Selling to C-Level Executives: 8 Tips for Unlocking Access to the Busiest Buyers on Earth

December 18, 2017 Tony Hughes

Selling to c-level executives is a different ball game. You have to be concise, respectful of their time, and really think about how to differentiate yourself in order to break through the clutter and earn the right to ask for something.

Here is a message to sellers from a real c-level buyer:

Outbound tactics without strategy are sheer lunacy. We must lead with an insight-driven value narrative (‘hypothesis of value’), otherwise hammering away in blended channels is worthless.

It’s not what we use, but how we use it; otherwise, it’s scorched Earth for C-level fish we risk scaring off from still waters.

Or put another way:

Buyers are deadened to seller outreach. Breaking through the cruft demands the right narrative and use of blended channels.

Below is an example of what NOT to do.

Thanks to Claudio Camacho from Tuxera for allowing me to share this.

He published a screenshot of this InMail from a salesperson.

how to not sell c level executives

Was this sales rep being creative? Maybe. Was he effective? No.

I applaud the rep for ‘having a go’ and seeking to break through the noise with some humor and focusing on value (increasing sales conversion rates) but I think it misses the mark.

Why Are Executive Buyers So Tough?

  1. They are under pressure, drowning in workload and are time poor.
  2. They don’t believe the over the top ROI claims from sellers.
  3. They are NUMB to all the outreach being projected at them.
  4. They filter requests based on referrals from a trusted source (people who work for them or peers they respect)

Here’s an example of real emails that secured meetings with a CXO. Thanks HubSpot.

More Real World Feedback From a CEO

Late last year I delivered a 2-day program for 90 salespeople. As part of the agenda, we had Hari Krishnan, CEO at PropertyGuru join us for a one hour interview.

PropertyGuru is the market leader in their industry and prior to this CEO role, Hari Krishnan held Board Director positions, and was head of LinkedIn in Asia-Pacific and Japan.

He is impeccably credentialed to provide the most senior buyer perspective and the insights that follow came from this powerful question:

“On what basis do you as the CEO of a market leader engage directly with sellers?”

Everyone in the room was riveted, and the feedback forms for this session rated it as the most valuable over the two days.

My paraphrase of this CEO’s advice for sellers is below in italics, with my own advice occasionally added in.

8 Actionable Steps For Accessing Busy C-Level Executives

objection handling examples scripts

1. If you want to get to me, the ONLY way it will happen is through a warm introduction from someone I know and trust. Understanding the nature of my relationship with the introducer will give you some context into how I am likely to receive your introduction.

2. Cultivate multiple stakeholders in my organization and educate them on your solution too. I don’t make unilateral decisions or try to push decisions down the organization; so you need to build multiple relationships.

3. Don’t be creepy personal. Stick to business early in the relationship. Don’t stalk on personal social platforms such as Facebook. I’m not seeking a new friend or looking for someone to buy me a meal or host me at an event.

Tony’s Insight: Senior successful people are incredibly busy and would rather invest their time with family or where they have strong personal relationships. You’re a stranger to them at this point and you don’t matter.

4. Do your research. Seeking a conversation with me without doing your homework is unprofessional and shows a lack of respect. Don’t drop names of competitors or reference industry trends that are not relevant to my region or business. The examples you use need to be from within my geography and relate to what is happening in my markets. USA-centric approaches don’t typically work in other geographies and cultures.

5. Know my industry. As the market leader I am not chasing disruptors but I am interested in what relevant companies are doing. Know whom I define as my competition (current and emerging) and bring me insights about them, their strategies and initiatives. I am not seeking confidential information or trade secrets, nor should you offer them, but you must bring a perspective that is of value to me.

Tony’s Insight: The VP of Sales doing the interview later commented that sellers should always seek to be a customer of their prospective client, or talk to some of their customers, as part of their own research and take a perspective on how that experience could be improved.

6. Don’t appear arrogant. Assuming that your brand alone is the reason I should buy from you is a mistake.

Tony’s Insight: If you’re the market leader, don’t tell the customer that you are ‘dominant’. Instead use the term ‘leader’ and earn their interest and trust rather than assume it.

7. Take the time to understand how I define success. Know what motivates our organization and how we measure improvement and success. Focus on how you can help me achieve our KPIs and performance measures.

8. Aspire to be a trusted advisor. Not in a clichéd way but differentiate yourself in the way you engage our organization by acting in our best interests rather than your own. Resist the urge to push and close when we are not ready. Trusted advisor for a seller is achieved over time through alignment with my personal and organization’s success.

“Your focus should be on my success as the customer rather than on your sales goal.”

According to Hari Krishnan, the three levels of relationship are:

Level 1 – Trusted Advisor: I collaborate with you, and involve you deeply in my planning process, and there is an emotional personal connection and trust.

Level 2 – Partner: I regard you as being strategic to my business and I solicit your thoughts in the planning process.

Level 3 – Vendor: I transact with you and focus on price as the primary way of defining greater value.

And I always thought that the ‘trusted advisor’ phrase was a cliché used by sales people when they decided to get cheesy. There is gold within this advice.

Bonus Tips For Selling Into The C-Suite

Action Item #1: Don’t use LinkedIn as a spamming platform, instead use it to research and find the best path for a warm introduction. Cold calling and direct marketing strategies rarely work at the CXO level, and even with an introduction you’ll need to try a combination of outreach to break-through.

Action Item #2: Once you’ve secured your path for an introduction, you need the right narrative to ‘set the agenda on insight and value’ to form the basis of a conversation.

Referrals are the fastest way to revenue. This is why we must cultivate our networks and nurture our own brand.

For CEOs or business leaders who are focused on driving revenue growth, here are two other posts for you:

For sales reps, here are some other articles I’ve written on the topic of engaging senior leadership:

Now it’s your turn…

Please comment here on how you’re elevating the conversation with customers and becoming a trusted advisor.

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