Chris Lytle Part 2: A Discussion on The Art of Selling Yourself as a Solution and Becoming the CEO’s Trusted Advisor

Kristen McAlister:

And I think the first question for clarification. Is in the breakout first, get to know each other, feel free to not work, learn about who’s in your group. I call them pods of advisers. Maybe talk about one or two examples of level one or two relationships that you’ve had.

They might be current clients past clients, or maybe potential clients that you’re looking to speak to as to where you’ve maybe had a well level one or two. And you think that there’s some opportunity to increase that to a higher level for a more enriched enriching relationship with that client or to turn them into a client.

So example of where you’ve got maybe a one or two level relationship and opportunity, you have to increase that to a higher level, right?


Kim Daifotus:

Give them a value proposition. But you don’t want to get it wrong by your proposition because you just don’t know enough about the company.

Armand Adande:

Yeah, I think it’s close to what which was mentioned by like your rights that you ended up in that situation never won. They live in one position where you need to try, you’re trying your best to throw something, but you’re not shooting

Seth Avergon:

sometimes you’re stuck in level one by, by the request itself, right?

Chris Lytle:

Yeah, exactly. Sometimes, sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it, but be aware that you’re there though. Yeah. Yeah.

Kristen McAlister:

Chris tag-teaming on that. It sounds like there was a great discussion. I’d like to take some time to talk through some of the breakout discussions. Either just start talking or feel free to raise your hand.

Pam Wasley:

I’ve got the participant list up. Can I pick on one person? So first of all, I just want to announce that Drew Ferraro has also worked for companies for us, and I definitely want everybody to know that because he was fabulous on those accounts that we had him on. So thank you, Drew.

Second of all. He also had a good suggestion. Chris, I thought you might want to hear this, but he was talking about your chart and I agree the chart is great. But Drew brought a little bit more dimension to it. So do you want to talk about your suggestion?

Drew Ferraro:

Sure. So, Chris, what you had talked about was you had rated yourself as a one, two, three or four level sales person, and then you said you modified that to be like a one, two or three, four level meeting.

And what relationship and what I had said is even on one at one company. Well maybe you already had it there. Maybe I didn’t hear it. But I said as even at one company, you’ll have a level one, two or three, four, four relations with different people. You might have a relationship with the CEO, but as Pam brought up, maybe the HR director, your level one, or the purchasing manager level two.

So it’s even within a selling relationship. Each person has a different dynamic.

Kristen McAlister:

That’s a great point.

Any volunteers or Armand, you were mentioning some stuff you and Kim you were having a conversation as we entered in feel free to share with the group. And certainly Chris, any comments as we go through, it’s great to now take some of what we heard and having the context of the level one through four relationships and putting it into what we all do on a daily basis.

Armand Adande:

Well, it was based on a question asked by Kim regarding what you do prospection and if you have to answer to a project and you have no information at all about the customer. And so we’re trying to think about how to address that kind of situation to we trust based on what Chris mentioned seeing that, “Oh yeah, this exactly an example of a level one situation where unfortunately, we have no information and we’re just shooting in the dark, trying to nail an account where we don’t have enough information to differentiate ourselves.

Kim Daifotus:

I think that’s spot on. The only other thing that would add is that to compound those problems because of COVID, there’s a lot less meeting professional groups that you can get together and try and just find out some information about a specific, whether it be regional or even on a broad area companies that a sector that you might be interested in.

So is that going to be the same going forward? We just don’t really know at this point,

Kristen McAlister:

Chris would love to get your suggestions on sometimes someone would call you out of blue. Pam, we get this all the time, a random email introduction. “Hi, so-and-so, I’d like to meet you.”

No idea what the introduction is about or other than, “Hey, they said they might need interim CFO help.”

Chris Lytle:

Well, I think that if you work a little bit on LinkedIn and find somebody in a company you’re trying to work with and talk to someone, who’s not the person who you’re trying to meet, but try to find out what the situation is like within the company.

I know that when in my book I talk about the car dealer who canceled his advertising. And so you wanted to meet with me for 20 minutes to repitch the whole schedule, but I called a sales person and said, “what’s this guy like, and where’s he from?” And then when I walked in, I knew all about the guy I knew he was going to be mean.

I knew he was going to be tough and he became my person to whom I can go within the company and get some information. That’s not from the decision-maker, but from your internal coach. So I would work LinkedIn and work relationships that way as well. And every trade publication, every trade association has something online, a magazine online.

So you can find all kinds of information about that industry or people in the industry.

Matt Sauer:

So I had the pleasure of working with Kyra, with Ryan and with Peter. Chris, what you were just saying almost exactly is one of several of the things that they brought up was people still do business with people. So it’s building a relationship, almost exactly what you said is if you’re going to move from a level one to a level four or anywhere in between, you really have to build a relationship.

And it’s how you reach in to that organization from day one and start building a relationship so that you can move from one to four and really be a partner with that whoever that person is inside that company.

Kim Daifotus:

So this is to the other consultants in general, have you found it problematic whatsoever when sometimes you’re being introduced to a company and you might be working with a specific level, but they might feel somewhat threatened. It’s almost like the management consulting groups when they come in there and people don’t want to be forthcoming with perhaps some of the company’s problems because they think that it’s going to reflect poorly on them.

And therefore they don’t want to tell you the true story.

Bruce Dougan:

What I’ve done to address this really is ask various people the same questions from different perspectives. And so if you’re going to come in and work with a company when you talk to the CEO, who’s typically our primary entrance, you’ll always get this level of answer. And if you go down to the next person, you’ll go to get a little different level and a little different take on it.

And by the time you worked your way through three or four different groups, the truth tends to come out. And one of the things I always talk about is if you draw a graph, they’ll tell you, this is where they start. And this is a point, but usually a little bit below, that is where the really, really are.

And if, as a consultant, you can’t get the organization to start from the really really and start addressing those real baseline issues and outages, it’s going to be real difficult to start that future progress going forward. So again, it’s building, and I can’t remember who said it earlier, building that relationship across the company and different levels and different functions in different organizations that helps give you that view of reality.

Holly Erlichman:

I’ll jump in. And actually I’ve dealt with this a lot. So I consulted for about three years and typically I actually start at the bottom. And my usual introduction is I’m here to give you a voice I’m here to help you. And I really start and I’ve had success, getting company people at all levels to really open up to me and trust me.

And I assure them that iit stays between us. I don’t say who’s who so I build trust at that level after I’ve got the relationship at the top, of course, and they understand my plan, but my plan is I start down here instead of going from here down, I start down here and then go up.

Seth Avergon:

Just echoing what Holly just said.

And I want to address Kim’s point that concern, that animosity, that concern, that you’re coming in as a new sheriff, right, to clean things up and find the fault you really have to. I like to take the tiger by the tail. You have to kind of address that on the front end, as you go lower into management. So say, look, I’m here to support the team and assist.

I’m not here to point people out and find fault. My job is to help you guys take on some of the challenges that have been troubling you as well as the rest of the team. I like Holly’s point. You have to build that rapport. And as much as you can, some people are still going to be intimidated, but as much as you can, you need to kind of address that with them.

Kristen McAlister:

You mentioned of the building rapport and that credibility. RJ would love to have you kind of share. We had two very different experiences in our group where Ryan said he was introduced by someone who knew the individual. Credibility and trust was automatic and the conversation was getting to know him on a personal basis.

Versus RJ was put in through a very trusted relationship, had to earn that credibility, even starting the assignment. Was that a level one or two? And it took quite a bit to get to a three.

Ajay Kumar:

Yeah, my standard approach, and naturally it doesn’t work in all situations, is I always like to try to get three years worth of financials for the company. So three years of P and L and balance sheet. And when I do that, I can quickly see trends. You can see that, “Oh, gross profit margins are declining or your inventory’s up or this issue.”

And so you can quickly then start pointing the CEO, the owner, and then the people within the company, you can start talking to the salesperson, the production person, “Hey, I noticed this metric is going in this way. What are your thoughts? What do you think is happening?” and then share with them based on my background, what I think they could be doing to help improve those.

So you’re not at the surface level. You’re quickly down into the, “Hey, here’s a diagnostic of your company and in some ways I’m starting to understand your company better than you are because I’m looking at these numbers in such a way that many of you haven’t looked at

Matt Sauer:

Terry made a really good point also and that was talking about what he does is highly confidential. And the information that he deals with. So he has the added burden of trying to make sure that not only convincing the client, that he’s going to do a really good job and he has the technology and the background to do it, but also that when he is working with that information that he’s going to be, he’s going to keep it confidential.

Terry, you may want to add a little bit to that.

Terry Ryan:

Yeah, it has a little bit to do with the space you’re working in. So I have some background in defense and generally speaking, there’s a lot of confidentiality. That’s important. You want to demonstrate that. But I work with distressed companies as well, and I think just ensuring that people know that the goal is always the health of the company, which means the health of the people, it helps to kind of get people behind what it is you’re doing.

So whether it’s lenders, private equity owners, other owners of the business. I think it’s just important. And I forget who said it before starting off really what, maybe it was grabbing the tiger by the tail. That was a good way of saying it just, this is what we need to do. And you’re coming in there from a position of an objective outsider, understanding all the constituency who’s involved and the fact that not only do you know this, what this situation is like, but how it affects all the people.

And then I think they kind of tend to feel a little more comfortable with what it is you’re there to do. And it doesn’t hurt to that. Look, we’re a group of veteran people. I think if you kind of talk about that a little bit, I think they know that you’re not there to do anything more than to help them on an interim basis.

So I think that can go kind of far in helping as well.

Chris Lytle:

I’ve always heard it said that you want to separate the people from the problem. And I liked the idea of here’s the problem. And you write the number on the board. We’re not turning the inventory. Now, if we’re not, or we have too much inventory or where our sales are down 12%, this is the problem.

It’s not you. It’s, “what are you and I going to do about this instead of get all tangled up and feelings,” and, “Oh, it’s not my fault and defensiveness and, and that’s hard.” I mean, you do it by being, what Andre said is here’s the specific issue we need to work on you and me.

Kristen McAlister:

I’ve heard research mentioned a couple of times, and especially when you’re first getting to know a company and you want to make, you may only see you as attention. You may only have 15 to 30 minutes. Chris, we’d love to get kind of your take on your methodology because you’re talked to 5 to 10 CEOs a week as to what you go through in your research process to start the conversation at a level three versus a one.

Chris Shepard:

Yeah. One of the things we talked about a lot in our breakout was the frustration that can come when your day is filled with level one conversations. You don’t have a lot of executive experience, but sometimes that initial sales conversation cannot be ultra-pleasant. And that’s always the thing.

How do we go from one to two, two to three? And we are in a really good space with the publicly available information that is out there on the internet. To really jump a level or two ahead. And as Chris mentioned in his opening using a lot of the tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or just publicly available information, you can see how head count has grown, who their competitors are, any private equity money that’s been put into it.

And when you start that initial conversation with all those things in your toolkit, you’re able to shift the conversation pretty quickly from I’m just making random cold calls. Hopefully I get the right one to transferring that information really quickly for the client to say, “Hey, this person knows my business.”

It sounds like they know my company. This conversation is worth my time. So using a lot of those tools that are out there, kind of a rule of thumb that we use internally here at Cerius is we should do an hour worth of prep before every call. To find out all that information that’s out there. That way we’re skipping ahead, because as everyone has mentioned all the time, showing it one shot, when you have those level one conversations, and if you come off as wasting their time or not educated on their business you’re probably not going to get that again. So a lot of tools out there, a lot more prep work before that first call, I think can help all of us.

Kristen McAlister:

Glassdoor is one that we encourage companies to use when they’re hiring employees. Certainly before you’re having a conversation with any Glassdoor, you can recreate the org structure. You can see how many times they’ve had a position open. You can see what the average salary, what they’re posting it for.

Even if the company is no more than a couple million dollars. Anything that they’ve done online is being pulled into there, including employee satisfaction levels. And if you see that it is below a four and some of the comments in there, you’re teeing up questions that are really going to strike home and show that you’ve done some research and you can get to the heart of it quickly, which also then helps you with that trust.

Chris Lytle:

Kristen, I would say that my favorite pre-meeting prep book is a Sam Richter’s book, Take the Cold out of Cold Calling. And he does a great job of explaining Boolean searches on Google and how to find out things about people with Boolean search. So just learn about that and you can find out things or the Boolean search, Andy and Chris, an hour is one thing, but if you could find out things in five minutes that you couldn’t find out in two hours of research, if you follow some of the same ideas, So it’s just amazing how you can cut through and find things so quickly if you know how to do that.

Kristen McAlister:

Thank you for all of your feedback, your comments, your input. I think that this is a great opportunity for us to learn from each other.

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I’d like to do one more break out. I think the discussion topic for this one is looking at the different areas and opportunities to connect and walk through what you might call the sales process in the sheet that has the level one through four.

Discuss which one you’re going to focus on over the next month, which is the one that you’ve got the most opportunity to improve on whether they are cold relationships, warm referrals, or clients that you are past clients. Even we found that the biggest, the most successful business development technique right now in this past year is those past client relationships and people that you’ve worked with, whether it’s on a client level or internally what’s that one thing that you know, that if you spend more time or more focused practice on over the next month, that could really make the difference in your level one, two, three, or four relationships.

You’re from maybe one or two people and volunteers to offer up their commitment for the next month as to where they want to work on or what, what are two things in your going out and finding work? Love to work on or improve on over the next month.

Kim Daifotus:

I’ll start. I live in the San Francisco Bay area. So much of it is driven around tech and you seem to get certain levels of expertise in a given sector or industry. And what I think is important is to continually try and broaden your skillset and your base of information. So going out and making a conscious effort to try and get more familiar with different companies that you may not be dealing with in the past, which you wouldn’t mind having to do some work for them in the future is important.

So I think trying to go out there and just continually do your homework and learn about things that you may not be familiar with is important.

Kristen McAlister:

I think we have time for one more before we close it out and make sure we end on time.

Matt Sauer:  

I can volunteer just real quick. I was is in a conversation with both Helen and Holly and they both made comments about how they do a lot of work in the non-profit area and the fact that they have to maybe take less money than they would normally get in order to get the nonprofit business.

And they may want to add something to that, but I thought that that was really a key point in moving the chart from level one to level four is, is that I may not be able to get what I want to get paid, but I know that I have value to bring and I can move this along and I can get from here to there.

Helen Wanamaker:

That’s actually correct. And I think in my particular case, because it was early on when I first started consulting and I was assessing things and scoping things as an entire project. I wasn’t billing an hourly rate. I was saying, “okay, here’s the value of what I’m going to do. And I’m going to charge you X amount of dollars.”

But as the engagements extended, because they wanted me to do more. My price also increased based on my knowledge of the organization and how easy or difficult it was to get things done in an effective and efficient way. And honestly, I didn’t get any pushback to that approach.

So it actually worked for me in the end because the engagements got extended and I made more money as the engagement went on.

Kristen McAlister:

And that’s you had a level three or four, probably a level four relationship with them at that point, we find just getting your foot in the door to do an assessment. You can, while you’re getting paid, they’re paying you to move up from level one or two up to a level four, just by getting your foot in the door with the assessment.

I saw Theresa nodding and smiling. We’ve been through that one. We know exactly how that story goes to close it out. I’d love to turn it over to Seth, to bring up the rear here and thank Chris for all of his insights on set.

Seth Avergon:

Sure. First of all, yes, Chris, thank you. As you can see, I’ve got the book behind me here.

I’m a big brand champion for Chris and I’ve been through some of his training before and I’ve used the techniques. And what I love about it is they’re simple, they’re straightforward and they work. Because again, I’ve used these with clients and it’s amazing how well they go through.

And we really drank from the fire hose earlier today; that presentation was probably two days credit in 20 minutes. So I appreciate him doing that. But a lot of good stuff came out. The chart is huge and understanding where you are with a client and learning about that and learning how to move them from one level to another.

It was great. We talked a little bit about dealing with limited information and how you’re going to handle that and how you could possibly get research on those companies. We talked a bit about building rapport and then we made some, some commitments that I hope you’re all going to write down that your commitment for the next 30 days, because as Chris was saying, we want to be actual here.

Interesting is nice. It’s entertaining, but we want to be actionable. So pick that one thing and commit to it for 30 days.

I do also want to get everyone a reminder that we do have a referral program. So if you’re out there and you hear about opportunities definitely send them our way.

It’s a very lucrative referral program. If you bring an opportunity, you get a certain percentage of that job, I think for the first year of it. So definitely if you hear about referral opportunities, send them our way. Chris and Tiffany are happy to rope those in for you.

And lastly everyone on here, you’re going to get a list of all the people. So if you want to connect with them on LinkedIn and the conversation this is about networking. So we’re going to give you the opportunity to continue the conversation with the folks you met in your breakout groups or anyone else you want to chat with, who is here today.

Kristen McAlister:

The more that you’re able to leverage these relationships and get to know each other, you get to know the executives that are in the Cerius network. So when you’re referring business and the level of executives and talent that you’re referring it to. And you never know in your research process who on this call may know or be connected to someone that you just got referred into and they can help you in that research process.

Okay. Thank you for joining us and we will see you next month. Thank you very much.

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