5 Ways to Sell Higher to Executive Buyers

I am sure, like me, you’ve taken a cross-country flight when all of a sudden the flight gets a whole lot bumpier. And everyone’s stomach rises to their throat.

To smooth out the turbulence, the pilot takes the aircraft to a higher altitude.

In sales, too, you can smooth out turbulence by “selling higher” in the prospect organization. Here, there are fewer gatekeepers, cautious managers, and less bureaucracy.

To sell under these favorable conditions, you need to access the C-suite. However, then, you know that, right? Knowing it and doing it are quite different.

C-suite executives make more of the buying decisions. According to market research firm, BuyerSphere, CEOs are involved in 38 percent of final decisions, finance in 20 percent, and procurement in only six percent of buying decisions.

These executives also get involved in the process early. They see a problem surface and go straight to solution mode. There’s rarified air circulating in the C-suite, and few executives have time to waste.

However, moving into solution mode is not the end of executive involvement. After making a short list of potential solutions, executives jump back in the process to evaluate the business value of solutions under consideration.

To catch an executive in stride, you must stay on top of the events that trigger his or her interest in finding a solution. The master key to triggering events forms from building a simple strategy.

While more top-level executives involve themselves in decisions today, they also involve more subordinates to vet potential solutions. Don’t overlook these people. The executive may well begin the buying process, then leave, and return after subordinates vet solutions.

Take some time to internalize the five actions below C-level executives expect from you. I guarantee, knowledge and mastery of these actions will prepare you to win more opportunities.

1. Build a solid message to open the door under favorable conditions

You cannot sell the C-suite unless you get in, and you will not get in unless you offer something of value as a magnet. Luck won’t do it; luck is for gamblers. You need a proven process. Download our eBook to learn how to set up this process.

Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz, Ed.D authors of Selling to the C-Suite tell us:

“Executives get involved in purchasing decisions early, when the original vision is being set and before the task of finding suppliers is delegated. They use the Internet to inform their thought process, about the problem they face. Most marketing fails to help them find you at this stage, so you need to rely on you selling skills. However, if your marketing department sends out problem-focused messages that attract the executive who faces those problems, and send a series of repetitive wake- calls to help them recognize that (a) they have a problem and (b) you can solve the problem, then your ability to plug into the start of the executive decision process will improve.”

C-suite decision makers give you their time only when your message is important to them.

2. Prepare well with research.

Preparation opens the C-suite to selling. Garner in-depth knowledge of your prospect and his industry. Use your research to focus on high priority initiatives. Use your knowledge of the prospect’s business drivers to identify these initiatives by looking for the single most important problem or opportunity in which the prospect needs to invest and where your products or services make a demonstrable difference.

Jill Konrath, in her best-selling book Selling to Big Companies, says, “bring exceptional value to client meetings – so much so that decision makers will want to work with you despite higher pricing.”

Top-performing salespeople spend significantly more time thinking, analyzing, researching, and preparing for prospect meetings than average sellers. It is this preparation that makes the closing difference with C-suite decision makers.

3. Bring perspective to the meeting.

With research in hand, you are positioned to bring perspective regarding trends, business issues, and insights to the executive buyer. Analyst firm SiriusDecisions found that executive decision makers prefer to discuss business trends, business issues, and business insights four times more than traditional sales conversations on relationships and product-driven knowledge.

That means you need to line-up your own future-forward research sources to teach your salespeople the art and science of learning business acumen.

TrainingIndustry.com recently compared how high-performing companies emphasize training compared to average-performing companies. It discovered that “average-performing companies” tended to focus on traditional training on products and services. High-performing or “best-in-class companies” emphasize training in “executive selling skills” and “business/financial acumen” twice as much as average performing companies.

Corporate Visions also offers extensive research on the skill sets and competencies needed by today’s top performers to sell at the executive level.

4. Sell the problem first and focus on their vision for a solution.

Set aside your knowledge of product features, benefits, and functionality. Your prospect can learn that information on the internet. In fact, BuyerSphere claims the web is the first place executive level buyers turn to for research.

At this point, “solution selling” kicks in. Use your research to probe for hot buttons and problems you can help solve. Give examples to help executives shape their vision for a solution.  Caution: You need to sell the problem first, shape their vision, then get their commitment that they do indeed want to move forward and fix the problem.  Know the answers: What are they looking to fix, accomplish, or avoid? And are they committed to doing so?

According to a study by Forrester Research, 74 percent of executive buyers indicate they give their business to the company that establishes the buying vision. Grasping this statistic is critical to your success: Executives choose to work with the company that helps them clearly see the need to change and helps them clarify their needs and solution requirements.

5. Be confident.

You can possess all of the knowledge in the world, but if you do not come across as a confident professional, you will lose credibility. Senior executives want subject-matter experts who make recommendations with confidence in the outcomes.

Many salespeople assume a false confidence because they’re so completely familiar with user buyer or technical buyer conversations centered on products or services or their issues.

I have worked with some of the smartest technical salespeople skilled at solving customer problems, but when they present before a prospect, they roll in the detail weeds and lose the executive buyer whose mind is at 32,000 feet.

Salespeople are often nervous when they step into the C-suite. With more and more decisions taking place at this level, it is imperative to find a way to get comfortable and build your confidence.

C-suite decision makers do not have time for weeding. They want straightforward answers, delivered with confidence.


Sharon Gillenwater, the author of the blog Boardroom Insiders, shares her advice in her post, Three Tips for Conquering Fear in the C-Suite:

 “1. Do your homework. The more knowledgeable you are about your customer, the more confident you will feel. Know their company, their business focus, and their challenges. You can gather this information through recent interviews, conference call transcripts and by talking to their direct reports.

2. Connect the dots.Show you have done your homework by making a direct connection between one of their business initiatives and your solution. Share a simple vision for how your company could help them achieve one or more of their goals.

3. Prove experience and credibility.Cite another customer you have helped in a similar way. Demonstrate how they were able to monetize the investment through savings or revenue impact.

And always remember, they don’t want to have a bad meeting any more than you do–they want you to be good!”

Most of all, they don’t want to make a bad decision. Read why good leaders make bad decisions in this link to a Harvard Business Review article. This quote sums up the stakes:

“The reality is that important decisions made by intelligent, responsible people with the best information and intentions are sometimes hopelessly flawed.”

Work hard to reduce the odds that your executive buyer will make a bad decision, and you will earn a buyer for life.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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