Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. In this account, Craig N. tells how he overcame a common obstacle: The buyer who needs to sell your idea to his or her boss

I had spent the better part of a year developing a new account, and my hard work was finally paying off.

“I like what I’m seeing,” the prospect told me. “Let’s meet.”

“This looks good,” he said at the meeting. “Let me talk to our CEO and I’ll get back to you.”

Fair enough, I thought. I could wait a few days. But days turned into weeks and my frustration started to show. “Relax,” the buyer said. “You’ll get the account; we just have to iron out a few internal wrinkles.”

A month later he swore to me we were “almost there.” Six months after that we were still nowhere.

Granted, it was a complex decision. We sold enterprise-wide software solutions that allowed employees to monitor their benefits programs online. No more paper. Huge cost savings long term. But there was a big upfront cost.

From champion to obstacle
I finally had to admit to myself that this sale was going nowhere. My buyer, the HR Director, was looking less like my champion and more like a roadblock.

I had to find out what the problem was, but the HR Director wouldn’t tell me. So I poked around and found other contacts within the company. I called them, asking for technical info – but my other goal was to find out why things had stalled. It was a delicate topic, but I got what I wanted.

My contacts were really frustrated by the HR Director. They said he was “a disaster” when it came to quantifying the ROI of our system. We’d given him all the numbers, but he’d failed miserably at persuading the CEO to take action. What’s worse, he was embarrassed and wouldn’t seek anyone’s help.

I’d met the CEO before, but didn’t want to bypass HR. I also hesitated to ask the HR Director to set up a meeting with the CEO; that would make the HR guy look incompetent.

‘Happened’ to meet the CEO
A few weeks later, I noticed the CEO was speaking at a civic event I often attended. So I went and made sure I bumped into the CEO.

He was delighted to see me. He said he wanted to put benefits admin online, but hadn’t been persuaded of its cost-effectiveness. I mentioned the huge savings one of his rivals had realized and offered to come in and show him how his company could do the same.

Made my contact the hero
We set up an appointment and I invited the HR Director. Of course I’d made an end run around him, and I’m sure he knew it. I still needed him as an ally, though, so now I had to square things up.

In the meeting, I made him the hero. I insisted that he make the pitch; I was just there to back him up with the numbers.

It went splendidly. The CEO ended the meeting by saying, “Let’s do it. You guys work it out.”

I won the account, worth more than $1 million. And in the process I made the HR Director look like a million bucks too. That’s what made this my greatest sale.

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