Tips on selling to C-suite executives

Sales people that are effectively selling to C-suite executives are a miniscule few and oceans apart between.  Of the few that can overcome feeling intimidated, even fewer still meaningfully engage the C-level executive. Suffice it to say, based on research, C-level executives find less than 20% of the time spent by sales people as useful. Ouch! There is sufficient unending content, training, audio books and books out there on selling to C-suite executives. So I’ll confine myself to immediate tangible things you can do, for, say, salespeople that need a strategy for selling to CEOs

How do you sell to senior executives?

If you are in business development, “Sell higher; call on the C-Suite” is probably an echoing chorus in your head. That’s because of the frequency with which you hear it.  But what does it mean? It means tune into their bandwidth, Executive FM. It means demonstrate strategic literacy. C-Suite Executives in summary, (typically CEO, CFO, COO and CIO) are concerned with three (logical, business oriented) things only: making savings, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Emotionally they are concerned with politics: how they will look (legacy) and how the purchase will propel them forward in their career. They are only human after all. Remember: that they are in those positions speaks to their ambition.  Strategic literacy is the ability to expertly weave the logical and emotional benefits into your pitch.

Adjust your pitch vertically and horizontally

What every executive wants you to know about successful selling at the top is that they do not care. They don’t care about how your product works. What they care about is how it affects the logical and emotional pains mentioned. They don’t care that your fuel has additives that clean the pipes in the factory as it flows in them. No. They care that you save them 30% in production costs when they have to shut down for maintenance. If their technical people are happy with how it works, that’s enough for them. 

Now, the plot thickens, somewhat. Executive FM is not always on one dial. For instance, if you are selling an enterprise-wide software, what may be of strategic importance to the Chief Information Officer, say compatibility, may be tactical (therefore time wasting) to the CEO. Therefore, you must know the pain point of each C-level executive and adjust your pitch to that pain.

selling to C-suite executives

What if your audience has different cadre of staff? Then show how each capability in your product addresses their commensurate pain. For instance, “Because our gloves are latex, it means for you the factory manager, comfort for your workers in the factory (if that was a paint point). For you in Finance it means optimized use of your budget (as the latex dispenses of the need for double layering as you have been doing). And it means an above industry and regulatory safety standard to you as the CEO. Which translates to being an industry leader on matters safety.”

Importance of selling to C-Suite Executives

If you are in B2B selling, and especially business development, listen up. Selling to the C-suite can make the difference between being a hen pecking in the sand for nibbles, and an eagle swooping down to snatch the hen.  Eat or be eaten. Yes, you demonstrated to the IT manager that your compatible software is what the organization has been looking for. And is within his budget. That’s until I swoop in and take the sale from you with my much more expensive product. Why? Because I showed the CIO and CFO how my product will propel their individual careers forward while saving the business some money.

You get a greater return on your sales investment when selling to C-suite executives than to lower levels in the hierarchy. After all, C-level executives are decision makers, creators and holders of the budgets that will finance the purchase of the product you are pitching.

Why most sellers struggle selling to the C-Suite

How to sell to C-Suite executive or business owners requires that you research and explore the business, industry, and individual executives involved. It takes time. Yet, as public as this information is today, it is alarming how only a fraction of a fraction of sales people access it. LinkedIn, for instance, is a treasure trove of studying the executives you will be meeting. Or, to prospect C-suite executives. Others include interpreting their annual reports.

So too, mystery calling ‘We called your lines 10 times over the past month and each time they rang 10 times with no one picking’. This speaks to (low) productivity , customer (dis) service and (lost) sales. You can also interact with the product (actually staying at their hotel for instance). The idea is to demonstrate to the executive that you intimately understand his business, his industry his pain point. And then connecting your product or service to the latter. And be prepared to do so inside 3-5 minutes, as C-level decision makers are starving on time but will extend it if their attention is hooked. The foregoing is usually an institution concerted effort best driven by the seller.  

Now how many sales people do you suppose are willing to put in that kind of work?


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