Small Business
Always go to the top guy
July 23, 1999: 1:05 p.m. ET

This week's 'Great Idea': Deal only with decision makers By Jane Applegate
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Here is this week's excerpt from Jane Applegate's book, 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business.
     The entrepreneur's challenge is to always operate at the highest level possible -- present proposals to the top decision maker, not the gatekeeper; elicit a prompt response; and move on quickly if the answer is "no."
     Even when our company was based in the den of my suburban Los Angeles home, and later in a converted garage, we always resolved to deal directly with the very top people.
     Sure, it raised eyebrows because most of our consulting clients were Fortune 100 companies, but they wanted to work with us because they were eager to sell into the fast-growing entrepreneurial market.
     I am convinced we have been so successful because we've insisted on dealing with the top decision makers or managers with high-level access.
     No matter who you are, you can practice this approach.
     You can write directly to the president or chairman and briefly outline your product and what you can do for his or her company.
     In many cases, the top person, or an assistant, will make a note on the letter and direct it back down through the ranks. That notation carries weight.
     There are, of course, other ways to make the initial contact.
     Voice mail is a terrific tool for getting through to the person in charge. Most executives have a direct line; ask to be put through by the receptionist.
     Call early in the morning or late in the evening -- executives often work longer hours than their secretaries. Try phoning during the lunch hour, too.
     I should warn you that the "easier-at-the-top" strategy does have pitfalls.
     Even if the top person signs off on your project, middle managers will sometimes exercise their powerful veto power. And at times they'll try to sabotage you.
     After one project I had nurtured nearly to completion died a slow death from lack of middle management support, I learned that any outsider proposing a new idea to a major corporation must be very aware of the "not-invented-here" syndrome. It's a deadly corporate virus that can wipe out a good idea in no time.
     I share that not to discourage you, but to emphasize how critical it is to have solid support from the decision makers.
     That said, be persistent -- call the top managers and leave them a voice mail message describing your project.
     I'm living proof that it pays to start at the top and deal with whoever is signing the checks. Back to top
     (Excerpted from 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business. Copyright 1998 by Jane Applegate. Published by arrangement with Bloomberg Press.)


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