5 Behaviors the C-Suite Expects of You

In client discussions, I am commonly asked: “How do I get my salespeople trained to reach the decision makers in the C-suite?”  Rarely do most salespeople succeed at this coveted skill.

Companies jump in to train their sales teams to enter the C-Suite, then wonder why it failed.  They were unprepared. Evaluate salespeople’s capabilities first.

Not every salesperson possesses the capability to open doors at the C-suite level.

For those few with some natural talent, we can look to Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz who offer us some compelling tips in their book, Selling to the C-Suite, based on the world’s largest study into executive buying behavior. The authors gathered empirical data–not anecdotes–from interviews with 527 executives.

One major revelation: Executives want you to call on them. “They need fresh ideas from outside their companies. And they want to get involved in the buying process when a problem or opportunity is first identified.”

In classic executive behavior, if a solution cannot be found internally, he or she researches options. For salespeople, this tendency means these decision makers already know what you do, what your customers or clients say about you, and how you stack up against competitors—even before you set up that sales call.

Implication for marketers: Your websites must communicate the results of problems you’ve solved, and not simply spit out product specs. No fluff. Make it real. Make it useful.

Implication for sellers: If you’re waiting for an invitation to bid, you’re already too late. At best, you might be permitted to respond to a RFP (request for proposal), which is nothing more than a commodity-wrapped sale with a purchasing agent whose sole purpose rests on how well he screens out vendors and beats down the price of those still standing.

While the Read/Bistritz study is a decade old, the data remains highly relevant. Pay careful attention to these five desires executives want from salespeople who call on them. I’ve added some suggestions, as well.

1. Internal recommendations. Cold calling may land you a meeting five percent of the time. Get the ears of people close to an executive (“influencers” in the sales trade) who might put in a good word for you, and the success rate on landing that meeting jumps to 80 percent.

Knowing this fact, you may want to set up a referral email to get referred to the decision maker. Aaron Ross, the author of Predictable Revenue, talked about referral emails as an effective alternative to cold calling.

First, be clear about which contact or department you wish to reach. Send an email to someone within the organization that can help you reach the decision maker or department involved in the decision-making process─an executive assistant, receptionist or even a manager.

Ross suggests skipping the elevator pitch in your email. Instead, ask for a referral to your ultimate contact. Keep this simple: “Who handles your billing and can you tell me how to get in touch with him or her.” Or Who is the appropriate person in your company to discuss this with?”  Try it. It works.

2. Bias toward action. Executives expect salespeople to understand their business goals; they must trust you to make things happen. Salespeople who must check with their managers before cutting a deal lack credibility with executive customers.

That’s why you need to do your research and bring a new perspective to each meeting. C-suite executives do not have the time to listen to sales pitches; they look for perspective with a salesperson who brings solutions to their problems. Uncover needs the prospect does not see. You will gain the executive’s attention and appreciation for revealing what others overlooked.

3. Ability to speak their language. Successful salespeople take time to become highly fluent in their prospect’s industry, its trends, and ecosystem. And, painfully, even its jargon. Salespeople who speak only about their company and their product–no matter how enthusiastically–rarely visit the C-suite twice.

In my e-Book, How to Secure Executive Appointments under Favorable Conditions, I discuss the importance of doing your homework to establish an opening “challenge statement”; that is, recount key challenges your prospect faces in a way that resonates on a deeper level. Follow the “CAVP” formula I created, discussed in the e-Book.

4. TrustThe saying “people buy from people they like” remains true as ever. However, today executives report they prefer to deal with people they trust. Not only must you demonstrate your perspective and expertise, but you must also have the guts to challenge an executive’s current thinking, and be prepared to back it up with both logical justification and emotional appeal.  In this way, you positioned yourself as a trusted advisor.

C-suite executives recognize trusted advisors as sounding boards, not salespeople. So, if you truly value your relationship with a C-suite executive beyond a single transaction, lead with the motive to engender trust; the greatest value you bring to the executive is helping him make better decisions.

No Sales Pitch. Facilitate

Focusing on a sales pitch limits your mind and narrows your role. However, seeing yourself as a sounding board or facilitator implies that you:

  • Collaborate on discussions
  • Explore strategic options from various points of view
  • Listen with curiosity and interest
  • Respect and assume the experience of the decision maker facing his issues or opportunities
  • Identify ways to help the executive decide in the best interest of her organization
  • Speak the truth in a direct, respectful, and an unvarnished way
  • Demonstrate a willingness to see things through
  • Recommend or support that no decision be made if doing nothing is the best decision

5. AccountabilityFor all the upfront selling to establish a value proposition, few sellers ever return to the scene of the crime to measure the results of the product or service they delivered. Those that do establish the kind of credibility they will need to land repeat business.

Executives caution that many salespeople think it is a rite of passage to sell to the top. It’s not.

You can win business without executive involvement if you connect with the right buying influences.   However, if you do get up to bat in the C-suite, be ready to take home-run swings.

When you sell to all the needs of buying influence’s in each organization and address their requirements, you begin the process of entrenching yourself in the organization. And once you become accountable to these buying influences, you result in creating barriers against the competition.

At this point, it becomes quite difficult to unseat you.
And you’re sitting right where you want to be.

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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