He’s the CEO. Don’t fight this if you want the sale; align to it. He is used to giving direction and making decisions. Let him. It’s not for him to adapt to you. He won’t. It’s you that should adapt to him. And no, this is not about becoming a yes man. It’s about selling to how he buys. How do you sell to CEOs? Now you know.

To begin with though, few sellers ever get to sell to the upper echelons of an organization. Some may confidently respond to,  ‘How do you sell to senior management?’. However, few will do so, ‘How do you sell to executives?’ or, How do you sell to directors?, and fewer still, ‘How do you sell to a CEO?’. For the vast majority, it is because their products or services are largely operational, and not of strategic importance.  However, for others it is because, it is just too intimidating.

Read: Why turning salespeople to CEO might not help firms

Example of how to sell to CEO

Now then. The most antagonistic thing you can do is deliberately, or inadvertently, want to take the decision making capacity away from the CEO. He will be visibly irritated. In his books, it’s an insult. It suggests he doesn’t know what he is doing.

How do you sell to CEOs

One day, a qualified digital marketer was called for an interview. He’s a friend of mine. Let’s call him Juma. He shares how the interview panel had the CEO, COO and Human Resources Manager present. This position they sought to fill was definitely of strategic importance. My friend knew this and had adequately prepared for it. Only problem is, he went in guns blazing, derisively blasting their existing digital marketing execution, with his prescriptive one. Interestingly, he was saying all the correct things. Their digital marketing was so haphazard it was losing them sales. The only problem was how he was saying it. In any case, wisdom should have dictated that the organization already knew of the gap, hence why the interview.

But wisdom was not Juma’s portion that day. He shares how the CEO’s demeanour increasingly changed from pleasant to angry. “Had he not been diplomatic, I realised later he would had me kicked out. Anyway, I never got the job much as they had personally sought me out.”

How do you sell to CEOs? Confidence, humility, customer

Now if only he had gone in and shared the same information with humility and confidence. Sharing what he has observed, contrasting it with what the organization seeks to achieve, and seeking clarification from the panel in general, but CEO in particular. And then sharing how he would improve it to the benefit of the customer. That way he would sidestep treading on toes he doesn’t need to. The result would have been different.(A bonus would be demonstrating that you understand the workings of his institution as you are pitching your insights.)

How do you sell to CEOs? CEO’s spend their day giving directions and making decisions.  As simplistic as this may sound, ignoring this fact, is as disrespectful as anyone telling you, you don’t know how to do your job. The only difference is that you don’t carry an entire organization’s financial and reputational risk on your shoulders. The CEO does and any instance that even seemingly threatens this, receives a hostile response, and a lost sale.


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