How to Sell to the C-Suite
Your best chance at success when selling to the C-suite relies on proving credibility in the first 5 minutes.
Selling to the C-Suite
The opportunity to meet with and sell to the C-suite can be a long or short conversation. The meeting will end early if the sales professional is unable to show that they have a clear understanding of the stakeholder’s business and ways to provide measurable value. The C-level executive does not have the time or inclination to educate the sales professional.
However, if the sales professional can demonstrate an understanding of the core business issues in need of attention, the stakeholder is likely to engage in a longer dialogue. For this reason, the success of a C-suite meeting depends on what happens before the conversation. Preparation is crucial. Despite the intuitive logic of this approach, C-suite sales meetings remain a challenge for many sales professionals because they come to the meeting with a deep level of knowledge about the solution, not the challenge. Put simply, they have the answer before they have the question.
Understanding The Expectations of C-Suite Sales Conversations
Sales professionals who are effective at engaging the C-Suite enter the meeting with a clear understanding of the business.
Doing so means investigating challenges and goals before speaking with anyone on the executive team. This research equips the sales professional to demonstrate their credibility in the first five minutes when the executive is asking themselves three key questions:
Does this salesperson…
- Have an understanding of my business?
- Have a solution that can solve my problems or help me implement my strategy?
- Have the power to deliver the resources needed to succeed?
- Know the Business: Interview Non-Executive Members of the Organization
- Understanding the business means asking questions. This fact presents a challenge to the sales professional because the C-level executive will not have the time to answer questions in the meeting.
- Therefore, the sales professional must prepare by exploring the critical business issues through dialogues with others in the organization. This approach is effective for three reasons.
Less senior members of the organization might be willing to articulate challenges with a level of candor that they are hesitant to express when speaking to an executive.
By speaking to several people within the business, the sales professional can develop a dimensional picture of the core challenges because their conversations represent several perspectives.
Sales professionals must ask questions that explore areas that include the market, the financial conditions of the business, and the critical business issues. When asking about the market, sales professionals need to understand the kinds of customers the business serves, the total addressable market, the market trends, and the main competitive threats. Financial questions should explore the broad revenue trends and how the revenue compares to similar businesses in the same industry. Finally, the questions pertaining to the critical business issues should reveal key business goals and objectives and the obstacles in reaching those goals.
These questions must not only explore the “what” — they must also explore the “why.” For example, a few perfunctory open-ended sales questions will reveal that the goal is to grow the business. A much more useful question is to ask why the business is not growing today.
Often, these questions seem unnecessary because the sales opportunity begins with stakeholders providing a list of solution requirements and functionalities. As a result, the tendency for most is to explain how the product or service ticks each box with a general overview of features and benefits. This approach will not satisfy the C-level executive’s need for strategic insight.
Add Value: Propose a Solution that Warrants Investment
A key responsibility of those in the C-suite is to maintain a wide perspective. They must consider how each decision impacts the business as a whole and how to maximize the value of their capital.
Understanding this characteristic of the leader’s job is important because it reminds the sales professional that their solution is not being measured against competing providers but is being measured against all other possible investments. Therefore, sales professionals must demonstrate a level of ROI and strategic value that is competitive with all other possible uses of capital.
Sales professionals who understand this aspect of a purchasing decision are seen as credible because they demonstrate that they understand the way a C-suite executive makes a decision.
When contextualizing the value of the solution, it is critical for the sales professional to remember that the C-suite executive is focused on the future. Often the value of an investment is based on what can be expected in the next 18-36 months. Therefore, the sales professional is expected to enter the meeting with a fully formed hypothesis and point of view about how the solution fits into the future plans of the business.
It is important to remember that there are opportunities to ask questions during the C-suite meeting. However, earning that right means first showing the stakeholders that their major pain points have been understood. If the sales professional has properly demonstrated this understanding, then the stakeholders will likely be eager to engage in a conversation and answer questions because they will know that they are speaking with someone who can deliver results.
Lead the Way: Demonstrate the Authority to Deliver
Sales professionals must demonstrate the authority to marshal the resources of their organization. In some cases, the sales professional will address this challenge by bringing a C-level executive from their organization to the meeting.
This approach can be effective; however, in many cases, it is ineffective because too often the mere presence of another C-level executive is not enough to compel the C-level stakeholder in the buying organization. Including a C-level team member from the selling organization means having a very specific and clear reason for their presence that rises above their title. The executive must be able to bring value that would otherwise not be possible without their involvement.
In most sales settings, a well-prepared sales professional can do the job alone by clearly mapping how the solution can be implemented and vocalizing their commitment to driving results. They must explain how each stage of the solution will work, how and when they will implement the components, and what kind of sustainment measures they will need to put in place. The sales professional will lose the stakeholder’s confidence if they hedge their responses by explaining that they will need to verify the details of their answers after the meeting.
The sales professional’s power and authority are increasingly important today as solutions become more complex. The solution — much like a tool — is only as effective as those who wield it. In fact, if the sales professional has been successful in satisfying the two questions above, then the C-level executive will be eager to know that the seller will be involved with implementation after the purchase.
Sell to the C-Suite with Confidence
The success or failure of C-suite sales meetings is determined before the door opens.
The sales professional must be able to establish their credibility by proving that they understand the C-level executive’s business, have a relevant solution, and have the authority to manage the implementation and leverage the selling organization’s resources for the customer’s benefit.
Satisfying these three requirements demands a higher level of preparation.
Get industry insights and stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter.
Joining our community gives you access to weekly thought leadership to help guide your planning for a training initiative, inform your sales strategy, and most importantly, improve your team's performance.