Be Like Sand

Quick Summary: Enlist the entire organization to sell throughout the prospect’s organization.


Successful companies regularly use many other people within their organization to sell to prospects.  The so-called, “indirect force,” can build relationships throughout the prospect’s organization to create consensus so that when the purchasing decision is discussed, others sitting around the table, will be familiar and agree.  Infiltrate a prospect’s organization like grains of sand brought home after a day at the beach.

Did you ever notice that when you get home after spending a day at the beach there is sand everywhere?  It seems that sand is present even in stuff that you never got out of the car while on the trip.  Even a few grains of sand can be irritating.  Just when you thought you had cleaned it all up, you find more.  Your sales efforts should be like sand.  The previous article in this series, “Consensus is What Counts,” discussed the need to build consensus with as many individuals as possible in your prospect’s organization.  If you have accomplished this goal, when someone, hopefully the CEO or another high level executive, asks others about purchasing from you, all heads nod with their approval.

Getting to all of the individuals that might have some influence in an organization can seem impossible for you to do.  You do not have to.  Instead you can rely on others to help you.  This is not a new concept.  In fact, it dates back to 500 BCE.  Sun Tzu, the brilliant Chinese strategist who wrote the classic book, The Art of War, said, “In warfare, one generally uses the direct force to engage the enemy, but uses the indirect force to win.”  In many regards, sales is like war.  Further, business, like war, is not a spectator sport.  Unfortunately, most companies rely on their sales force, the direct force, to sell while others stand-at-the-ready waiting to help.  Generally, these other individuals and departments stand ready to help after the sale, not during the sales process.  Using these other highly-gifted resources like grains of sand, spread throughout the prospect’s organization, as the indirect force can subtly build the consensus that is vital.

The indirect forces do not have to become sales reps directly selling the company’s product or service.  Instead, they need to sell themselves and the company.  They can do this by leveraging their own expertise or functional responsibility in communications with their counterparts or individuals within the prospect’s organization that have direct interest in what they do.  The interaction can be simple and casual and should not be viewed as any form of sales pitch.  It must, however, be genuine and unscripted.  The logic for this approach follows the often discussed advice in this collection and defined in the article, “There are Only Two Kinds of People.”  The article describes critics as people that are told what to do or what will be done while creators are individuals that are asked for their opinions or are involved before final decisions are made.  So, asking people for their advice or help, which most of us enjoy doing, can build strong, positive relationships quickly.  Anyone in any part of the organization can do this.  The time it takes is small, but the results can be huge.  Below are some examples of how individuals within your organization can sprinkle grains of sand within a prospect’s or customer’s organization.  Some of the examples are aimed at pre-sale activities while some are aimed at maintaining relationships after the sale.  Some are based on the prospect’s or customer’s familiarity with your offering, while others assume they are not.


Field Operations

We have used Ajax Electronics as our local field installation and maintenance partner, are you familiar with them?  Do you think they would be a good choice for us to use if we move forward?

Field Service

How did the software patch installation go?  Was our pre-installation notification process clear and was the installation successful the first time?

Development Engineering

Through some system logs that we routinely review, we observed some anomalous behavior in our system that you are using, who can I discuss it with to better understand…

System Engineering

Our Customer Service team mentioned that you had some coverage problems; we would like to better understand…

Product Management

We have this idea for a new feature and would value your opinion on…


It has been 2 weeks since our session, do you have any follow up questions on…

System Quality Assurance

I would like to talk to someone about the trouble ticket you opened; perhaps we can test for this condition in our labs…


I heard from Bob that he delivered our proposal; I am just calling to see if you had any questions or needed some additional information.  We have a number of reference customers that we can put you in touch with to…

Customer Service

We are changing our on line CRM system and want your opinion on…

Product Management

We are planning our next release and would like you to help us prioritize the thoughtful inputs that you provided to our sales rep can we…

Customer Service

We covered a number of topics yesterday when you called Customer Service; I am just calling to follow up to make sure our response answered your questions.


DHS is conducting a seminar on…. I thought you might be interested in participating…


I would like to spend some time with one of your field operations people to get their candid one-on-one opinion on…


Of course, the above examples may not be applicable to your organization, but may serve as examples to help you create similar action items for your particular circumstances.  The process is easy.

  1. Bring together representatives from each functional area.  Involved individuals can be at any level.
  2. Ask your sales rep to thoroughly explain the prospect’s application and the prospect’s business and their overall culture.
  3. In an open forum, discuss some of the approaches that each group can take.
  4. To ease the burden and possible reluctance of cold calling for many of the indirect force individuals, provide names and contact information of the individuals or departments within the customer’s organization.  The interaction must be over the phone, emails simply will not work. The goal is create person-to-person dialogue.
  5. Finally, space the calls out.  A “blitz” approach can easily backfire when personnel within the prospect’s organization talk.

By all means, throughout the process, do not make these activities take the form of “sales calls.”  Focus on building genuine relationships.  Unlike the sand from the beach, be sure that your calls are not viewed as nuisances or bothersome.  Ask, don’t tell, and create supporters, which will, in turn, create consensus.


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