Be careful what you wish for.

Most salespeople wish they could get more meetings with CEOs. After all, CEOs are the ultimate decision maker. Win them over, and the world (or at least the account) is your oyster.

But if your wish comes true and you do get that meeting, what are you going to do?

Here’s what you shouldn’t do: Try to sell them something.

CEOs don’t want to hear your sales pitch. They have people for that.

But what CEOs can’t get enough of is insight about their own organization. Think about it. If you’re the boss, you’re always worried that you’re not getting the straight story. Are your people just telling you what you want to hear? Or what they want you to hear? Are they even capable of providing an objective, outsider’s view of the organization?

If you can tell CEOs something about their own business, they’ll listen. Your outsider’s perspective is especially useful to them.

But you can’t say any old thing that pops into your head. They want solid information, not your impressions and theories.

Here’s a way to prepare for that all-important meeting. It’s called the Down-Side-Up approach, and it’s the topic of one of Selling Essential’s most popular Quick Takes.

Before you move UP – that is, to the CEO’s office – you should first move DOWN. Ask your day-to-day contact if you can speak to some of the front-line people who will be affected by your product or service. Learn what’s important to them. Find out what kinds of challenges they’re facing, and how your solution might help.

Then move to the side. Go back to your contact and ask to meet with his or her counterparts in other departments that will be affected by what you sell. Debrief them the same way.

When you finally move up to the C-suite, you’re armed with information the CEO wants to know. What’s going on, specifically, in his organization? What challenges are the front-line people facing? What about the middle managers? What needs to be fixed? And what are you going to do about it?

That’s a great conversation to have with a CEO. Give it a try the next chance you get.

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