Selling To C-Suite Executives Requires Preparation And Strategy
Eighty-four percent of executives interviewed in studies said they’d grant a sales meeting if the salesperson were recommended internally by a credible source.
Contrast that to referrals from people outside the organization, which get meetings a still-impressive 50% of the time. Cold calls to the executive, even those following a letter or an email, worked only about 20% of the time.
That’s all from Stephen Bistritz, who co-wrote with Nicholas Read “Selling To The C-Suite: What Every Executive Wants You To Know About Successfully Selling To The Top.” Both authors are accomplished salespeople and sales trainers.
Never sell yourself short. Bistritz and Read asked a chief information officer of a Fortune 500 technology company, “Why would someone at your level ever agree to meet with a professional salesperson?”
The CIO’s answer: “Professional salespeople offer me suggestions about solutions to business problems that even people in my own organization can’t solve. Some of these salespeople have encountered similar problems in other organizations and have creatively addressed them. That’s what I expect from salespeople who want to have a trusted advisor relationship with me.”
To further achieve trust, Bistritz says a salesperson’s focus should be on a longer-term relationship that transcends any short-term sales.
Hail the gatekeepers. Don’t attempt to circumvent them unless you’re certain you can obtain the meeting with the relevant executive you’ve identified, Bistritz said. “As one savvy salesperson put it: ‘Hell hath no fury like a gatekeeper scorned!’ “
Treat them like they are the boss. “Gatekeepers often have an understanding of the executive’s key issues and can often help salespeople gain access to that individual,” he added.
Do due diligence. In the surveys Bistritz and Read conducted, C-level leaders stated clearly they expect salespeople who meet with them to have an in-depth understanding of the key business issues facing the company, and they have little patience for those who don’t.
Learn about their industry, company and the executives you’ll be presenting to. “At each level you become more valuable to the client executive,” Bistritz said.
The authors also say it’s vital that salespeople “listen intently before proposing any product or service solutions.”
Make yourself indispensable. Lisa Wardell, president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education, which empowers students to achieve goals, says be ready to answer this question for potential clients: “What problem are we trying to solve?”
Have a timeline for deliverables, budget and revenue benefit, she adds.
“As CEO, I’m always looking for the best talent – typically a creative problem-solver who finds new opportunities and has the determination to follow through,” Wardell said.
Demonstrate consistency. Bistritz says salespeople need to remember “that every interaction with an executive either enhances or dilutes your credibility. You need to be at the top of your game at all times.”
Cut the fat. Matt Kerbel, CMO of MusclePharm, a lifestyle and sports nutrition company, says the key to a sales presentation winning him over is “the three C’s: clear, concise and compelling.”
He adds that whether the salesperson has 30 seconds or an hour, they must “make it as hard for me to say no as possible. You have to keep me engaged or chances are it’s a pass.”
Recently Kerbel was presented with a plan about future ingredient innovations for their products in about five minutes, “which consisted of work that likely took months to organize,” he said. “That individual left me with an appendix for every major product on the roadmap. I was floored.”
Be authentic. When someone wants to sell Kerbel on an idea, he says, “I’m not concerned whether it’s on a napkin or PowerPoint. The most important things are that it has a strong business case, is aligned with our overarching brand purpose, and is grounded in data.
“Don’t tell me things I already know — I’m not only looking for great ideas, but for people to bring information and expertise to the table that my team doesn’t already have.”
He tells of a pitch from a senior leader who spent 20 minutes reading slides to Kerbel’s team word for word. “He never asked us whether we had questions and, candidly, lost the business within the first two minutes.”