Easiest Way to Make a Sale? Top-​down selling!

BY Jeffrey Gitomer
Featured image for “Easiest Way to Make a Sale? Top-​down selling!”

What does the Guggenheim Museum (a classic modern art museum in NYC in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) have to do with sales success? They recommend you start at the top.

The building is one big circular ramp. You take an elevator to the top floor and casually walk down eight inspiring floors. It's the same in sales: why start at the bottom and fight your way up through people who can't decide, and who'll use their ounce of power to make your life miserable? Take the elevator and start at the top, man. Don't walk uphill!

Where do you start? How high up the ladder do you dare go when making an initial approach to a prospect?

The sales rule is: the higher you start, the more success you're likely to meet.

Getting there properly can be tricky. If you just ask for the president, the owner, the boss, or the fearless leader, you may get through, but it will pay you to prepare before making a call to the CEO, especially if the prospect represents an important sale to you.

Here is a four-​step plan for contacting and scoring a CEO appointment:

Get ready before you start. You only have one shot at it, make it your best one.

  • Have a written game plan: target 1–10 companies, define in writing what you want to accomplish and what it will take to get what you want.
  • Be totally prepared to sell before you make the call: have everything (sales pitch, concept, samples, calendar) prepared and in front of you before you make the first call.
  • Identify the leader (by name) and get as much information and as many characteristics as you can: make calls to underlings, associates and associations to get pertinent information before you make the big call.

Use the right tactics when getting to and getting through.

  • If you get the president's secretary, get her name and use it.
  • Be polite, but firm.
  • Be professional.
  • Persist — you can't take the first "no" or rebuff.
  • Get his name — What's his name (You can use "how do you spell his last name?" but it's embarrassing to hear J‑O-​N-​E‑S)
  • If they won't put you through the first time… 
    • Get his extension number
    • Get the best time to call
    • Find out when he usually arrives
    • Find out when he takes lunch
    • Find out if he leaves the building at lunch
    • Find out who sets his calendar
    • Find out when he leaves for the day

An example: You call — secretary says, "Mr. Jones is on vacation." You say, "Wow, that's great, Sally, where did he go?"

  • Get anything personal you can (golf, sales meeting time, staff meeting time, important new product) and refer to it subtly when you get him or her on the phone.
  • Make sure the person closest to the boss likes you.
  • Take a chance on humor. Try this line: I know you actually run the company, but could I speak to the person who thinks they do?

When you get him or her on the phone shoot quickly.

  • Have your opening line.
  • Get right to the point.
  • Make it compelling (the best power question and statement of your life).
  • Ask for no more than 5 minutes — offer to be thrown out.
  • Have 5 comebacks if you are initially rebuffed.

Notes about the CEO and the process.

  • CEOs are hard to get to, harder to appoint and easiest to sell.
  • If the CEO is interested, he or she will take you by the hand and introduce you to the team member (underling) who will actually do the deal.
  • The CEO always knows where to send you to get the job done.
  • If they try to pawn you off without seeing you, it means you have not delivered a powerful enough message and he's not interested. The solution? Fix it. Keep trying until you get an appointment.
  • If you start lower than the top, there is danger. No matter how powerful someone says they are or appears to be, they usually have to ask someone else for final approval, EXCEPT THE CEO. They usually just ask their secretary or administrative assistant if they liked you. Get the picture?

The benefits are obvious.

  • The leader is always the decider.
  • The CEO may not be directly involved in purchasing what you're selling, but his or her introduction after a brief "interest generating" meeting can be the difference between sale and no sale.
  • The power of being introduced by the CEO down to the decision maker is as real as you would hope it is.

Beware of the handoff: If the boss tries to hand you off too early (before the proposed 5‑minute meeting), don't accept it. Say, "I appreciate your wanting to delegate. But the reason I wanted to meet with you personally is that this will impact your business significantly. I'd like 5 minutes to show you the highlights and get your reaction before I talk with anyone else in your firm. I know your time is valuable. If I take more than 5 minutes, you can throw me out."

Make your 5‑minute meeting the best you ever had.

  • Have a proposal in writing.
  • Have notes on everything you want to cover.
  • Have a list of anticipated questions and answers.
  • Have samples or something to demonstrate.
  • Have credibility builders — your best letter, something in print.
  • Be early.
  • Look perfect.
  • Be knowledgeable — have the answers in terms of how it works for the buyer.
  • Be memorable — The thing that sets you apart, the thing that gets remembered is the thing that leads to the sale.
  • Deliver. You have one chance. Don't blow it by not following through.

The secret of Top-​Down Selling is the 4R's…

  • Be resourceful
  • Be ready (prepared)
  • Be relentless
  • Be remembered

There is a fifth "R" — Risk it.
It's the only way to make it happen. Go for it.

The gift shop at The Guggenheim has a t‑shirt that says Start at the Top. How much more of a wake-​up call do you need? Call them and order a few today!


Get an excerpt of The 39.5 Rules of Sales Success from The Sales Bible. To win the game, it helps to know the rules. Just go to www​.gitomer​.com, click on Access GitBit/​RedBit at the top of the screen, register if you're a first time user and enter the words, SALES SUCCESS.

© 2018 All Rights Reserved. Don’t even think about reproducing this document without written permission from GitGo, LLC, Jeffrey H. Gitomer and Buy Gitomer. 704/​333‑1112