by Bill Hellkamp
If you have a product or service that can affect the entirety of an enterprise, then the decision to purchase will have to be made by people who control the organization as a whole. Those people are in the “C” Suite. They go by the title of CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. and eventually the big decisions end up on their desks. Fortunately for them and unfortunately for sales people, these officers guard their time and access closely and have people around them who are instructed to keep others away – especially sales people. So getting in to see them will be tough, and if you don’t have something important to offer, you might never be back. Below you will find some important suggestions regarding how to get into the “C” suite and what to do when you get there.
Makes sense doesn’t it. You can’t have the conversation if you don’t get into the office! Because of the defenses that are in place (suspicious executive assistant, reluctant switchboard operator, secret email address, etc.), you will have to be committed to make the appointment happen.
Get Referred – Trust is important to executives so getting recommended by someone they know gives you an excellent chance at getting the appointment. As you develop your client list look for those people who are influencers and find out who else they know. If you are doing quality work for them and providing value to their organizations you are justified in asking them to introduce you to other executives. Another path is within an organization. If you get introduced to enough bosses, you will ultimately end up at the executive suite.
Go Where They Are – Meeting C level executives can also be accomplished if you can be present where they congregate. For example, I have recently started attending meetings presented in conjunction with my county’s economic growth initiative. In attendance are medium sized business owners and executives from larger companies. I get to meet a few of them each time I visit and if the situation is right, I try to meet with them again later. You can also meet with them in community or fraternal organizations such as Rotary or Jaycees. And you wouldn’t be the first person to join a country club in order to meet their well-heeled clientele. When using this method, be careful not to seem over eager or attending only to network. Working with executives requires patience and time.
Be Persistent and Creative – It is likely that you will not get in contact with the leaders during your first call, or your second, or perhaps your fifteenth! Whether using email, snail mail or the telephone, you will have to invest the time to make ongoing contact with them over a period of days or weeks. And when trying to contact them, your message should be succinct, interesting and valuable. Often your message is going through a filter such as their executive assistant whose job it is to get rid of the fluff and only move on those messages that are relevant to their role and areas of concern. There is software available that can be helpful in this process. I have been playing with Buzzbuilder Pro and have been impressed with its capabilities.
You Must Be Prepared
Know Your Business – The C level executive doesn’t want a meeting with someone who can’t provide the information they are looking for. You must know about your business and about your competitors, what differentiates you from the competition and how you can provide a better solution to their issues. They are not looking for a salesperson who brings in a catalog and asks them to pick out a product.
Know Their Business – In addition to being well versed in your product or service, you must also know about the executive’s industry, business and how your solution will affect them. They need an advisor who will bring together all the information they need to make the correct decision. Take the time to go on the web site, read the executive’s profile, learn about the rest of the team and find out what the organization’s priorities are for the next year.
Be On Equal Footing – The newbie salesperson may have the energy and passion to get into an executive’s office, but they seldom have the depth and confidence to drive the conversation. A few tough questions and their lack of experience becomes apparent to everyone in the room. Not only must you have the capacity to talk to the leader, you must also have executive presence and the authority to make the deal.
You Must Have Something to Offer
A Tremendous Value Proposition – Once you get in to see an executive you must have something of value to offer them. How are you going to save them money, make them money, solve a crucial problem or transform their business. If you don’t have something of value to offer, don‘t waste the effort.
A Well Thought-Out Approach – If you’re going to put in the work it takes to see a C executive, make sure you do everything you can to thoroughly prepare your interview/presentation. This is not the place to assemble a few notes and “wing it”! Get all the information you can, develop an intriguing set of questions and finely hone the message you want to deliver. You get one shot at this. If you aren’t prepared, you deserve to get escorted out – and quickly.
A “C” Level Decision – Not only must you have a great value propositions, but it must be of such import that it can only be made at the executive level. Usually this means that it has enterprise- wide implications. If not, then the decision should be made at the division level or below.
You Must Deliver
A Meticulous Investigation – While you want to create interest with your first appointment, you will seldom have enough information to put together a definitive proposal. Because of this, I often close for authority to interview other key players in the organization who can give me the information I need to do a quality job. That authority from the executive usually gives me carte blanche to get all the facts I require to deliver a thorough proposal.
A Comprehensive Proposal – Based on the executive interview and the material you get from the rest of their team, you will be able to put together a document that really shows how you can help their organization. Additionally, you will show that your solution will have far reaching implications for their organization.
Getting an appointment in the C suite can be difficult and challenging. Once you do, you will have to work hard to be prepared and handle the meeting with skill. But if you do what is necessary, you will seldom be selling in a competitive situation or with people who are only looking for the lowest price.