Influencers from Around the World – Selling to VITO

Several months ago I introduced Sean Patrick to readers in my Influencers from Around the World article. We’re up to readers from more than 125 countries so I’m continuing with the theme of hearing from other trainers around the world about how they use the principles of influence.


Sean’s a feisty Irishman who owns his own sales training company, Sean Patrick Training, and writes a blog, Professional Persuader. We met through Facebook because of Dr. Cialdini and we regularly chat over Skype. If certain things fall in place you might just see Sean in Columbus, Ohio in early October. Sean is a smart, funny guy and I know you’ll enjoy his point of view from across the pond. Look him up on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.


Selling to VITO

All the way through my sales career in the IT world I’ve had to learn how to sell high. If this wasn’t daunting enough I had to learn how to sell to C-level executives COLD. Whatever sales training I had attended throughout my career that had any meaning or left an indelible mark on me came from people I chose to go out and find, and pay to see with my own money.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to have an understanding boss who considered sales training to be a service that more than paid for itself by an increased performance from the sales team. Nor did he view it as a chance to find and un-stick the sticking points. So my learning came from countless books, DVDs, and training courses that not only cost me financially but also in vacation time. Thankfully I usually ended up with just enough spare vacation time to go home for Christmas.

At one point in my career, still being somewhat of a whipper snapper, I came across this guy who sold in a very non-linear, very provocative way. He actually reminded me of one of the characters from the film Glengarry Glenross. This was the man that joined every selling dot together for me. From the initial mindset right through to putting the whole shebang together, I finally realized how natural and uncomplicated selling actually is. I don’t believe it has changed right to this day.

This trainer was the man responsible for opening my eyes to how people comply naturally, easily and unconsciously. When people talk about judgmental heuristics I know what they mean because this guy taught me. This leads very nicely to my point – from that time onward I made the bold decision that if I was to rapidly increase my worth as a salesperson I had to innovate. It was time for a change; time for a major overhaul for Sean Patrick!

“Renew, Revitalize, Rejuvenate!” was my mantra and so I did. At every opportunity I began to put the new ideas into action. I began to pitch my ideas to CEOs, the Very Important Top Officer (VITO). Now sales managers in a lot of companies will do this blindly and really press their salespeople to call high. The first problem with the CEO is the fact that he or she will not entertain a salesperson for one massive reason – language and communication. The salesperson under duress will not know how to speak in the language of the CEO. On the other hand most salespeople would love to talk features and benefits in hopes that the CEO’s ears will prick up and say, “I’m buying,” but that’s not how CEOs think and operate.

Finally we have the other big problem – the personal assistant. The personal assistant, or “PA” as we call her on this side of the pond, is worth her weight in gold at keeping the unwashed outside…and for good reason too, as the CEO’s time is limited and therefore valuable. So there we have all the challenges in a nutshell. Now here’s how to use the power of the authority and the liking principles to level the playing field…at least a little bit.

First of all the authority principle states that we are more likely to believe people in a position of higher power or knowledge that can lead us to a position of advantage or safety. If you want to sell to a CEO, then you have to behave and talk like a CEO. You have to get into their world and their way of thinking. Any CEO you approach is only going to be interested in what you can do to make their top job easier and add financial value for the company and shareholders.

The principle of authority allows us to take a look and notice the relevant symbols of authority; things such as title, clothing, and knowledge. You need to convey that you are an authority on what you know and the information you have is of vital importance to the CEO and this is a meeting he has to attend. All body language, language and behavioural patterns need to reinforce this belief or you will be exited to the front door where you belong. If however you find yourself selling to executives below CEO then act with your authority and beliefs about yourself and soon enough you will be greeted by the CEO.

The above principle of authority can be dramatically increased or enhanced when used in conjunction with liking, the principle whereby people prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. This simple rule helps to understand how liking can create influence and how compliance professionals may emphasize certain factors and/or attributes to increase their overall attractiveness and subsequent effectiveness.

CEOs may be influenced by your authority and your ability to communicate at the senior level and these activate the principle of liking because you’ll appear similar to them. Combine these two the right way with confidence, act like a CEO and talk like one, and you’ll get the access you require. Then it’s up to you to make the sale.


I’m sure Sean would love to hear from you so feel free to leave a thought or question in the comments section.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
1 reply
  1. salesinfluence
    salesinfluence says:


    I agree with your premise on the difficulties accessing senior level executives. I've read Selling to Vito and think it's a good book But let me recommend a new book that does a good job in comparing different approaches when it comes to selling to senior execs. " Selling to the C-Suite".

    Based on actual interviews with top level folks, it's a blueprint for salespeople. Embedded in their studies you'll find examples that illustrate indirectly: liking, authority, social proof and contrast.

    I wrote a book review on my blog: if you're interested.

    All my best Sean…cheers. Victor Antonio


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