The Pandemic delivered a big shift in the B2B buying process and things are not changing anytime soon. Senior executives have become more directly involved in making purchasing decisions for their organizations. A study from Demand Gen Report not too long ago showed C-Suiters participating nearly 2x as much as they did before the pandemic. The current economic turbulence fostering a transition from a mindset of growth at all costs to one of sustainable growth is likely going to keep them there. So, the reality is that as you progress in a deal of consequence, your team needs to be ready to sell to the C-Suite. The prospect of selling into the C-suite might seem daunting, but it’s also a gateway to transformative deals and long-term partnerships. Selling to the C-suite doesn’t simply mean bringing in your CEO to sell for you. It means being able to deploy the mindset, strategies and insights to demonstrate value and impress the senior executive and get your deals CLOSED.
Here is a playbook for success (yes, with a few ‘secrets’)
✔Research and Personalization: Begin by thoroughly researching the company and the individuals in the C-suite. Understand their industry, challenges, and goals. Tailor your conversation to each executive’s role and priorities. For instance, the CFO might be interested in cost savings, while the CMO is concerned with revenue growth. Personalize your interactions with each C-suite member to earn their respect and trust.
✔️Identify Key Challenges: Clearly identify the specific challenges or pain points that your solution can address for them. Be specific and data-driven. Leverage your research and ask ‘facilitative questions’ or questions that actually cause them to cognate a little bit. Facilitative questions are high value questions that they don’t know the answer to and get them thinking. This is a key step in what is typically called, setting the buying vision or buying agenda.
✔️Not Only Quantify, But Co-Create Value: Use data and metrics to quantify the value your solution can bring. This might include ROI calculations, cost savings projections, or revenue growth estimates. But, you need to go one step further. In this great article by David Irwin, he discusses how important it is to align with the senior exec, match up on business outcomes and ‘co-create’ value.
✔️Tell a Compelling Story: Craft a narrative that illustrates how your solution has successfully addressed similar challenges for other organizations in similar industries. Real-world examples and success stories resonate with the C-suite. Buyers at any level in their organization are drawn to stories and the emotional aspects of decision making.
✔️Engage in Conversations, Not Presentations: Rather than delivering a ‘one-sided, one size fits all, its all about us’ pitch, engage the C-suite in a meaningful conversation. Ask questions to understand their needs and concerns, and to learn more about their business.
✔️Address Risk and Compliance: For many C-suite members, mitigating risk and ensuring compliance are paramount. As you progress, explain how your solution supports these objectives. As one CEO contact of mine told me: “Provide advice to help me make the right decisions and avoid landmines.” You need to be consultative and help C-Suite members solve the problems they face.
✔️Build Trust and Relationships: Building trust takes time. But, on a sales call it could be one and done. So, how do you show your chops in 30 minutes? Be responsive and reliable. So, it is no different with the senior executive buyer. Nurture these connections after the call by sending relevant articles, connecting on social, staying top of mind.
✔️Provide a Clear Path to Implementation: Outline a clear roadmap for implementation and demonstrate your commitment to their success. This is sometimes treated lightly, but in actuality showing your buyer a vision of their future and exactly how you will get them there is super important to senior leaders.
✔️Deploy a Winning Mindset: Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing sales thought leader James Muir on the Sales Is King podcast and there were some great learnings that came out of that episode. “One of the first things you have to do is just realize that really they’re just like you. They’re just human beings. And when you have them one on one somewhere, they’ll tell you all about their family woes and all that kind of stuff. So, they’re still human beings, just like everybody else, but they are interested in different things than other folks are. So, when you’re talking to a CEO or a CFO, well, they have very specific things that they’re interested in, you know, and so it’s important for us to learn all we can about them, about their company, about their competitors, about their industry.
✔️Engage with Ideas and Insights: Senior execs are counting on us to bring them insight and new ideas. The more we can mean to them then the more they’re going to end up meaning to us. Value sellers need to be thinking about things in the same way these senior leaders do. According to Muir,”that might even require that you learn some new terminology that you didn’t know before…. they’ve got their own language for talking about these things. So, if you don’t know what EBITA is, then you’re going to have to teach yourself what EBITA is or what EPS is, or what GAAP is, or what a 10-K is, right? That’s the language that they use. If you want to have a rapport with these executives you need to have at least that minimum level of vocabulary under your belt so that they feel like they’re talking to someone who can speak their language and to what their goals are. You can start with what they typically think about. A recent Gartner study identified a number of key areas of interest. +Growth, Technology, and Workforce Issues lead the list. However, the fastest movers are: +Environment, Products and Services and yes, you guessed it, SALES.
Muir goes on, “The number one thing you can do is provide insight, that is, teach them or share something with them that they don’t know. And you can find that by studying their industry and working to get them access to new data.” If you go through this process, teaching them different things and bringing unexpected value, you’re going to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
And according to Muir, it needs to be actionable. It needs to be something they can do something about. “If it’s death and taxes and there’s nothing they can do, don’t share it.” That’s not going to get you any mileage with the executives.
✔️Don’t Pull Any Punches: C-suite buyers are accustomed to high-stakes, emotional decisions that can have a significant impact on their organizations. They appreciate sellers who cut through the sales pitch and offer candid insights into the value proposition. Being candid means acknowledging limitations and potential challenges while also highlighting the genuine benefits of the product or service. It demonstrates the seller’s commitment to a long-term partnership and builds credibility with the buyer. Moreover, candid communication sets the foundation for a collaborative relationship, where both parties work together to find solutions that align with the buyer’s strategic goals. Ultimately, candor between a seller and a C-suite buyer creates an atmosphere of trust and transparency, paving the way for mutually beneficial outcomes.
✔️For God’s Sake, Be Prescriptive:
Offering well-informed recommendations and guidance tailored to the specific needs and goals of the buyer’s organization is crucial to getting the deal. It goes beyond just presenting a product or service; it’s about understanding the buyer’s challenges and aspirations and then providing a clear and strategic path forward. C-suite buyers often appreciate this approach as it saves them time and effort by relying on the seller’s expertise to propose solutions that align with their vision. When a seller is prescriptive in a thoughtful and value-driven manner, it can foster trust and confidence, making the buyer more receptive to making decisions that drive their organization forward.
✔️Leverage Social Channels: Last but definitely not least. New research on buyer behavior is further supported in a study conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), which finds that 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level or vice-president level executives use social media to make purchasing decisions. I cannot stress enough the importance of an active Linkedin and even Twitter profile and social engagement.