Has this ever happened to you? The office door swings open and in walks your manager. Things have changed. The target for a new product you’re about to pitch is no longer the usual suspects – it’s now the C-Suite.
There are lots of good reasons why this conversation could take place. For one of our clients, this change in strategy was because they were moving from a product-focused sales approach to selling more valuable (and more complex) solutions. Due to the increase in purchase price, the decision-maker also rose – from business heads to CFO’s and CEO’s. We’re also working with clients where their senior executives want to augment and reinforce the day-to-day efforts of their account managers to build relationships with C-Suite executives at their major clients. In market downturns, we’ve seen also seen companies quickly switch the target for new product launches to top-level decision-makers, where there’s more control over budgets and buying-power.
Whether your approach to the C-Suite is planned or opportunistic, the most important thought to keep in mind is preparation. Life at the top is indeed different. To be successful in your approach, a little planning will go a long way. In this race, it will definitely be more rewarding to be a well-prepared tortoise, not a “shoot from the hip” hare. Before you pick up the phone or fire-off an email to a C-Level prospect, know the do’s and don’ts of effective communication with the C-Suite, so your outreach achieves the results you want.
Our CEO recently received an email from a new company wanting our business. This email started off badly – it went into the junk folder. This got me thinking about all the Do’s and Don’ts of reaching out to the C-Suite. The mistakes this company made are easy to avoid, but communication that works effectively in the C-Suite takes some effort.
Do Really KNOW your customer
One size does not fit all when it comes to the C-Suite. Whether you’re calling on a CEO, CFO or CMO, do your research! You need to inform yourself about their company because you need to communicate why your solution will be valuable to them in their terms. Read-up on recent company news. What are some of their growth, hiring or restructuring initiatives (budgets for new investments are often aligned with these initiatives). Use the words they use (e.g. do they refer to customers or clients, do they refer to their salespeople as reps or advisors or relationship managers?). You should also have a little insight into the person you’re targeting so you can relate to them on a human level. For example, if they’ve recently had a promotion, congratulate them. Find out where they went to college or an authentic, common thread to use as a conversation starter. Hubspot suggests asking a question about a recent company announcement or industry change. (Hint: RelPro helps you quickly accomplish this research – it saves you time!)
The email our CEO received mentioned several concerns that would keep any CEO up at night, but the wording was so generic to all CEOs. The email stated that the company knew what C-Suite concerns would be, because – hey – they’ve got a C-Suite, too! Not much thought went into personalizing the message here!
Don’t infer the email address – get a reliable source of quality contact data
C-Suite executives often have an email format different than the general corporate standard – it’s the most closely guarded email address in the firm! Inferring such emails would lead to a high bounce rate resulting in a bad reputation for your IP address. What else does it do when you try to guess email addresses? Your emails end up in the junk folder! There’s now a good chance that the C-Suite executive never even saw your email, and if they did take the trouble to find it in their junk folder, you’ve already lost credibility.
Do guide yourself with a clear goal
Once you’re on the phone or in the office with your targeted executive, you’ll have a very limited amount of time to cover a lot of ground. Ago Clutyens, EMEA Practice Director at the RAIN Group, suggests planning your conversation like you would a trip: What’s your destination? What are the ‘must sees’ along the way? “Rather than drafting a bullet-point outline of topics for the meeting, think about what you’d like to accomplish,” Clutyens advises. “Starting-off well (preparation) and planning the major points on your journey will help ensure you address your agenda as well as theirs.”
In their Harvard Business Review article, “Salespeople Need a Strategy for Selling to CEO’s”, Frank Cespedes, Jay Galeota and Michael Wong suggest being ready with examples or case studies that demonstrate your awareness of the customer’s business context. “And then you must be willing to go with the flow if the customer has other topics in mind. It’s about active listening: be better prepared and more granular in your questions.”
Hubspot agrees, “Your agenda should be able to accommodate topics you didn’t anticipate. You should also be able to condense it: You never know when the executive will need to end the meeting earlier than scheduled.”
Geoffrey James, a contributing editor at Inc, recommends coming to grips with the executive’s business agenda, “what he or she needs to accomplish organizationally. Then use your contacts in the firm and your own business acumen to understand the exec’s “personal agenda”–likely career goals, the job that he or she is angling for, and so forth.”
Don’t waste their time
As you know, the C-Suite executives have plenty on their plate. CEO’s constantly juggle priorities. Their calendars take the phrase “time-poor” to a new level. Anyone who wastes their time quickly goes down in flames. In the email to our CEO, the company presented a solution – but their call-to-action didn’t lead to a concise marketing message. Instead, to understand their benefit, they wanted their C-Suite readers to click on a link and watch a video, because “it’s short and funny!”
Do follow-up’s – ALWAYS
Perhaps the most important action a sales person can take is to follow up quickly after a meeting or conversation. It’s valuable after every sales interaction, but it’s vital with C-Suite contacts. Cespedes, Galeota and Wong think “it’s at least as important as what happens during the meeting.” Geoffrey James says to always close with a next step.
Don’t forget to dust off your patience. You probably won’t hear back immediately from any C-Suite contact, due to their busy schedules and intense focus on their top priorities. Hubspot suggests making 5 contacts over a 45-day period. However, you will dramatically improve your chances of achieving the outcome you want if you do your homework, demonstrate the value your solution brings to their challenges and show respect for their situation and time constraints.
RelPro helps you make smarter, more productive connections with C-Level decision-makers
RelPro is a highly-rated integrated relationship intelligence platform that gives you contact details and actionable insights on senior decision-makers and their companies. Working with the C-Suite is in our DNA (our CEO founded the Global Client Coverage team at a leading Global Financial Services firm). RelPro provides intelligence on 2 million CEO’s and nearly 5 million C-Suite executives from companies across the world. Through our partnership with BoardEx, RelPro delivers the highest quality coverage of C-Level executives curated by their team of 400 analysts. To learn more about RelPro, visit our website – www.relpro.com, give us a call – (888) 561 7890, send us an email – firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up for a free trial now.