The Reason I Can’t Sell To Middle Managers


I don’t want to sound complacent, but when a business owner or director sends us an enquiry, I just know that, should we want it, the business is probably ours. We must have a 60-70% close rate.

However, when an enquiry turns out to be from a mid-level manager, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Not because I don’t want to work with them; some of our best client relationships are with marketing managers. But because I just know I’m gonna make a pig’s ear of the sales process.

This isn’t just a feeling. When I look at the data over the last 10 years, our close rate with mid-level managers is terrible. Definitely under 20%.

There’s a reason for this, and it has implications for all aspects of marketing.

As a species, we are terrified of risk and it drives a huge proportion of our decision making. Whether it’s risk about things that directly impact us, or risks about things that might affect people’s perceptions of us, we are constantly moderating our behaviour to ensure it stays on script, fits expectations and doesn’t piss anyone off.

Now when you’re selling to a c-suite decision maker, or even better, a business owner, these basic rules of human behaviour are somewhat diluted. By definition these people are the exceptions to the rule. Yes, they would like certainty, but they probably haven’t ended up in the position they are by having a normal level of appetite for it. Whereas their appetite for status, another key driver of human behaviour, is likely to be off the charts.

I love these people. Not because they have the authority to make decisions, but because they have the desire to. Their need for progress is so much greater than their need for risk mitigation. And I think it’s fair to say they quite like me. They like my enthusiasm. They like the fact that 5 minutes in I’m as excited about their business as they are. And they like the 300 crazy ideas I’m throwing at them to transform their marketing.

To the average marketing manager, however, a person far more normal in their desire for certainty vs reward, these are little more than 300 new ways to get them fired. My over enthusiasm is no doubt terrifying. What they need is someone who’s going to help them do what they’re already doing, but 20% better, and in a way that is so detailed and professional that nobody could ever question the decision maker’s diligence, even if the whole engagement turned out to be a failure.

Of course I’m generalising. As I said at the start, some of our best client relationships are with marketing managers, and the fact we almost always get results means we’re actually a very safe option for them. But the sales process is a different challenge and the numbers don’t lie.

So what do I take from this? I probably need to involve someone in the sales process who’s naturally a bit less manic and a bit more calm and reassuring, while I focus on the naturally optimistic, ambitious and over-excitable c-suite and business owners. But it’s also a reminder that we need to consider these varying personality types within the broader user journey. Too many B2B websites, for example, really only cater to one user journey, typically focused on product or service, neglecting those who might be more motivated by other routes such as by goal, department or sector; pages that not only contain a different subject of information, but can also communicate it with a tone and language that’s more likely to engage the user in question. Now of course introducing a second, third and fourth user journey is not going to result in the perfect experience for everyone, but it will make the average experience an order of magnitude more resonant than simply offering one.

This logic can apply to all our channel efforts. Who are we talking to and what are the underlying fears and desires we need to be tapping into?

That, and perhaps I need to go easy on the coffee before sales meetings.

See you next time.


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