7 Rules for How to Sell to “Darth Vader”

Published on: October 30, 2012

Before an incredible mentor helped me discover my love for the craft of operations, I started my career in sales as a talent agent in the entertainment industry. Some of us have it and some of us do not. Hence I discovered I was much more effective at figuring out how to support sales teams with systems rather than the art of dealing with people like me on the other end.

So what Darth Vader got to do with sales? I blatantly borrowed the term from one of the members of the Boston startup community – Matthew Bellows. I once went to see one of Matthew’s stellar sales leadership presentations and found the terminology spot-on. Matthew said there are two personality types you have to work with to close a sale – Champions and Darth Vaders. Champions will guide you through the organization and often facilitate your efforts within the company. Darth Vaders, on the other hand, will question you and be skeptical, most likely because numerous past experiences have made them who they are. You see, Darth Vaders get hit up by sales pitches every day from the early morning until late at night. They are allergic to sales tricks and are not interested in making your job easy. Every business has to have both Champions and Darth Vaders to have well-balanced procurement.

I am usually that Darth Vader. The procurement of resources, tools, etc. is my job. And my passionate protectiveness of my people, teams, and our finite resource (the money) only make me a more hardened skeptic.

Here are the 7 rules from the other side of the table that will make you a lot more effective with the hardened types:

1. Do not waste our CEOs’ time! Clogging the email or voicemail box of our CEOs gets you nowhere. Not only is their inbox already full, half the time our CEO may have no idea about what you are selling. If we told you “no” and you decide to go over us to our CEO, even if you get lucky with one sale, it will be your last with us.

2. Treat our gatekeepers like they are the CEO of the company! Not only are they our eyes, ears, and hands, but they are also our multipliers. Do not just focus on getting past our gatekeepers, instead recruit them to your side and turn them into your Champions.

3. Be honest! If you tell us nonsense, like you have no competition, or you are not able to tell us where your competitors are better, you lose any chance of a positive rapport. We are very loyal to honest vendors. That goes for both commodities and premium products/services.

4. Be human. Be you. Please! Since we get hit up with cold calls and emails all day long, we can tell who had what sales training. Consultative selling, Challenger, AIDA, AIDCA, Sandler, etc. – we know when you are running each technique on us, we likely had the same sales training at some point in our career. Letting script take over the natural you causes distrust. 

5. Keep your word! This is one very common complaint! Deliver what you promised when you promised. I would say about 75% of sales pitches I have experienced lacked proper follow-up.

6. Listen a lot more than you speak! Ask us the kind of questions that set the context first, then delve deeper into our needs/pains. Your outsider perception of our need/pain is likely way off. 

7. Do your homework! Look at our websites, media articles, D&B (which has more info than we want out there), and social media presence. It is unlikely you will get to talk to the Darth Vaders until you a vetted by gatekeepers, so you should know a lot about our organizations. The more you know about us before you call, the more we will feel you invested in us, and this does make us want to talk to you. Also, if you were respectful to our gatekeepers, they may have already provided you with a lot of very relevant information.

Photo credit: Helmut Edlmayer