Selling to the c-suite – best practices for gaining access and what to do next


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In the B2B market the probability of capturing the business is significantly reduced if you cannot successfully sell at the senior level. So, an important component of any winning account strategy is gaining access to senior executives and selling successfully once you are there.

How do you gain access to the c-suite?

Here, the research is clear and straightforward. The most effective approach for gaining access to a senior executive is a recommendation from a key influencer inside the organization.

Are there other reasons that will influence whether a senior executive will grant access? The answer is yes. Three other reasons that will likely increase a senior executive granting access to a salesperson are:

  • A referral from outside the company from a respected colleague of the senior executive.
  • Being from a company that is a strategic partner of the executive’s company.
  • Having a previous successful professional relationship with the senior executive.

But if you want a meeting with the right senior executive, at the right time, you need to spend time previously talking to other key players involved in the buying process. Then you need to ask one or more of them to recommend to the senior executive about meeting with you.

How do you have a compelling, memorable conversation in the c-suite?

Now let’s assume you gain access, the challenge turns to what you need to do in order to have a compelling and memorable interaction with the senior level executive. Let’s examine some ideas.

Selling at the C-Level. The first requirement is to understand the person on the other side of the table. Senior executives have different needs, pressures, and perspectives than managers lower in the organization.

From a strategic perspective it is important to keep in mind that senior executives are more concerned about the unknown than the known. They look at the big picture vs. individual snapshots. They are more concerned about the future than the present. And, most importantly they are seeking insights and new ideas about the company’s strategic challenges not standard product presentations.

In planning the sales call it is well to remember that at a tactical level the language of senior executives is numbers and strategic goals. So the call needs to be focused on topics such as those recently summarized in an excellent article by Dr. John Sullivan:

  1. Increasing revenue and profit
  2. Building a competitive advantage
  3. Increasing market share
  4. Shareholder value
  5. Increasing productivity
  6. Satisfying the customer
  7. Producing innovative products and services

From a process perspective what rarely works is the traditional needs discovery conversation. We are all familiar with the traditional discovery conversation – it starts with salesperson asking questions to uncover a problem they believe the customer is concerned about and then continues the sales call by further developing the problem – ending with the salesperson presents an overview of their solution for how the problem can be solved.

Why is a sales call like this ineffective with senior executives?

  • The time spent vs. the value received does not work out very well for the senior executive. Too much of the time in the meeting is spent on educating the salesperson about a problem the senior executive already understands.
  • It is probably the same type of conversation and the same set of questions that the senior executive has been asked by all the other salespeople. So you have wasted an opportunity to differentiate your company from the competition.

While this type of sales call is not effective with senior executives, it is important to emphasize that it continues to be appropriate and effective for others in the customer organization. The critical point is: the senior executive has a different set of needs and challenges than others in the customer organization. These differences require a different type of sales call.

What’s an alternative? One option is a Point of View business conversation. A Point of View sales call focuses on helping the senior executive learn something new about a significant strategic challenge like one of the aforementioned seven – for example increasing market share. The salesperson explores a problem from a different perspective or provides insight about a problem the senior executive didn’t even know they had.

To have a Point of View conversation, salespeople must develop a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s challenges by meeting with other key players in the company before meeting with the senior executive. In the interim, substantial time and resources are spent analyzing the information to bring a point of view to the senior executive that provides new insights.

In summary, to conduct this type of sales call, the salesperson must:

  • Do their homework before the meeting with the senior executive.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the industry, company, and challenges
  • Listen more than talk
  • Demonstrate the capability to marshal the resources.
  • Show the willingness to be held accountable for the actions being discussed.

The bottom line is: Time in the sales call must be spent focused on strategy with the senior executive learning something they did not know vs. the salesperson learning something the senior executive already knew.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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