Executive decision making is obviously driven by company goals, but it’s also driven by something much more personal to individual decision makers: executive compensation.
Every executive wants to maximize their job performance—and often along with it, their own compensation. By using knowledge of an individual’s compensation structure, you can tailor your sales pitch to speak directly to these priorities. The more personally relevant your pitch, the more you’ll hold your buyer’s attention.
The degree to which an executive is comfortable discussing executive compensation with you varies among executives and may be influenced by the strength of your relationship, but no matter whom you are talking to or how well you know them, you need to be aware of the details of executive compensation, how to find it, and most importantly, how to discuss it appropriately.
The Basics of Executive Compensation
Executives are compensated in different ways: bonuses based on performance, shares in the company, or a percentage of profits, to name a few. Depending on how an individual executive is compensated, they’ll want to maximize the elements of the business that impact their compensation.
If you know how your customer is compensated, you can use that information to get their attention. For example, if an executive is compensated based on profits, think about how your offerings can impact profits and mention that in your conversations. You don’t have to be creepy and say, “I know you’re compensated on profits, so you’ll like what my solution can do,” but don’t be shy about clearly stating any benefit that impacts them directly.
In addition to salary, executives are usually compensated on annual and long-term incentives. Base salary is a given; that leaves incentives based on short- and long-term goals. Strategic goals tend to be esoteric, while annual compensation metrics goals are more tangible and easier to link to your solution.
Finding Compensation Data
Now that you can see the benefits of tying your solution to your buyer’s compensation structure, where do you find the relevant information?
The good news is that executive compensation isn’t “insider information”—it’s often in the public domain. Publicly traded companies in the United States include that information in their definitive proxy statement, also known as SEC Form DEF 14A.
Outside the United States, compensation data is in a company’s annual report in the section titled “Remuneration” or “Compensation.” Businesses post these online, so just go to the company’s website and look under tabs such as “Investor Relations” and “Financial Statements.”
Bear in mind that there are cultural nuances in the accuracy of data from one country to the next. North American and European countries tend to be more transparent about this information, while countries in other regions of the world, such as Asia, tend to generalize the data.
How to Talk About Compensation (Without Being Creepy)
Once you have compensation data, you’ll want to discuss it tactfully. There’s a right and a wrong way to introduce compensation into your conversations. Let’s look at a few examples:
“Ms. Raymond, I know you made two and a half million dollars last year, but wouldn’t it be nice to hit your metrics on net income and return on equity? I can help you with those, as well as your customer satisfaction and loyalty initiatives. Buy from me, and you’ll meet your annual goals, collect on your compensation package, and finally be able to afford to take Mr. Raymond—and those adorable Raymond children, Moe, Larry, and little Curly Joe—on that trip around the world!”
That approach comes off too strong. Here’s another way to broach the subject:
“Ms. Raymond, our company aims to help you achieve your goal of getting your product to market faster, which will improve financial performance in areas such as net income, return on equity, and risk and strategic initiatives.”
In the second example, you don’t sound like a stalker, but you’ve communicated benefits that will resonate with the buyer on a personal level.
The caveat to this is that you should always consider your relationship with the buyer. If this is your first conversation, obviously lean heavily toward “not creepy.” But if you’ve talked to them before and they trust you, you actually can stretch the boundaries by speaking specifically to their compensation without making them uncomfortable.
Use Executive Compensation Thoughtfully
Executive compensation can be an effective way to make your sales pitch more personal and attention-grabbing, but remember, there’s a right way and a wrong way to discuss it. Don’t be creepy or overly personal with buyers you aren’t already familiar with.
Instead, tie your solution to key bonus metrics. Instead of directly talking about the buyer’s incentives, simply mention how your solution drives key metrics and let the executive link this to their bonus. Again, you don’t need to spell everything out to them—just make the connection between your solution and the outcomes they prioritize, and your pitch will instantly become more personally meaningful to them.
For more advice on succeeding in sales, you can find Insight-Led Selling on Amazon.
Dr. Stephen G. Timme is President and Founder of FinListics Solutions, a company that helps B2B professionals develop greater customer insights and better demonstrate the value of their solutions. Before founding FinListics, Stephen was a professor of finance at Emory University and Georgia State University, an adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a consultant for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
Melody Astley is FinListics’ Chief Revenue Officer. With a background that includes leadership and senior sales roles at Gartner and IBM, Melody is responsible for strategic business growth and FinListics’ sales and marketing engines. She leads workshops and presents at global conferences, such as Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) and the RevGen Digital Summit.