July 2, 2012


Selling to C-level executives is a high-stakes, competitive endeavor that can provide years of revenue for a company and a lucrative stream of commissions to salespeople skilled enough to master this arena. The difference between selling to a typical corporate buyer and a corporate executive is that the buyer is usually trying to protect their job by playing it safe, while the executive is seeking real, measurable competitive advantages.

It can be intimidating for inexperienced salespeople to enter this market, but by understanding the psychology of C-level executives and how to address them, sales optimization techniques can be developed.

Do your homework

Busy executives usually have little desire to educate salespeople on their companies — they expect homework to have been conducted before the meeting takes place. Salespeople should research via the company’s website, LinkedIn profile of key members, annual reports, and even insiders or “coaches.” This data is important in sales optimization not only to build rapport, but to better tailor an offering.

That being said, it is still important to listen more than talking during the appointment, as with any other form of consultative selling.

Look the part

It can seem shallow to focus on appearance, but salespeople must adapt to the reality that human beings judge others by the way they dress, walk, talk and generally carry themselves. Executives want to transact with successful firms and therefore expect a certain attire and appearance from their representatives.

Notice that this does not mean salespeople should dress like a million bucks and sport Rolexes when meeting every buyer — employees at successful technology firms in Silicon Valley obviously do not dress this way. Any salesperson that does might feel quite out-of-place in that environment, which endorses blue jeans and five o’ clock shadows for even high-level executives.

Speak the language

Most C-level executives communicate in terms related to performance, rather than emotional benefits. Successful salespeople know to match their tone of voice and speaking style, including adopting terminology that focus on metrics and business gain such as:

•Higher margins
• Increased yield
• Reduced downtime
• Improved quality of mission-critical processes
• Enhanced conversion ratios
• Same-day fulfillment
• Eliminated environmental hazards
• Lower manufacturing-cycle costs
• Better customer engagement
• Higher overall ROI (Return on Investment)

As part of the sales optimization process, it is imperative that the salesperson actually understand what these terms mean in relation to the executive’s business, as opposed to simply parroting them off like buzzwords. An astute executive can spot a faker a mile away, and most simply want to cut to the chase and know, “How is this going to benefit my company?” and “How much is it going to cost?”

Respect the gatekeeper

The gatekeeper to the C-level suite wields tremendous power, and is usually quite aware of it. It is often up to this person whether a salesperson’s call is taken by an executive or an appointment made. A gatekeeper, usually a receptionist or executive assistant of some sort, can also advocate for a salesperson and procure an appointment which might have been impossible without their input to the boss. As such, they should not be dismissed.
What do typical gatekeepers want? In general, simply to be treated with respect and not be tricked into passing a call through that violates the executive’s rules, such as a call from a headhunter. Bribes of gifts or flowers aren’t necessary, although an occasional thank you note can be effective.

As can be seen, selling to members of the corporate suite requires specific sales optimization methods in order to better communicate and serve their needs. The benefits are high commissions, powerful referrals, and greater success for your company.