CEOs and executives are becoming more involved than ever before in their companies’ buying decisions. Get your game plan for selling to the C-suite.

Admit it.

You think about it a lot.

No matter whether you’re servicing existing accounts or chasing new business, making quota is always in the back of your mind.

Sales reps who want to be successful have to keep a lot of plates spinning. Prospecting. Training. Making sales presentations. It’s no wonder when the sales landscape changes people get anxious.

Because of various changes in the business environment, CEOs are becoming far more involved than ever before in their companies’ major investment decisions. Like most changes, this one is hiding a unique opportunity.

Imagine making more money than before with less anxiety. Sounds like a good time right? Well, it’s completely possible, but you need to be prepared.

Let me explain...

A True Story

I remember when I was in college, my friends and I heard about a party that was happening in the penthouse suite of a posh hotel downtown.

We dressed to impress and arrived at the hotel. We strolled through the lobby anticipating all the fun we would have that night. When we got in the elevator and pressed the button for Penthouse the elevator didn't budge.

We pressed the button again and...nothing. This wasn't working out the way we planned. After a few minutes we realized that we needed a key card coded for the Penthouse to even start the elevator. Duh!

Before long, some of the people involved in throwing the party got in the elevator. They laughed when we explained what happened, promptly swiped their key card and took us up.

Moral of the story: If you don't want to miss the party, you'll need the right keys.

This is Important to your Livelihood

College stories aside, you may wonder why selling to the executive suite even matters.

There are a few reasons. Perhaps the most important is that someone in the C-Suite now approves or makes more decisions than ever before. Sales executives who want to excel at their craft will need to connect with senior level executives to stand a snowball’s chance of being successful.

Consider this:

  • Executives are making more buying decisions. According to market research firm BuyerSphere, CEOs are involved in 38% of final decisions, finance in 20%, procurement in just 6%.
  • They're also getting involved in the process early, most likely when a problem surfaces and they're looking for how to address it. But that's not the end of executive involvement. After a short list is made, execs are jumping back in the process to evaluate the value potential solutions deliver to their business.
  • As you see, even though executives do their own research, they often task subordinates to vet potential choices. That means you have to be familiar to the CEO and influencers that have his ear.

Because of these trends, salespeople must have strategies for approaching the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer or other key executive decision makers.

In today's world of tightened budgets, key purchase decisions are being elevated to the C-Suite. This is about more than making your numbers. Ignoring this fact can be career-threatening. So, it's in your best interest to find out what C-Level executives expect and want from salespeople.

In other words, you need the "keys" to the C-suite.

How to Sell to the C-Suite

I'd like to share a few things C-level executives expect from you so you can win their business.

  1. Know your prospect: This is true in all sales situations, but, preparation is key in selling to the C-Suite. You need in-depth knowledge of your prospect and her industry, or you'll be like me back in college--stuck in the lobby.
  2. Talk solutions not products: Forget about product features and functionality. Your prospect can get that information from the internet. In fact, BuyerSphere found that the web is the first place executive level buyers turn for research. So, toss the canned pitch. The "solution sale" is much more than a buzzword at this level. Probe for hot buttons and problems you can help solve. Use stories to give your prospect a better understanding of your solution and how it might solve their problem. Caution: Listen before offering any solutions. And make sure you understand the executive's business goals and pain points. In other words, what are they looking to fix, accomplish, or avoid?
  3. Build a business case: Purchasing managers may focus primarily on cost but research shows that executives may choose a higher-priced solution if the salesperson can show better ROI. One way to do this is draw on your research (You didn't skip step #1 did you?) and use it to articulate a business case that shows how you can financially benefit your prospect.
  4. Get feedback on your Pitch: There are lots of ways to do this. One way is to watch top-performing sales reps and model their behaviors and techniques. Another is to get feedback from your sales manager. Of course, tools like Accelerate are perfect for this.
  5. Rely on your resources: As a salesperson, sometimes it may feel like you're the lone wolf, succeeding or failing all on your own. The reality is you have an entire team behind you. Most organizations have a wealth of resources to support their sales staff. Marketing collateral and other content assets can help you during the sales process. Your sales manager and colleagues may have help to offer as well. 

Your Opportunity to Evolve

Many salespeople struggle to get access to the C-Suite. Others find it tough to hold meaningful conversations at the executive level.

Both are increasingly necessary if you want to be well-paid and contribute to your organization.

Sales professionals who know how to engage key executive decision makers have a higher win rate and make more money than their peers. No, there isn't some magic sales bullet. Adapting will take effort and hard work. But these five keys are a great starting point.

In today's sales environment, often success is about making the high-level sale. If you're having trouble selling to executives, now is the time to step up. Not doing so is only cheating yourself and the company you represent.

Which of the five keys above have you not been using...and now plan to? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Image Credit: Linus Bohman

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