No company is immune to a crisis. With increased threats to company systems and employees, having a crisis management program in place is important. However, with so many people and problems vying for executive’s time and attention, how can you get them to allocate the necessary time and resources to implement a plan to prevent and/or recover from a crisis, especially since they are infrequent and unpredictable? In this article, I will provide you with some tips on how to sell a crisis management program and communicate the severity of the losses.
Many of us learned and developed selling skills from our first summer job during high school at a fast-food restaurant or a clothing store in the mall where we focused on the features, benefits, and price of the items we were selling and the personal interests of the individuals we were selling to. This method works great when selling single encounter or small sale products or services. However, it is not appropriate when selling a crisis management program to an executive or a new idea to your team for that matter. These types of high value initiatives require us to shift our focus away from features and benefits to providing solutions to problems. To successfully sell your program, you will need to think of the initiative you are selling as a solution to a problem – what are some problems it could solve or prevent?
The first thing you will need to do is uncover company problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions of the executives. If you ask most executives what keeps them awake at night, their answer will more than likely fall in one of the following four areas: people (customers and/or employees), processes, product (or service), and profits. These are the key areas they are mainly focused on; therefore, the solution your program offers should be centered around these four areas.
Executives tend to be busy and their time is often seen as more valuable which tends to make them more impatient. I would suggest you try to uncover as many of these problems before your first meeting. You can do this by reviewing the company annual report (if the company is public) or reviewing the company’s key initiatives for the year from their website. This will give you some indication of the company’s priorities and key focus areas which will help you identify problem areas. Next identify three solutions your plan can offer to the problems you have identified. What are some of the implications a crisis could cause – how can it affect the company’s people, processes, product/service, or profits?
After you have identified the potential solutions to some of the company’s problems or have identified threats to some of its priorities, you are ready to meet with the executive. Be sure to focus on the areas important to the executive and company – speak their language, keep their attention, and build value in your solution. Also be prepared to educate the executive. They may not know what a crisis management program is, threats companies in their industry are facing or could face. Always be prepared to encounter objections to the solutions you offer. For example, they may not think the problem(s) you have identified as being a problem or a serious problem. Be prepared to convince them how serious the problem is – how it could damage the company’s image, cause interruption to key processes or people, or affect the organizations product or service – and how your solution can lessen the impact. Also be prepared to have more than one meeting – this will depend on the executive’s knowledge and understanding of the potential crisis you’ve identified and its potential impact, your understanding of the company’s problems and priorities, the resources needed to implement your plan, and the number of decision makers.
Your job does not end with convincing or selling your program to the executive because often times they will have to get buy-in from the board or other key executives. It is important they not only understand the problem-solving capabilities of the program you are offering but they are able to articulate them (when possible, try to have all key decision makers available during your meeting or offer to present your solutions to them yourself).
The final advice I offer you is always be prepared. With the limited time and attention you may receive from an executive, every minute is valuable and your preparedness will be key to you successfully gaining buy-in for the initiative you are selling.
Maria has held positons in sales, risk, and communications for Fortune 500 companies including General Electric, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase. She is a graduate of GE’s Commercial Leadership Program (CLP) and holds a BA in Economics from Spelman College, a MBA in Marketing from Clark Atlanta University, and a MA in Christian Ministries from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a trainer, coach, and motivational speaker specializing in business and personal development, strategy, and leadership.