How to Sell to CEOs and other Top Decision Makers

by on April 19, 2011 · 4 Comments POSTED IN: Top Sales Dog
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Wouldn’t it be great if you had an “inside track” to the CEO at the next company you call on? You know the dramatic difference the CEO’s endorsement can make in opening relationships and closing sales. That’s why you’ve been trained to “sell high,” to aim for the top.

Trouble is, getting through to CEOs is tough, and once you do, salespeople face unique challenges when trying to win the confidence of chief executives.

Because CEOs are insanely busy, you need a narrow, focused strategy. Communications experts point to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid,” as a classic example of how single-minded focus leads to success. His team picked the right topic – one the public was feeling great anxiety about – stuck to it, and won the election. It’s the same for you when selling CEOs. Identify a focused storyline that taps into anxieties the CEO feels about the long-term health of his or her company, and hammer it with single-minded determination. Don’t let anything take you off message.

Here are the keys to putting this strategy to work:

1. Identify ONE SPECIFIC THEME that is both strategic and mission critical.

CEOs all have Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). Not literally, of course, but smart sellers approach CEOs assuming they’re insanely energetic multi-taskers who function in hyperdrive. How can they find time for you when in a single day a CEO might sign off on a budget, interview a C-suite job candidate, visit a big customer to help close a sale, calm down a nervous investor and mediate a power struggle between two department heads? All mission-critical tasks that no one else can do, and that require exhaustive prep time. As a sales person, just getting on a CEO’s radar screen is murder.

Once you’re there, holding a CEO’s attention is even tougher. You need an incredibly tight, focused message. One mistake and you’re toast.

2. Ask questions that get the CEO/Decision Maker in touch with the consequences of a wrong decision.

CEOs set the company strategy, which is really about how and where resources will be deployed. If they get the strategy wrong, expensive resources – including vendors like you – will be misallocated at a staggering financial and human cost to the company’s shareholders and employees. If you understand the risks CEOs face in general, and if you understand the SPECIFIC risks that your prospect CEO faces on the project you’re trying to sell, you vastly improve your chances of success.

3. Take control of the dialogue, making sure it’s ALWAYS focused on the long-term risks the company would face if it went with the wrong vendor, made the wrong decision, etc.

For most employees, it’s about living in the present, executing the CEO’s strategy. CEOs live in the future; for CEOs, it’s about the big picture. It’s about the long term. If you can get on the same page as the CEO and show how your solution will be the best one a year, five years, ten years down the road, that’ll go a long way toward winning over the CEO.

That’s the critical part of selling to CEOs. Think “one topic” and “future consequences.”

photo credit: eschipul

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4 Comments on This Post

  1. Tomborg
    April 19, 2011 - 10:11 pm

    Michael,
    Your comment about CEO’s being so focused is a critical point for salespeople to grasp. CEO’s don’t become a CEO by being scattered. They use a rifle not shotgun in their approach to handling their role.

  2. Tomborg
    April 19, 2011 - 10:11 pm

    Michael,
    Your comment about CEO’s being so focused is a critical point for salespeople to grasp. CEO’s don’t become a CEO by being scattered. They use a rifle not shotgun in their approach to handling their role.

  3. January 4, 2012 - 11:05 am

    Make the most out of your time in front of the CEO

  4. January 4, 2012 - 11:05 am

    Make the most out of your time in front of the CEO

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