One of the most delightfully poignant lessons on identifying the Executive Sponsor occurred early in my career when I was interviewing a person for an open sales position. The final candidate was a young woman who had been involved in our inside sales organization. She had been a super performer and was technically ready for the chance of an outside field sales position. She’d be working next to one of the strongest field sales performers in the company who was not very happy about having to give up a portion of his territory to make room for the open position particularly to someone he considered to be a rookie.
As the interview progressed, she answered all my questions. She gave a short product presentation. She showed great skills in asking questions back to me. It was a textbook positive interview. However, when we got to the obvious end of the interview I was waiting for
something. I was waiting for the all necessary “ability to close the deal”. She had to ask for the order. She had to ask for the job. Without that ability, I was hesitant to take the risk of placing her next to the region’s top performer in a field sales position.
Our conversation concluded. Interview exchanges simmered down to small talk. I then sat silent, waiting. Hoping she’d close the deal. You know how you can just want something good for another person, particularly a younger person with great skills, personality, and lots of promise? I sat. She sat. I smiled. She smiled. With regret, I had concluded she had failed the all important part of the interview.
Always ready to teach a promising up-and-comer something of value, I asked, “Do you know for what I am waiting?” She smiled and said, “Yes”. I was a bit surprised. “What is that?” I inquired. She answered, ‘You’re waiting for me to ask you for the job.” I was stunned. “Well, yes. You’re right!” Confused I asked, “So, why have you not asked for it?” Again with a disarming smile she said in a matter-of-fact tone, “You can’t give it to me. I still need to interview with your boss.”
Completely chagrined, and pleased, I laughed out loud and told her she was absolutely right. I was not the “Executive Sponsor” in this situation. I could not say “yes’ without her interviewing with my boss. I thought I would teach her a lesson on sales about asking for the order. Instead she had reminded me that knowing who can say “yes”, who is the Executive Sponsor, is an essential aspect of forming any Relationship. Needless to say, she did get the job after the subsequent interview with my boss. She also outperformed in the first year the seasoned veteran field sales person who had been so reluctant to give up a portion of his territory.
How did she determine who could say “yes”? She simply asked. She asked a variety of people in a variety of ways all in an effort to ensure she knew who was the one person who could say “yes” without having to get approval elsewhere in the organization.