I am enjoying reading the book Selling to the C-Suite by Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz. The book is an excellent summary of how selling to C-Suite executives is so dramatically different from selling in the lower levels of a company. As always, I hope you have developed the habit of reading as it allows you to share fellowship with great minds.
One of the more interesting principles upon which the book is based is the idea that when the economy is down, decisions go up. This means that decisions that were made at lower levels of the company in a good economy are now likely to be made at more senior levels of the company when the economy is challenging. No doubt that risk aversion plays a role in this trend. And have you checked out the economy lately? It is not very good.
Objective Management Group has a considerable amount of data that shows the importance of sales skills as compared to the difficulty of the sales assignment. In short, your skills do not matter nearly as much if you are selling a product that people are coming to you to buy as opposed to a conceptual sales context where you are selling a service to a person you had to go find. Here is a sports analogy – you might be an excellent basketball player in high school in Small Town USA…but what happens when you are faced with the increase in competition at UCLA, Duke, Kentucky, or Kansas?
It is no different in selling. If you want to venture in the C-Suite, you will want to remember the following keys.
4 Keys to Selling to the C-Suite
- You better get referred or better yet introduced by someone in the senior executive’s network. Several studies have shown that senior level executives do not engage with salespeople that have not been referred to them. One study went as far to conclude that only 1 in 5 senior executives will even talk to a salesperson they don’t know.
- You better get there early. By that I mean early in the sales process. If you get there late and the ship has already sailed, you will likely find your path to the C-Suite blocked by lower-level executives who are not interested in returning the boat to the dock so you can board.
- You better think like senior executives think. They think big picture and they think about opportunities for growth, and they think about the threats that could interfere with that growth.
- And finally, you better have your sales game in order. You must be confident, and you must be consultative. If you act like a traditional salesperson, you have no chance.
Ask yourself one question – if you were a senior level executive, and you called on yourself…would you take the call? As Socrates once said, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Chief Growth Officer, Anthony Cole Training Group