Selling to the C-Suite: Gaining Access

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Access to the C-Suite
Image courtesy of ValueSelling Associates

Why did you get into sales?

‍Most sellers can share eccentric stories about how they got into sales because it’s rarely a straightforward route.

When you ask them why they got into sales, the responses are remarkably succinct—especially those from top performers. They didn’t become salespeople to go after the pain and sell a few user seats. They wanted to become game-changers. These are the folks who show up with the desire to use their intelligence, drive, and talent to deliver bespoke solutions that help their clients grow and thrive.

If that’s the type of salesperson you are—or want to be—there’s no faster route than selling to the C-suite. However, just like those tales of how we got into sales, gaining executive access is full of twists and turns in the form of internal and external obstacles that can hinder your success. In this piece, I’ll focus on how to overcome them, but first, let’s look at what you stand to gain.

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Mindset & Benefits of Selling to Senior Executives

Selling to the C-suite can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to B2B sales.

And you know what? It can also be highly advantageous.

For starters, building trust at this level can catapult your credibility across the organization. An introduction from a C-suite executive is not only an opening—it’s a vote of confidence in you and your solution. That kind of trust significantly shortens sales cycles due to the momentum only executive buy-in can provide. It also provides you with a panoramic view of the organization’s needs, revealing opportunities for larger, more strategic deals that affect real change and lead to long-term business relationships.

The best part is you don’t have to be a senior executive to sell to senior executives. You merely have to adopt a business-focused mindset—one rooted in financials and business outcomes… and gain access, of course.

How Salespeople Gain Access to Senior Executives

The first gatekeeper you’ll encounter is tech—whether it’s a spam filter or voicemail—but if you use the right messaging across strategically choreographed prospecting cadences, your odds of success will rise dramatically. It’s the human side of things that is often trickier—let’s break down some of our favorite tactics to make it simple.

‍Working with Gatekeepers to Access the C-suite

‍In general, you’ll run into two types of gatekeepers: executive assistants and middle managers. To start, it’s vital to realize that these individuals are merely doing their jobs. Guarding an executive’s time is always on the mind of a good executive assistant, and middle managers often become roadblocks because they’re afraid of risking their credibility or believe they have a firm grasp on the problems that need solving and are reticent to give up power.

When it comes to executive assistants, the word of the day is respect. Despite the job title, these individuals are often well-connected, have tremendous insight into their organization’s needs and wield considerable political power. Work to get them on your side. Clearly explain what led you to reach out, who you’re trying to reach and why. And if they recommend another contact, roll with it—it could be the best thing that’s happened to your opportunity yet.

Middle managers are often the first to take our calls. They have a vested interest in improving workflows, are close to the problems and can open doors to the true decision-maker. The key with them is bargaining for access—you’ll want to find deliverables that you can trade for access to the ultimate decision-maker. You could give them a sneak peek at upcoming product features and tailored implementation insights. Alternatively, you might use expertise to offer consultative advice, addressing their unique business challenges with strategic insights. Or you can build confidence through customer referrals, letting them hear success stories firsthand. If all else fails, dive into low-cost add-ons like bespoke analysis, extended trials or customized support.

In the same way that you build buyer confidence with decision-makers, use these bargaining chips to alleviate the concerns of middle managers so they’ll feel confident introducing you to senior executives.

Leveraging Referrals to Sell to the C-suite

When executives receive more than 150 messages daily, it’s difficult to break through the noise. However, if they receive a note from someone they respect that says a meeting with you is worth their time, it’s a game-changer.

While direct connections are ideal, useful referrals can take other forms. Perhaps one of your customers knows someone at the company you’re prospecting into—that’s a huge win right there. Or maybe others in your company have extended networks or industry partnerships that can also open doors—the key is to simply ask. You don’t have to agonize over this either—craft a respectful, straightforward message and hit send. You’ll be surprised by who is willing to facilitate a connection for you when you demonstrate the right intentions.

Ultimately, there’s no shorter route to sales success than selling to the C-suite. If you’re strategic, genuine and respectful in your approach—and leverage the tactics discussed above, you’ll find yourself opening doors quicker than ever before. Remember, these executives have problems worth solving on their minds. They’re waiting for a trusted advisor like you to help them take their business to the next level.

This article was originally published in ValueSelling Associates’ Voice of Value blog.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas, President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, is a noted speaker, author, and consultant. ValueSelling Associates delivers sales training and coaching that helps sales organizations compete confidently on value, not price. The company has been selected as a Top Sales Training provider by Training Industry and Selling Power, and the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Sales Training Service Providers. Get in touch at [email protected].

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