Sales professionals have a multitude of communication mediums to choose from when reaching out to prospective customers, be it email, text, phone or LinkedIn. These are all methods that can be utilized to their advantage.
But establishing contact with C-suite executives requires a higher level of strategic thinking. Conversations with these senior executives need a completely different approach and skill set compared to buyers at other levels of an organization.
Following the advice laid out in this article will give training managers a clearer idea of how to enable salespeople to gain entry and engage at this level.
The Initial Development Session
- Many sales professionals find it particularly challenging to get time with the C-suite. As a prework exercise, participants could research the levels of hierarchy within a target organization to determine how best to overcome these barriers.
- The decision-making roadmap can then be explored during the initial development session. Questions that can be discussed include: When a sales proposal is presented at a lower level of a client organization, what journey does it take to get to the C-suite? What happens after that?
It’s a matter of uncovering and working through the different critical success factors at every level of the company. To put this into practice, participants can bring a customer case study to the session that includes the hierarchy and organizational structure. Within the training session, this information can be used to formulate an approach to uncover what is important at each level of the target organization.
Part of the session could involve downloading an annual report for an existing customer or a target organization. In large or small groups, participants can highlight the critical success factors that must take place to enable the organization to achieve its goals.
The training manager can then run an activity where participants weave these critical success factors into access messages — targeted at the highest levels of the organization.
“What’s in It for Me?”
Training managers must reinforce the idea that a key part of engaging C-level leaders is positioning yourself not as someone who is trying to sell, but as someone who wants to add value to the organization.
To move their sales strategy from a conversation to a partnership, sales professionals must draw on the research they did on the company’s decision-making processes. At the lower levels, sales conversations generally focus on a customer’s wants and needs, price negotiation and the productivity gains they want to achieve. As conversations progress through the higher levels of the organization, themes such as innovation, sustainability, long-term growth and profitability emerge.
Therefore, it is critical that the sales professional understands the direct connection between their own organization’s offerings and how it could contribute to their client company’s profitability and revenue growth. This comes back to the sales professional’s need to answer the customer’s question, “What’s in it for me?” , building on the insights gained during their development sessions.
If a sales professional wants to engage with the C-suite at a major corporation, they must expect to have multiple preliminary conversations and understand that the customer’s vision will evolve at every touch point as they reach higher within the company.
A Training Manager’s Guide to C-Suite Selling Success
At the C-suite level, it’s typical for executives to have many people (internal and external) wanting direction and input on any given day. As managers navigate the levels of the company, the bandwidth of attention narrows dramatically, so all conversations must be relevant and engaging.
Here are some practical tips training managers can provide when developing this capability within a sales team:
- Ask participants to write a list of their own company’s offerings. Then, ask them to connect their own offerings to their client company’s profitability and revenue growth targets.
- Arrange for someone in a procurement management role to attend the session for a 45-minute Q&A. Why procurement managers? These people are the closest influencers to the C-suite and can share insights that can help form a C-suite engagement strategy.
- At the end, always schedule a follow-up session (either face to face or virtually). Allocate time for each participant to describe what outcomes they were able to achieve when they applied their learning with their clients or prospects.
When Engaging With the C-suite:
- Encourage sales professionals to do their homework before approaching the C-suite. C-level leaders are extremely busy, with little time to spare for meetings that aren’t in support of strategic business priorities. Training professionals should encourage salespeople to make the most of their time with C-level leaders by preparing for the conversation. Training sales reps on industry-specific terms and best practices, and even on the individual company’s business goals and position in the market, will set them up for success when approaching the C-suite.
- Practice the approach of “give a little to gain a lot.” Executives may test a sales professional’s credibility, so they must be prepared to share insights they have gained from their research and examples of what they have helped similar organizations to achieve. Role-playing this scenario within the safe environment of a training session can increase confidence.
- Remind them to develop a call to action. At the end of the customer meeting, a salesperson must propose a specific call to action that moves the conversation forward and gains the executive’s agreement.
And finally, training managers should keep in mind that sales professionals may only get one chance to meet with someone at this level, so ensure that your development sessions focus on building their abilities and confidence.