When it comes to selling on the executive level, you obviously can't treat the presentation as any other sales call.
Selling to lower or mid-level employees is a multi-step process. If they're not a decision maker, then that person then must persuade their manager or executive to make the ultimate purchasing decision most-likely losing much of your intended message.
This approach creates a chain of secondhand information and delays. Your sale turns into a time-consuming game of telephone, with you hoping against hope that the right message will reach the top without getting garbled in transmission.
If you can simplify things by selling directly to executives, and you do it right, then you’ll close sales faster. After all, the people who make the decisions should be the ones receiving all of the facts, and they should be getting them straight from the source—you.
However, along with the many potential benefits that come from selling directly to managers, there are a few other issues to consider. After all, targeting executives requires a different strategy than selling to anyone else in the company. So, as you take the highroad and focus your sales efforts on the CFO, CIO, CTO and those at the top, keep the following in mind.
Connect Before You Connect
In most cases, high-level management is most involved early in the sales process, immediately after the need is identified. Once they’ve outlined the goals of the project, they usually delegate the details to other employees, and then circle back when it’s time to authorize the final purchase.
So, how do you get on the executive’s radar earlier in the process? Start by optimizing your web content for the keywords a manager may enter when searching for the solutions you offer. Also, be sure to make use of the various social media and email options available to you.
A study says that 90 percent of executives check their email regularly, with 64 percent using LinkedIn on a regular basis, and 55 percent on Facebook, so cover all your bases and get your content out there. And remember, if you plan on contacting the executive by email, the best time to send out your message is between 8:00am and 3:00pm.
Choose the Right Executive
In large corporations, the CEO or COO may not deal directly with what you’re offering. In fact, there may be several senior executives with decision-making authority.
Dr. Steve Bistritz of the Harvard Business Review suggests targeting the executive that “stands to gain or lose the most from your sales opportunity.” And how, exactly are you supposed to do that? Well, it takes some work. Start by observing the company and doing some research into its history. Identify which executives are trusted to make the difficult decisions, and make note of who is connected to whom within the company. If you have supporters within the organization, be sure to get an insider’s-perspective; this insight can be invaluable.
Once you’ve identified the right executive for your sale, you’ll need to make contact with them and get to know them. Targeting the right executive can greatly reduce the time it takes to come to an agreement, and can even result in having a person of influence in the organization actively supporting you—even when you’re not around.
And don’t hesitate to request referrals from people in your network. Colleen Francis, Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions, suggests that referred leads are twice as likely to result in a sale as unreferred leads. Endorsements from trusted mutual contacts are a great way to earn instant credibility in the eyes of executives.
Know What They Want Before They Know They Want It
An executive sales meeting is not the time to ask basic questions. By this point, you should already have a working knowledge of the company’s needs and background, as well as a strong grasp of what you can bring to the table. Busy executives don’t have time to spoon-feed information or dwell on details. They are much more likely to buy from a salesperson who understands their business goals and challenges.
Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to get all of the information you need, outside of good, old-fashioned research. Find credible sources, speak to others in the same markets, and don’t underestimate the power of cold, hard facts. Executives are very numbers-driven, placing more value on studies and measurable proof, than on emotion or “gut feelings.” Come prepared with solid statistics, test results, case studies, and any other reliable information to support your proposed solution.
Practice in the Corner Office
It may make you feel silly at first, but the best way to boost confidence for an executive meeting is to rehearse your presentation and dialogue. This can be done in an empty room, but for a more helpful experience, consider having a friend or colleague play the part of the executive. Fill them in on the basic information they will need to play their part well, and encourage them to bring up concerns.
As they turn your pitch into more of a conversation, they’ll be preparing you for speaking with an actual executive. And while you may not be able to anticipate every possible digression, role-playing will help prepare you for handling unexpected questions and getting the conversation back on track.
Start at the Top with the Bottom Line
We sometimes like to start small and build up to things of greater importance. However, when it comes to dealing with executives, you need to get to the point. For the moment, put the process and details on the back burner, and focus on the big payoff - no pun intended, which is usually about money/cost-savings.
Executives pay other people to deal with the finer minutiae, so they can direct their attention towards the bigger picture. Your job is to present them with the can’t-miss opportunity that will accelerate growth and profits; the supporting details are important, but secondary. Lead with product value rather than price.
If what you're selling can't be summed up with “here's how much money this will make you/save you,” it won’t be a very long meeting.
You're the CVO (Chief Value Officer)
Time is money, so use it wisely when dealing with the C-Level execs. Meetings are, when you get right down to it, annoyances. They're a necessary evil and no matter how well a presentation is tailored, they still interrupt the flow of the work day.
You won't always have the luxury of setting up a projector, running a slideshow, and reading from your normal script. Your sales presentation must be concise, compelling, and offer an answer to a challenging question the company is facing - remember you're the Chief Value Officer in the room - from both a time and value perspective.
An executive will rarely object to a meeting being shorter than expected, as long as their needs are directly addressed and a viable solution is presented to the challenges that they're facing.
Be aware of this. Lessen the overall negative impact by having a strong, concise discussion about the value you'll bring to their company. If these two touchpoints are hit, the executive will respond positively, and that will obviously bring the deal closer to the close. Win win.