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Perspective on Prospecting: Call High or Call Low?

by Cindy Littlefield on Thu, Jul 23, 2009

The other night I saw the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness."  (Note: their spelling not mine.) It is a brilliant father/son movie that was a real tearjerker.  At times hard to watch. 

It's a true story about Chris Gardner, who is in a dead-end job selling door to door in the early 80's.  He can hardly pay his bills and put food on the table.  He discovers a highly competitive internship at Dean Witter and applies - 6 months, a "training period" & no salary.

In the internship, he has to sell investment products into large companies.  He is given a list of prospects and told to start making calls from the bottom of the list to the top.  The list was in order of total capital investment. 

He soon learns that starting at the bottom of the list is getting him nowhere.  So bucking his instructions, he goes directly to the top of the list and makes a call.  He gets a meeting with a top level executive and develops a relationship.  He doesn't get the executive's business, but he networks his way through the executive's friends and (SPOILER ALERT) earns himself the single position. When I saw that I thought what a brilliant move, starting at the top of the list.

It got me thinking: In your Reps outbound calling efforts, who do they start calling first?  Do they call the top of the food chain or somewhere in the middle?  Or do they call both? 

Nigel Edelshain shares his point of view in his ebook; Prospecting is Changing: Ideas to harness this change and tilt the playing field your way. Nigel argues:

Call "high" or call "low"? Both!

"High" or "low" is relative. Depending on the type of product you are selling "high" does not always mean the CEO!

I've noticed in the technology industry specifically that to counteract lengthening sales-cycles companies have repositioned their products so they can be purchased at a lower level in an organization. In these circumstances it does not make sense to call the CxO suite when appropriate decision-makers who are more accessible reside at lower levels in your target accounts.

On the other hand, you do not want to call too low for your product and "work your way up" to the decision-maker you need. This approach inevitably fails. You have to convince people at lower levels to give you access to their boss - something people rarely feel comfortable with.


Nigel talks about focusing tightly on the highest probability buyers and the need to develop a "prospect profile" identifying: which markets and which individuals you are targeting within those markets.

So should your Reps be selling top-down or bottom-up? It depends on your market. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will calling high lengthen or shorten the sales cycle?
  • Will calling low require your Reps to bargain for access to the decision maker?
  • Should you tell your Reps to be a Chris Gardner and throw caution to the wind and just go for it or do you want them to follow a process?

I would love to hear your thoughts on what is most effective. Thanks for sharing!

(Photo credit: A-m-z-xO)

Topics: inside sales management, sales process

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