Selling to the C-Suite

In a previous post, I shared my opinions on selling to the top of an organization and why it isn’t always the best route to success.

There are obviously times when selling to the top is not only smart, but it’s required. Recently, I was asked about how to approach busy professionals with an idea, product, or service. If you are selling to senior executives, here are a few guidelines that may prove helpful.

 

“Stop selling. Start helping.” –Zig Ziglar

Be prepared.

As a sales leader, knowing your own company and your product is a requirement.  Take it a step further.  You need to know our company, too. When someone obviously hasn’t so much as looked at the company’s Web site, he has already lost credibility.  Don’t flaunt your advanced preparation, but work in ways you think we will benefit from a relationship.

It applies on the phone, too.  I can’t tell you how many people who finally do get me on the line are not prepared.  If you’re ready for the gatekeeper, but not the person you’re targeting, here’s a hint:  Don’t make the call.  Do your homework.

 

“Timid salesmen have skinny kids.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be clear.

Don’t launch into a stream of acronyms or nonsensical statements.  No, I’m not meeting with you for an hour to learn to “drive efficiencies throughout the organization, maximizing ROI and improving profits.”  Really.  We do that every day, and we know the business and you don’t.  So, be clear on what the benefit is to the organization.  Don’t use complex language designed to impress.

 

“Every sale has 5 basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be crisp.

We’re all busy.  Don’t drag it out.  Most executives are incredibly busy and bottom-line oriented.  If you catch my attention, then you will have more leeway and time to make your case.

Why Selling to the Top Can Leave You At The Bottom

If you’re in sales, you may have heard that you want to get to the top.  Why bother with people who can’t make decisions?

And then you attend a sales training session where you hear of the latest clever selling tactics.  How to get around the gatekeeper.  How to bypass everyone else and get right to the CEO.

You’ve heard some of it before:

  • Call just before or after business hours in the hopes the assistant isn’t yet on duty and the phone rings in the executive’s office.
  • Sweet-talk the executive assistant.
  • Be vague, misleading or yes, even lie in order to make it to the CEO or the highest executive you can.

I’m filled with empathy for the sales profession.  After all, my first corporate job was in sales.  (I was also a lawyer, so that may have made me the most hated guy around: a lawyer salesman?)

Whenever possible I enjoy answering my own phone, especially if I know it’s a sales call.  I’ve stunned sales people who are stammering on the other end of the line.  One guy was so ready to give his misleading lines to an assistant that he literally hung up when he realized he already had me on the line.

But, this post isn’t about how to sell to the CEO.  This is about when to sell to the CEO and when not to sell to the CEO or C Suite.

Here’s the problem with the “sell to the top” theory that most trainers don’t understand:

It can be a waste of time.

You can spend all kinds of time trying to reach someone in the C-Suite instead of identifying the person most interested in your product or service.  Let’s say I’m the CEO at a large company, and you call me about office supplies.  The fact is that there’s likely someone in charge of this area, and it isn’t the CEO.  Do you think that the CEO is going to listen to your presentation and then command the purchasing department to override all protocols and buy staplers and highlighters from you?

It can hurt your chances.