-level decision-makers within the company. Both sides of the debate have compelling arguments, but which strategy generally reaps the best outcome?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, since the strategy that produces the best outcome depends on how the contact person perceives the value of whatever you're trying to sell, says entrepreneur and speaker Jim Keenan writing for Forbes. First, the product or service you're pitching in your sales call should solve a specific problem that directly impacts the contact person within the organization. As a salesperson, you need to determine who would value your offer the most, and this individual should be your initial contact. Second, consider your contact's decision-making power within the company. If you think someone would be a direct beneficiary or user of your product, and that person is also a top decision-maker, then you've found your ideal, sweet-spot sales prospect.

Often, top-level executives within organizations have little or no knowledge of the daily problems lower-level employees face. By contrast, lower-level managers are likely aware of these challenges and might even be actively looking for solutions. If your product or service creates better working conditions, reduces turnover rates and increases job satisfaction, the first line of contact on your sales call should be someone who manages lower-level workers. Similarly, when making a sales call to top-level decision-makers, consider whether your product or service has the potential to lower overhead costs and dramatically increase the company's bottom line. In this case, you could target someone such as the organization's CEO, CFO or operations manager.

Some might argue that making a sales call to lower-level managers is pointless, as they don't have the power to suggest changes. This is not necessarily true. While low-level managers might not have direct access to the CEO, they regularly communicate with senior managers, who usually report to at least one decision-maker in the company. Engage the manager in a way that makes him feel confident about recommending your product or service to his superior, and then request to speak to the top-level manager in order to provide additional information or answer any questions about your offer. If your contact person is a top-level executive, describe how your product or service can draw in new customers and crush competitors.

Trying to sell to someone who cannot directly experience the value of your product or service may be a waste of time, even if that person is a top decision-maker. Before making a sales call, research the company to determine which individual or group within the organization has a problem that your product solves, and avoid choosing contacts based on hierarchy alone to increase your chance of closing the sale.

Photo courtesy of mrsiraphol at


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