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When you are Selling to the C-suite and You Finally Get There, Don’t Blow It!

As CEO of Richardson Sales Performance, a leading sales training company, I am continually struck by how many sales professionals try to sell me solely by virtue of my position.

In my previous post — So, You Want to Sell to the CEO?— I talked about the 30-second window in which I can determine whether the seller is worth my time. I touched on the epic fail on homework and how tricks and fancy talk will backfire.

Tell me something that I don’t know.

Now, I want to touch on something that’s a big issue for me: the predictability of sellers. All too often, when reps are selling to the c-suite, they tell us things that we already know. Or, they place the burden upon me to do the work of answering a ton of questions. All that does is tell me that they don’t respect my time. Their approach doesn’t engage me or hook me into a conversation. It’s like they never considered the next step after succeeding in getting my attention.

I don’t know any CEO who has the time to answer a bombardment of questions from a seller who hasn’t done his/her homework. Our job is not to educate sellers.

What we do in granting time for a conversation is give them the ability to credentialize themselves at the start. We open the door for them to tell us something that we don’t know, to hear about what they’ve done with competitors, and to talk about trends in the industry.

Sellers should never underestimate the power of being able to refer to somebody or something that the CEO is probably interested in because we’re competitive people. We like to learn who you know and what you’ve done with others in the industry.

Develop some theories.

I expect sellers to take a stab at understanding what my business issues are. In most selling situations, it’s not difficult to glean basic knowledge about any company’s business model or the strategy of an organization. The Web puts it all at your fingertips.

Use this knowledge to create a hypothesis as to what the top three issues might be for the target company. I’m CEO of a sales training company, so what issues might be relevant for me? A seller might hypothesize about revenue strategies, ways to improve margins, or international expansion. They could talk about how they’ve done some research and developed a sense of the issues that I might be struggling with — issues that they can help address. Now, they have my attention. This is really basic stuff, but I almost never meet anyone who does it.

When sellers do take the time, they earn respect. More important, they’re often right on at least one of the issues. It doesn’t matter whether they’re right on all of them. If they’re roughly right on one, they’ve earned more time for conversation. I might respond by saying, “The first two issues that you mentioned frankly aren’t of interest or relevant to our business, and this is why … But, you’re heading down the right alley with the third one, which we’re currently working on, so, let’s talk more about this.”

The seller might then say, “OK, those first two aren’t an issue, and the third sounded like it might be somewhat peripheral. Would you mind taking a minute to share what is really at the top of your list?” Then, we’re off and getting to the heart of the matter.

Be real.

One more thing to remember: don’t forget the human element. On some calls, and even in some meetings, it’s always clear — and always annoying — when the seller sounds like they’re reading from a script. The tone is rote and robotic. CEOs are people, too, so, make the conversation real.

Just be honest and appreciative of their time. Start a conversation, and show confidence because confidence can be infectious. If the seller isn’t naturally gifted with confidence, and most people aren’t, all it takes is practice, preparation, and role play, over and over again.

In short, it pays to prepare like crazy, in every phase and at every touchpoint. That’s the only way to sell into the C-suite — and to be invited back.

About the Author

John D. Elsey is President and CEO of Richardson, leading the company’s global go-to-market strategy and vision around being a mission-critical resource to executive leaders who strive to improve and sustain revenue performance via world-class selling teams. With more than 15 years of helping clients design and implement programs that drive measurable improvements to performance, John provides executive sponsorship to many of Richardson’s clients throughout their sales transformations. As a business executive himself, John combines his experience in skill development within the sales function with helping customers connect their human talent initiatives to what matters most — improvements in their companies’ operational metrics.