Let’s face it. Selling is hard. And when your best point of entry is someone in the C-suite, there is an added layer of complexity. If your key buyer personas are the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CIO or even Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Analytics Officer or Chief Client Experience Officer, it can be downright intimidating.
Executives in the C-suite hold the ultimate responsibility for meeting an organization’s strategic objectives and are held accountable to clients and investors. They are busy. They are under a lot of pressure. Their time is limited, and they do not like to have it wasted.
It is important to understand that they are always looking for ways to grow revenue, lower costs and implement new operational efficiencies. If you have a solution that will help them meet these goals, you should be able to get their attention and gain some of their elusive time.
Getting to them in the first place can be very difficult, and once you do engage, you have to get to the point quickly to grab their attention. At MarketLauncher, we have been selling to the C-suite for a long time. In this blog we will share some tips on how to get to the C-suite, how to grab their attention in those critical first few seconds, and what to do once you successfully have their ear.
I am often asked: “What is different about selling to someone in the C-suite versus other layers in the organization?” and my first response is that it is so much more important that you be very intentional in your outreach. Do your research and make sure that what you have to say is relevant. This is how you create trust and bring value very early in the sales process. Make sure if you are sending content, that it is something you are confident will directly address things happening in your prospect’s world.
It’s important that you understand the industry you are targeting. What new market drivers are impacting that industry? For instance, are there new regulations with which your client must prepare to comply? Has a new competitor entered their playing field? Or perhaps advancements in technology are creating opportunities for growth, but they need to act fast. Industry knowledge and the ability to share that knowledge in a language your prospective client understands is a huge benefit. If you are lucky enough to have a sales team with industry experience, they are worth their weight in gold.
The more you know about the company itself and can speak to its particular issues and potential pain points, the more likely it is that you will build trust. You can do this by reading their annual report or quarterly updates. These will outline corporate goals and major initiatives for the year, show progress against them and may provide clues to areas where you can add value. For instance, weak quarterly earnings may be an indicator they won’t make their annual goals. Or, a supply chain challenge may impact their expansion plans.
Also scrutinize the website for company updates and news. Check out their Career postings. Are they hiring new team members, perhaps signaling a new service offering? And don’t forget their Events page which could tell you where members of the C-suite are speaking and where you could potentially arrange a meeting.
And it goes without saying that you must not lump all of the C-suite members into one basket. Research each individual executive and understand their particular areas of responsibility. They each have very different needs, business objectives and barriers to success.
It’s the rare member of the C-suite that does not have at least one team member screening their calls and emails. These people are an invaluable resource in helping them (but also you) be successful. At ML, we have heard and seen many instances of salespeople treating these individuals as the enemy, or a roadblock. In our experience, they are a wealth of information not to mention an invaluable member of the client’s team that leadership values. Treat them like the respected asset they are.
At ML, we see the gate keeper as a great resource for testing messages to see if they will resonate. If you can’t get past the gate keeper, chances are either your message is off base or your product or service isn’t a fit and you could be wasting your time. They are also invaluable in pointing you to other team members, referring you to an individual who actually owns initiatives that are relevant to your offering.
A common error that some salespeople make is to talk too much about their product. DO NOT TURN YOUR FIRST INTERACTION INTO A SALES PITCH! REMEMBER: Executives don’t care about all your bells and whistles. They care about how your offering might help them meet their core objectives. Make sure your message is tuned toward the potential value you could bring to resolving a pressing business issue.
It is also important that you don’t assume lack of response is lack of interest. Follow their engagement and proactively reach out when you can see that you’ve gotten their attention. But don’t forget the value of “the one-way dialogue” that might be happening if an executive is consuming your content but isn’t ready to engage just yet.
A referral to another individual from a member of the C-suite is a huge asset. And not just for the obvious reason that no one’s name will carry more weight than if you are able to say, “Your CEO suggested I call you.” It is also an asset because you can view it almost like it is intent data. No one is more intimately aware of every important strategic initiative within the organization and the individuals who are responsible for driving them forward. If a member of the C-suite took the time to refer you to someone in their organization, you can be sure that something in your message sparked recognition that you might have a solution for a known need.
At ML, we have found that referrals convert leads into booked sales meetings at an exponentially higher rate. A referral can also eliminate time spent trying to find the right individual on your own. Act on them promptly and yes, you should name drop the individual who referred you.
Once you have engaged, whether with the gate keeper, the C-suite, or a referral, make sure you follow up fast. Did you gain valuable information (or a meeting) thanks to the gate keeper? Be sure to say THANK YOU! You would be surprised how often this doesn’t happen. Did your contact ask for more information? Immediately send it. Were you told the timing isn’t quite right to speak? Send a thank you note, perhaps with some additional information of value and create a task to remind you to follow-up on a timely basis. And even if you get a solid “I’m not interested”, be sure to keep them in the nurture bucket and send them fresh content when you have something new to say.
Speaking with and developing leads from the C-suite is one of our core competencies. Back in 2001, ML was founded after I helped Inc. magazine launch a nationwide peer group program for the CEOs of fast growth companies. My team and I were so successful at engaging, pre-qualifying and confirming meetings with hundreds of CEOs, that I started receiving requests from those same CEOs asking to replicate the model for their own B2B sales efforts.
Over the past two decades, the ML team has engaged the C-suite for a variety of clients, many of whom have internal sales teams but recognize the ML team’s advanced skills in this area.
We have learned that part of the secret to reaching someone in the C-suite is to make sure the person doing outreach is a seasoned pro who is comfortable engaging with high level executives. Our flexible work environment has attracted the kind of top talent who can hold their own in a business conversation with a CEO and is a key differentiator in the world of B2B sales.
Our team follows an Account Based Selling (ABS) approach to engaging the C-suite. Our Playbook, “The ABCD’s of ABS” outlines some additional information about this methodology that can help you be successful in your selling efforts.
We also have a number of client stories that you might be interested in reading. Here’s one in particular that describes how we helped one client triple their sales pipeline. We hope you find it valuable.
Until next time…
“When momentum matters and your knowledge of the market is uncertain, MarketLauncher is the perfect choice. There is no better firm to launch a product or move into a new market. There is no better firm to target the C-suite. There is no better firm in the country. Despite any market challenges, they generate momentum rapidly!
– Partner, Investment Management Company