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Should You Use the Top-Down or Bottom-Up Approach?

Top Down or Bottom Up

After having sold in a couple different environments in B2B (Business to Business) Sales, with a few years of experience under my belt, I can provide some perspective around whether it’s better to go the “Top – Down” approach, or the “Bottom – Up” approach.

You see, in B2B sales, there is often the question, “Is it better to go Top-Down, or Bottom-Up?”

To answer this question, let’s first define both approaches.

Top – Down Approach: this just means that when looking to sell to an organization, your strategy is to first reach and connect with the senior members of the organization (top) as opposed to the bottom. This can mean reaching out to the CEO, senior executives, VP’s, Directors, etc.

Bottom – Up Approach: this strategy means first reaching out to the lower rungs of the organization, first “selling” the individual contributors and mid-level managers, before presenting your product up to senior management.

With these defined, let’s go back to the question:

“In Sales, is it better USE the Top-Down or Bottom-Up approach?”

Generally speaking, in the vast majority of circumstances, it is better to go Top-Down rather than Bottom-Up. The reason for this is because once you have buy-in from senior management, it is much easier to go down the line and sell the rest of people who are in the lower levels. The reason is because once a senior executive mandates his team members to look at your product, they will be much more inclined to do so, than if you first convinced an individual contributor to tell his boss to look at something.

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Because of the nature of manager – employee relationships, generally speaking it is a better idea to first go top-down.

To first sell the senior members of the organization and then make your way down the organization’s ladder.

However, life is not always so black and white.

There is ALWAYS CONTEXT associated to each sale – for example:

  • the people involved
  • the company you’re selling into
  • the company culture
  • politics
  • egos
  • relationships
  • individual agendas
  • preconceived notions
  • prior experiences with your product
  • company initiatives
  • individual objectives
  • departmental objectives

These various factors can make a B2B sale complex.

This is especially true in Enterprise Sales when you have very expensive products and many people involved in the sale.

So,

With that said, is it better to go top-down or bottom-up?

The true answer is that…

It depends.

And it’s not all black and white.

The truth is that most of the time it’s better to go top-down, and sometimes it’s better to go bottom-up.

In what situations might you want to go bottom up?

Well going bottom-up is typically harder because to be successful, you usually have to end up convince more people in order to present something up to management…

And usually people at the bottom have much lower “pull” than someone at the top….

BUT,

Going bottom-up could be a good idea if you know that the particular VP or Senior Executive is NOT interested in listening to you or your solution…

THEN it might be a good idea to sell the people at the bottom, get them all to like your product, then have them present your product to their boss.

It’s kind of hard for a boss to completely ignore a whole team screaming employees itching for your product or service.

Again, this usually takes much more effort, so I would only do this for your KEY prospect companies where it doesn’t make sense to reach out to someone at the top first.

Another situation could be that you know someone at the bottom has been around for a long time, and although they don’t have a management title, they are the ones who actually have sway and voting power in the organization.

Again, this is why it all depends.

Another reason why it depends is because…

For example,

Let’s say you’re doing top-down trying to sell to coca-cola.

Does this mean you’re to aim for the VERY top, and call the CEO?

Probably not…

In a smaller company, it might make sense to call the CEO.

But for a larger organization maybe it might make sense to call someone like the Director, or the VP.

Who isn’t necessarily the decision maker, but has enough “pull” to easily get the decision maker to take a serious look at your proposition.

And they are also close enough to the mid-level managers and individual contributors at the bottom, where they can have them look at your resource as well.

That’s why at the end of the day…

The answer to the question, “Is it better to go top-down vs. bottom-up?”

Is that… It depends.

Generally speaking it is better to go top-down, but every situation is unique and ultimately…

the uniqueness of the situation will dictate the appropriate selling strategy.

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