Monday, 15 August 2011

How to Be Interesting (and Useful) to C-Level Executives

This is a truly excellent post courtesy of S. Anthony Iannarino of I've met precious few sales people in my career that were entirely comfortable communicating at C level and I think this is because there are precious few 'C level sales people' so most of us are automatically selling outside our normal operating 'comfort' zone when we are addressing these people. If you're in B2B sales I hope you enjoy the article whether or not you think you're already good at this.

How to Be Interesting (and Useful) to C-Level Executives

More and more, there is an increasing demand that salespeople, account managers, and operations people developing the skills to engage with senior level executives in their client and dream client companies.

The level of value we create as a sales organization is limited by our ability—or inability—to have the necessary dialogue that allows us to create higher levels of value. It isn’t easy to develop the skills necessary to engage in a strategic dialogue with C-level executives. But there are some things that you can do to make it a lot easier—and to enjoy much greater success when you do.

Know How You Create Value 

C-Level executives are consistently short on one thing: time. They are protective of their time because they have so little of it when you compare it to the demands of their organization and its stakeholders or against the results that they need to produce. This means you have a very limited time get your C-Level executives attention. You are expected to know exactly how you create value for companies like theirs, and you are expected to have some understanding of what you can do for them—even before you speak with them. This isn’t always about research; it’s about knowing who you are, what you do, and how you make a difference. When you call on high-level executives, you don’t have the same time to build rapport as you might if you were calling on someone lower in an organization. Someone lower in the organization may need more time for rapport building because you are going to work closely with them should they choose to move forward with you. You also don’t have time to fish around for ideas that might indicate some dissatisfaction. That might work where and when you have time, but you don’t have that luxury here. You have to know how and what you can do to make a difference. This is why I believe it is a mistake to believe that you should always enter an organization at the top (this is, of course, a generalization and all generalizations are lies) You must able to ask questions that demonstrate you know where the issues are, and that you know how to increase revenue, increase profitability, and reduce costs (all dissatisfaction ultimately rolls up into one of these categories). Know how you create value and get to the point.

Possess the Business Acumen to See Through Their Eyes 

To sell and engage an organization at this level, you have to possess the business acumen necessary to see the business through your c-level executive’s eyes. You may not ever be the subject matter expert that your c-level executive is when it comes to their business, but you better be able to quickly comprehend the big moving pieces that you touch. You have to understand what drives their business so you can relate what you do to pull those levers. You don’t have to have a perfect understanding, but you better know how they look at their business. There are lots of c-level executives that will be willing to give you an education (or the rest of an education), but you have to have a basic fundamental understanding of how business works so you can keep up; this means you need business acumen. Your c-level executive is interested in talking about business. You have to be able to keep up.

Prove You Will Own the Outcome 

C-level executives work for all kinds of shareholders. They have their management team to serve. They have their employees to serve. They have clients to serve. They have a board of directors to serve. The last thing in the world that they need is another dependent. To get a c-level executive’s attention and be useful to them, you have to prove that you are going to own the outcome. This is what they want from you, and this is what they are willing to pay you for doing. To be interesting and useful to a c-level executive, you are going to have to demonstrate that you are going to own the outcome that you sell. They aren’t hiring a salesperson to work for them; they are hiring a manager that will own the result and do what is necessary to ensure that it is achieved. Explain that you are going to own the outcome, and that you will be there to see the objective achieved.

Own the Next Steps

What you want from a c-level executive is permission to proceed. You own the next step. All you need from them is their blessing to move forward. If they have to do work for you to move forward, it isn’t going to get done and they won’t need you. Instead, you are going to end up with unanswered voicemails, unanswered emails, and a serious sense of disappointment. If you need information, ask your c-level executive whom you should work with to get it. Then you go get the information. If you need access to people, ask the c-level executive to forward an email that you write and send to the parties you need to engage with. You aren’t interesting and useful as a dependent. You are useful and interesting as someone who is going to get things done while they move on to other priorities. You have to take initiative. You do the work. You own the next step.


I hope you enjoyed this article and I'd be delighted if you'd leave a comment. If you're a business networker and would like to connect on one of the lesser known business networking sites (and perhaps discover a few new ones) you can join and follow my updates via the sales community at The Fox Den, contact me via my page via my profile at and via the one page professional profile site, aptly named.

Other posts on a similar theme:

Presales Qualification
The Three Biggest Killers of Sales Productivity
Sales Tips Article via The New York Times
9 of the Best Sales Tips for Hight Performing Sales People
What I Love about Sales and Selling
Introducing The Fox Den