How To Sell To The New Make-Or-Break Player: The C-Suite
Any good promotional products salesperson probably has their go-to contact when communicating with a buyer. Fostering relationships is an important step in ongoing sales. But in 2022 and heading into the future, there is a new make-or-break player when it comes to mastering sales: the C-Suite.
Executive level personnel have always been the ones in charge, but as of late, there has been a blurring of the lines when it comes to delegation in many businesses according to a new book, Agile and Resistant: Sales Leadership for the New Normal by Russ Sharer and Michelle Richardson of sales training company and consultant The Brooks Group. Richardson, The Brooks Group’s vice president for sales performance research, and Sharer, director of strategic sales excellence, focused the book on how the past few years have changed the way selling operates.
Making a sale might mean having to make your case to a CEO, rather than a middle-level buyer. Why is that? Is there a difference in presentation?
We talked to Sharer and Richardson about the C-Suite’s growing involvement in sales.
Why is the C-Suite more involved now?
This trend picked up during the pandemic, when many companies were working around shorter budgets and huge amounts of uncertainty. A purchasing decision that might have been delegated in years past had the potential to carry more consequence during such a tumultuous time. But as the health concerns of the pandemic wane (at least for now), that doesn’t mean this dynamic will change.
“It will continue because the stress of the pandemic demonstrated the vulnerability of so many critical organizational systems–supply chain, human resource systems and support, and IT infrastructure for remote workers and more,” Sharer says.
During that time when CEOs needed to be more attentive to their company’s every move, many of them discovered things that could be collaborated on from top to bottom. “There is also a sense that departments need to work more closely together, which will involve more engagement from senior executives in the buying process,” Richardson says.
What’s different about pitching to the C-Suite?
Not every salesperson needs to change their approach drastically when they are selling to a high-level executive. But Sharer stresses that you can’t let that executive feel that they are participating solely in a transaction.
“The C-Suite makes decisions based on strategic vision and direction,” Sharer says.
Buyers at a lower level are thinking in terms of generating results that they are responsible for, or at least have a hand in producing. C-Suite players want to feel they are entering a partnership that can help them in big-picture ways. They already have a strategy, and they assume you do as well. If those strategies don’t line up in a way you can articulate, then you might face roadblocks.
“The CEO will lose interest (and withhold access) if the seller cannot connect at the strategic level,” Sharer says.
What mistakes should you avoid?
“Don’t pitch a CEO,” Richardson warns. “If the seller approaches a CEO with their ‘normal pitch,’ the meeting will bomb, regardless of the amount of time they have. Instead, the seller should use the time to explain how their company and/or solution can help the CEO achieve their goals for the organization. The seller should focus on demonstrating strategic value, rather than the basic features, functions, and benefits of their product or service.”
Can you prepare?
Of course you can. Your company likely has C-Suite personnel, and based on the premise that we’ve already established, they have probably adjusted to a more hands-on approach. So, use them.
“Companies should consider training their sales teams on how to position their offering at the C-level,” Sharer says. “Roleplay sales conversations with C-Suite buyers and do peer-to-peer joint calls on C-Suite customers with their own senior leaders.”