You’ve gone through all the effort to conduct a strong Discovery, create your full presentation, price out the right offering, and prepare all of your Visios. Now, you’ve just arrived at the client site only to hear, “Oh, the owner isn’t in right now. I’m his right-hand man and can take the appointment for him. I’ll pass the information on when we’re done.” What went wrong and what do you do now?

What Went Wrong

Bottom line, CEOs are used to blowing off vendors. How many phone calls do you leave unanswered? How many voicemails don’t pass the 2-second delete test? Owners don’t really feel like they need to give you the time of day. In our situation, though, this is a pretty big red flag of process failure along the way. You’ve spent 10-15 minutes with them during a first appointment, another 15-20 minutes with them during Discovery, and now it’s time for the pay-off! You haven’t let any of the added value slip because you’ve focused on their problems.  They should be waiting with baited breath for your solution. Before chalking it up as just another busy CEO, see if you’ve really uncovered that sense of urgency in prerequisite of a sale. Chances are you haven’t kept the curiosity alive.

Keep the Curiosity Going

When that right-hand man says, “I have the authority to take this meeting,” you’ve got a few options. You can get pushy and say, “That’s not what we bargained for in the Discovery, and you’ll have to pay me for this report unless I can meet with the CEO.” That doesn’t sound like a great way to start off a relationship, though. You can go ahead and take the meeting. We don’t recommend this unless you just really like to practice your presentation, enjoy letting the cat out of the bag, and love spending your time in follow-up mode. Instead, try this:

Right Hand Man: “Oh, the owner isn’t in right now. I’m his right-hand man and can take the appointment for him. I’ll pass the information on when we’re done.”

You: “I’m not surprised to hear you say that. After spending some time with you, it’s obvious that you have a pretty deep role in the company. Unfortunately, I’ve uncovered some pretty serious things.  I’m not at liberty to share the information we found because it will put the company in jeopardy if anyone but the Owner of the company hears it first.”

What could possibly warrant telling the CEO before any other member of the company? Perhaps you identified that everyone has admin passwords; that the company is not compliant with HIPAA, PCI, or data storage laws; or they have software licensing issues. Who are you as an IT salesperson to educate the staff on something as detrimental as this? How do you really know the loyalty of that “right hand”? Anything this serious is for the ears of the CEO first.  If you go with this conversation, then head back to your office; we guarantee you’re going to get a call from that owner. That conversation will go something like this:

Owner: “My right-hand man today told me that you wouldn’t give the presentation because you uncovered some serious things that only you could tell me. What’s going on?”

You: “Listen, there are definitely some things going on that you need to hear about first. I don’t have a lot of time to get into right now. Would you like to set up some time to discuss tomorrow or next week at your office?”

It is absolutely crucial that you do not give away the issues over the phone! If you do, you’re right back where you started with no curiosity to build on. Keep these things to yourself, and get the meeting on the books. Bottom line, you have to build the curiosity and urgency! Make it worth their while to attend. This is not about making it easier for you to sell a deal. All decision makers must be present for a presentation to be worth your while, the owner chief among them. Don’t discount yourself by presenting to anyone else.

A Couple Extra Tactics

This conversation should be the end-all-be-all to overcome this challenge, but here are a few extra things that you can do to sweeten the pot.

Over communicate before the appointment. Send a WOW box that includes company swag and more information about all the great things that you can do. Include enough materials that employees can have something on all of their desks when you arrive. Make sure they’re things that people really want and will use! This is no time to get the cheap-o materials. Roll out the t-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, notebooks, GOOD pens. Make your presence known before you even get there.

Send over a meeting reminder and agenda the day before the meeting. You don’t have to reveal everything you’re going to be talking about, but this is the last opportunity to ask them if there are any other pain point that they’d like you to cover in the meeting. Reiterate the importance of having all decision makers present.

Have someone from your office call while you’re on the way to the meeting. “Such and such is on their way to your office for your presentation. We just wanted to confirm one more time that everyone will be there.” If they’re coming to you (our preference), use this as an opportunity to confirm any special lunch needs. Make the call a couple of days in advance to get things set up and the morning of to confirm.