Selling directly to C-level executives is the dream of many salespeople. When you have to go through gatekeepers and mid-level employees to pitch your product or service, you are beginning a long process. The employee will have to get approval from their bosses to buy from you, which means they will have to argue on your behalf for your product or service. Like what happens in a game of telephone, your message is likely to get distorted or even completely lost in secondhand communication.
If you have the chance to speak with a C-level executive rather than a mid-tier employee, you should take it. Not only do you get the opportunity to sell directly to a decision-maker, but you’ll also ensure the executive receives your intended message.
Though there are many benefits to selling directly to C-level executives, you must be prepared to handle the unique challenges that come with selling to a C-level executive.
What Are C-Level Sales?
What Is a C-Level Executive?
C-level executives are those in the highest positions of a company. They get their name from the “chief” used in their titles, such as chief financial officer, chief technology officer, etc., and the “C” in the acronyms that accompany them.
How C-Level Sales Is Different
In other sales situations with lower-level employees or individual consumers, you might get by with a generic pitch about the benefits of your product or service. With C-level executives, a pitch that sounds like you are reading it from a sales script will get you ignored at best and cut short at worst, forever leaving the executive with a negative impression of your company. Selling to C-level decision-makers involves coming up with a personalized pitch they will respond to positively, focusing on broad business value propositions like profitability, revenue and corporate strategy, for instance.
To succeed at C-level sales, you must put the time in to understand the executive’s industry, their company and their motivations. Of course, personalizing your pitch is always crucial, but in lower-level sales, you will likely be doing much less research due to the volume of leads you will be speaking with. In C-level sales, the stakes are higher, and, as such, you will have to prepare more for your meeting.
While everyone’s time is valuable, you must be more conscious of a C-level decision-maker’s time when you deliver your pitch. You must hone your presentation to maximize value while reducing the amount of time you take up. If you can provide a compelling argument for your product or service in under the amount of time you have scheduled with the executive, you will likely make a good impression and have earned their trust.
With a C-level sale, you do not have to go through a multistep process to make it. A C-level executive will not have to go through a chain of command before they make a purchasing decision like a lower-level employee would have to. This ability for a C-level executive to decide without approval will make the sales process faster, saving you valuable time.
Finding the Right Executive
Picking the right executive is just as crucial as making contact with an executive before you try to set up a meeting. Going to the very top and trying to get a meeting with the CEO or the CFO may seem like a good idea, but they may not have direct involvement with the area of the company your product or service is likely to benefit.
Many executives will have decision-making power, so do your research on them all to see who would be most interested in what you’re offering. Your sales effort will have the best chance to succeed if you target the executive who has the most to gain or lose from your pitch.
To find the executive who will be most receptive, you’ll want to examine the company, starting with its history. Which executives make the toughest decisions? Who works with whom? Has any executive worked with someone from your company before? Do you know anyone in the organization who can give you an insider’s perspective?
Having narrowed down your list of executives, you can make a list of them, ranking them by how approachable they seem and by how receptive they might be to your proposal based on your research.
Once you’ve identified the right executive for your sale, check if you have contacts in the industry or even at the company. If you have anyone that can be a reference, you’ll want to use them to get a meeting. A referral can be the difference between getting a meeting or not. On top of getting you in the room with the executive, a reference will give you some automatic credibility, making it easier to
gain their trust.
After you’ve established your top-ranked executive and sought out any referrals, you’ll want to try to contact them and get to know them before you launch into your pitch.
If you target the right executive, you can earn a valuable, influential supporter in the organization, reduce the time you spend trying to come to a deal and dramatically increase your chances of making a sale.
Reach out Before the Call
In most sales processes, where a company has established a need and begun looking for a solution to their problem, the executive will primarily be involved with the sales process at the beginning and end of it. After outlining goals for the project, they will pass it along to lower-level employees and only return to the project to approve a final sale.
As they are most involved in the opening stages, you will want to try to establish contact early on. To get a meeting or phone call with them scheduled, you will need to have a strategy for making contact with them before you pitch them.
To get on an executive’s radar to get a meeting, you have a few options. One indirect way you can increase the chances of speaking with them is to optimize your web content. Specifically, ensure your content includes plenty of keywords a high-level manager might enter when searching for a solution to their problem. If your website ranks highly in search results, the executive or an employee who works closely with them may reach out to you directly, as opposed to you having to do the legwork necessary to get a meeting with them.
Along with bettering your keywords, you can create content that will interest them and raise your profile. Even if they don’t see your work, an employee might come across it and then refer you to the executive. At the very least, raising your profile in the target’s industry can give you some name recognition when you reach out.
Other, more direct, ways you can make contact can include social media and email. Since their time is valuable, do your homework to find out what methods of communication they prefer. You can ask their personal assistant if you can’t find anything online.
Don’t start your message to them asking for a meeting, as that can indicate you don’t respect their time. Instead, you need to demonstrate your value to the executive before they are even going to think of fitting you into their busy schedule.
Most important, you should attempt to put yourself in their shoes. If your message reflects that you’ve taken the time to consider what they will find valuable, you are much more likely to receive a meeting.
Meeting With Executives Tips
Due to C-level executives’ busy schedules, they may not remember who you are or why they agreed to meet with you. Don’t take it personally, and be proactive in letting them know who you are. You should tell them not only your name, but also the name of your company and the reason why you are speaking to them.
You can use this formula for an excellent introduction: “Hi, (executive’s name). This is (your name) from (your company). I’m calling/here to discuss (the reason for the meeting) today.”
In the introduction above, you’ve covered all of your bases and reminded them who you are and why you are calling. To spruce up your introduction, you can craft a way to reference the executive’s goals or agenda. For instance, if your product will boost profitability, you can say something along the lines of, “I’m here to discuss how (the product) can increase your profitability through (reasons why it will increase profitability).”
Strategies for Keeping Their Attention
Many executives are not going to want to waste time with small talk. Instead, they’ll prefer to get directly into the reason for the meeting. Opening with a conventional icebreaker can make the executive lose patience in the meeting before it’s even begun in earnest.
Some executives are still going to want to get to know the salesperson first and connect with them. Jumping right into the business may make you seem self-absorbed or unfriendly.
One way you can still build rapport and establish credibility with the executive is to begin your conversation by showing you’ve done your research. You don’t need to launch right into your pitch. Instead, ask them about their company’s recent developments, announcements, changes in their industry or other company-focused subjects.
By starting the conversation with a topic focused on their company, you can show you have researched what they do and you are interested in their perspective. You will come across as friendly, giving yourself an opportunity to connect with them over a shared interest.
When you get down to talking about the business at hand, you’ll want to keep the focus on the big-picture effects of your product or service. Don’t bog them down with going over all the features and details of what you’re selling them. You might do this with a lower-level employee, clearly marking out all the ways it will help benefit their daily goals, but with an executive, you want to be showing them how it’s going to benefit their organization as a whole.
Of course, you’ll want to be knowledgeable about the features and functions of your product or service, as they might ask. Just don’t focus on those sorts of details in your pitch. Instead, explain how what you’re offering is going to affect their bottom line positively. In short, keep your presentation clear,
concise and compelling.
To make your pitch more personal, don’t wing the conversation. You’ll need to continue to research the executive. Ask any of your contacts at the potential client’s company about the executive’s goals or challenges they might be facing. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the executive’s industry and competition. Knowing both their company’s goals and who they are competing against will help you craft a stronger argument for why they should become a client.
When you are heading into the meeting, you want to try to find a middle ground between overpreparing and underpreparing for a meeting.
Someone who has overprepared may try to fit too much into a limited time, but more importantly, they will not leave time to respond to any curveballs a client might have thrown at them. If the executive mentions another need or challenge, you want to have enough time to address that, especially if you have a solution.
If you are underprepared, you run the risk of coming across as unprofessional or disorganized. Your central message may get lost, and the executive may not ever be sure how exactly your solutions could impact their company’s bottom line. Also, you don’t want to lose control of the meeting by running out of things to say and turning the conversation over to them.
Find a balance by preparing an agenda that isn’t too ambitious, but will still make a convincing argument. Leave enough time for any topics you might not expect, and be prepared to stop your presentation to answer a question.
While a decision-maker has the final say-so on purchasing decisions, they will still want their teams to be on board with them. Before they give you an answer, they will likely want to speak with members of the organization about what you’re selling and get their opinions on your company. Getting widespread support is going to be one of their top priorities before they invest in whatever you’re selling.
With this in mind, you’ll want to try to find out what the buying process looks like at the prospect’s company. You might be able to do this during your initial research. One source of information could be through the gatekeeper, who will often know the executive’s priorities and how they do business. Getting on their good side will put a supporter directly in the executive’s ear and will help you understand how that executive will handle a big decision.
If you find out the executive will discuss your proposal with other stakeholders and executives, you’ll need to do more homework. In your conversation with the executive, you’ll need to make sure to highlight areas that will appeal to their values, but also the values of the stakeholders. Additionally, you will want to reach out to any other team members the executive will be consulting with to gain their support.
While it’s natural to feel nervous selling to a high-level executive, you will want to hide your jitters from the executive. Appearing anxious may make the prospect find you untrustworthy or lacking in credibility.
One mental trick to translate that anxiety into a positive emotion is by telling yourself you are excited about the thing that scares you. Studies have found fear and excitement are incredibly similar emotions, with the only difference being that excited people focus on all the things that can go well, while nervous people do the opposite. When you feel a negative thought coming on, try rephrasing it in your mind into something based in opportunity.
For example, try to tell yourself, “I’m excited to meet with such an important person,” rather than, “I’m nervous about meeting such an important person.”
While it’s not foolproof and takes practice, rephrasing your thoughts can generate an opportunity mindset. This sort of mentality will be more attuned to feeling excitement at unfamiliar opportunities and will let you speak with confidence.
Another way to calm your nerves is to remind yourself of your expertise and the insights you can bring to the conversation. While a C-level executive is going to have their fingers in many pies across the company, you are an expert in whatever you are offering them.
Though you need the executive to help you make the sale, they also require you to help them understand how what you’re offering will improve their company. As executives, they will want to grow their company, so they need you just like you need them.
Ask for Help If Needed
Your company wants you to succeed, and there’s no shame in asking for help. Especially if you’re new to C-level selling, reach out to other, more experienced, reps to get their advice on how you should approach the sale. You could even see if they want to come along to the presentation or sit in on the phone call to support you while you’re learning and maximize your chance of landing a client.
On top of reaching out to other reps, look into whether any high-level developers or managers could answer questions about the product or service in a meeting. You want to impress the executive and give them the best information possible, and bringing another expert from your company will accomplish both of those goals.
With these tips and information, you should be ready to meet with senior management and wow them.
Take Your Sales to the Next Level
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