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How to Sell Signs to Large Organizations

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Who wants the new sign? Is it an important part of management? If so, the sign-buying decision may be a top-down project, which is easy to sell. Or, did the project idea evolve from elsewhere — corporate marketing, for example? Such department- spawned, bottom-up projects are difficult to sell, so you’ll need several politically effective, in-house allies. How will you recognize them?

Damn baffling is one way to describe the internal operations of large organizations, but that’s because many of us — most often sales persons attempting to sell signs to such places — don’t understand such entities’ three governing conventions:
1) Large corporations — organizations — comprise ever-changing, minor-league empires;
2) Organizations never operate as described or planned;
3) The boss isn’t always the decision maker.

Wolf-pack modeling
I once web-rebuked a writer who said “The hungry wolf hunts best” because, clearly, a hungry wolf isn’t a skilled hunter. The smart wolf hunts best. I’ve had some experience with captive wolves, so I know that a smart wolf isn’t always the leader. A wolf-pack leader is smart, but also the most aggressive wolf. In addition, just below a wolf-pack leader resides a swarm of secondary wolves who willingly contribute to the pack’s welfare, but aspire to depose the leader. It’s a natural instinct in wolves.
And humans.
Large organizations’ following cliques comprise vice presidents and mid-level managers — a realm, if you will, of round-table knights who support the sovereign while reflexively fancying the job.
Beyond this group are myriad department heads with equally aggressive dreams. You could see each as a lesser dominion.
As a visiting salesperson, you’ll talk to management, purchasing and marketing staffs, but you’ll also deal with other packs, realms and dominions — influential graphic designers and building-maintenance teams, for example.

Influencers
Organizations never operate as described or planned because the segmented realms, dominions and employees mess up the organizational flow. And, instinctively, each segment creates improvised liaisons that provide effective, cross-flow influence.
Selling to large organizations, then, conjoins the influencers and power brokers; it further rallies your ability to work across the competing organizational entities, the formal ones and those presented in the true-power diagram.

The true-power diagram? Yes, the one that reveals an organization’s unexpected (and intimidating) political-power relationships that can make or break your sale.
Picture, for example, a corporate president who owns a prized Corvette and, over time, has become friends with the company’s maintenance chief, a mechanic who once built Chevrolet-based drag racers. The two often meet on Saturday, at the president’s home, to grill burgers and tune the revered sports car.
Suppose, also, that you’re selling an extraordinary electric sign to this company and have effectively romanced a purchasing VP, but, in your sales presentation to the management team, you disrespect the denim-clad maintenance guy.
The one who tunes the cherished Corvette — and advises the boss on mechanical matters.

Finding the influencers
Two, useful and easy-to-draw diagrams — simple squares and lines — will help you plot an organization’s two command-chain diagrams. The first roughly outlines the formal plan; the second estimates the true-power configuration.
Scribble these in pencil, on paper lifted from your copy machine.
Start the diagram with what you know — e.g., the purchasing VP’s name box goes under the president’s box, but revise this as you learn more. The true-power chart, drawn for your sign-selling purposes, would show the Corvette-savvy maintenance guy’s box next to the purchasing agent, or even higher, because, again, he personally advises the president on mechanical matters. Add other contact names and adjust the positions as the people reveal more of themselves.

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Juxtapositions
Two business writers — Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal — in their book “Reframing Organizations” divide corporate operations into four frames:
1) Structure
2) Political
3) Human resource
4) Symbolic
Bolman and Deal say these frames reveal and explain the operational philosophy of any organization and its leaders. They can also be used to affect change. The writers say different managers naturally place more emphasis on one frame than the other. In brief, the writer’s define the frames as:
Structure — A leadership approach founded on traditional management and administrative networks. Such leaders establish top-down policies and goals and closely oversee operations. Many observers relate the Structure frame to military- and police-type institutes, but all organizations need a certain amount of structure — it holds everything together.
Political — It’s all about power. The Political frame defines how a corporation balances resource allocations (read budget size), exploits internal opportunities (realms and dominions) and plots the internal networking (influencers, planned and unplanned). It also embraces the other frames, because each can become a political tool.
Human Resource — A coopérative leadership style that reflects management patterns practiced by Google and other hi-tech firms that allow you to bring your dog to work. The human-resource leader values group opinion and participation.
Symbolic — The visual aspects of a corporation, e.g., the company’s marketing and branding energies, but also the corporate environment and internal and external events. The sign you’re selling is part of the Symbolic frame.
Your selling success relates to understanding an organizations’ frame positions and processes. Most importantly, you should clearly and always know where you and your contacts’ place in this volatile mix.

The circles diagram
To clearly see the mix, draw a box on each corner of a blank page. Again, don’t make it complicated — draw it on paper from the copy machine.
In the top left box, write Structure; in the top right, write Political; at bottom right, write Symbolic, and, in the bottom left, write Human Resources.
See this as a game board and, after having considered each person you’ve contacted, circle their name near the most appropriate corner square, the one that, as you see it, best describes their working and power position. Draw the circle at a distance that estimates their influence in that realm. Use your organization charts as references.
Categorize your true-power chart by listening, observing, and asking such simple questions as ‘Is there anyone else I should talk with?”
Also, in the process, look for and add what Bolman and Deal call “Nodes,” i.e., influential employees that others often refer to for guidance and opinions. If a Node can affect the sign-decision thread, add them to your circle diagram.

Working the diagrams
Most importantly, the scribbled diagrams provide a quick overview of your contact’s rankings within a complex organization. Use them as visual guides, to study and evaluate your contacts’ positions in the corporate framework. Also, revise (and add to) the diagrams often.
Further, you can analyze the circles diagram like a shooter’s target-group pattern, to see where your contacts — and therefore, you — stand in relation to Bolman and Deal’s frames. Is your circle group clustered near the Political frame, or is it assembled near another frame? Remember, you need strong political connections for bottom-up selling, but you want symbology strength for a management-proposed, top-down request.
As an example, you can move yourself closer to the political-frame position by identifying and befriending those influencers and decision makers (use your true-power and circles diagrams). Improve this gain by finding and befriending other political allies (dominions) and, following this, locate and befriend the Nodes (to strengthen the bottom-up influence). Focus your sign selling/benefit strategies through these groups.
Finally, enhance your Structure frame relationships by presenting everything on time and in professional manner; also, keep your promises.
 

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