Most sales organizations make a distinction between their “inside” sales (reps that are closing deals without being face-to-face with their buyers) and “field” sales.
Sooner or later, salespeople chasing bigger and better deals will have to win approval from executive buyers. But before selling to the C-suite is even a possibility, reps must somehow gain access to these elusive buyers - which is anything but easy.
Sales reps should first understand the mindset of a typical C-level buyer. They are extremely busy, and usually have a spate of high-level business concerns on their minds: revenue, margins, growth, strategy, talent retention, sales productivity, technology investments and more. Your product, solution or service is probably of zero interest to a CEO, for instance, unless it applies to one of those key pain points.
On top of that, executives are already inundated by other sales teams’ outreach, much of which is likely irrelevant to their business needs. This leads the executive to believe you will also waste his or her time, making it an uphill sales battle from the start.
With planning and the right approach, however, selling to the C-suite can be much more fruitful. Read on for 5 prospecting tips to help you achieve better results.
1. Leverage a Champion
The smoothest way to access C-level buyers is to go through someone they already know and trust. This could be a former work colleague or a common customer. Often, it will be a key stakeholder working under the executive – your champion.
A champion developed properly has the internal sway to move your opportunity forward. If your champion is built into a strong enough advocate, he or she will effectively sell for you. This method requires time and patience, but when it works, it’s your easiest ticket to an audience with the C-level.
Consider the following questions when identifying and building a relationship with your champion:
- Does this person have the decision-making influence I require?
- Have I really earned this person’s trust? Are they really in my corner?
- Does this person thoroughly understand my company’s value proposition? Do they believe in it?
- Does this person have all the information needed to effectively sell others?
2. Research and Personalize
Leveraging a champion is not always possible, nor is it always the best course of action. Direct outreach can get you in touch with a C-level buyer much faster if the timing is right.
If you do choose to go direct, thorough research is a necessity. Sales reps must be ready to quickly demonstrate a real understanding of the executive’s business and connect it to a pain point or an opportunity specific to the company.
Useful sources of information include:
- The company web site, including press releases, corporate blogs and “About Us” pages
- SEC filings, such as 10-Ks and quarterly earnings reports
- Google News, where reps can see if the company or its competitors have made recent headlines
- Customers of the target company; their perspective is of particular value to the C-level
- Contacts at the target company, who can share insight into culture and business challenges
Sales reps can then use this knowledge to better personalize their message and, ultimately, show they know their stuff via statistics, examples, news articles or even a quote from the C-suite itself.
For example, you could discover that a company has several current job openings on its engineering team, and by digging further, you may find the CEO called talent retention a real challenge for the company during its most recent investor briefing. Any sales reps targeting that CEO immediately gain a pressing, relevant talking point to enhance their narrative.
3. ‘Old-School’ Channels Still Work
Some buyers may pick up the phone right away, while others would much rather respond to an email. Since you have no way of predicting your buyer’s preferences, your outreach should incorporate a blend of communication methods. Email, phone and social media are all viable options.
However, Brainshark Chief Readiness Officer Jim Ninivaggi says sales reps shouldn’t discount direct mail, either. As he writes in another blog post about selling to the C-suite: “While scores of emails go unopened, snail mail – especially in a FedEx express envelope – generally won’t.”
Ninivaggi recommends sending priority mail, making sure that the outreach is specific to the target company. “Using a quote from quarterly earnings reports is a great way to grab their attention,” he says.
4. Vary Your Phone Strategy, and Leverage the Gatekeeper
Instead of selling to C-suite prospects at 9:15 a.m. and leaving a voicemail, try making multiple calls at off-peak times. The key, as always, is to be persistent without becoming a nuisance; spamming your buyers with voicemails, emails and LinkedIn messages will not produce the desired effect.
Sales consultant Mike Brooks suggests calling three to five times, at varying times and on different days, before leaving a voicemail. Sales speaker Marc Wayshak proposes that sales reps call C-level buyers outside of regular business hours, and even on weekends in some cases, to have a better chance at getting a direct line to your prospect.
Of course, many C-level buyers have an administrative assistant answering their phone lines. View these professionals as a potential asset, and not as a roadblock. Ninivaggi says sales reps should introduce themselves, clearly explain why they are calling and why they’re worth the company’s time, and ask the gatekeeper to help put them in touch with the executive.
5. Don’t Forget the Basics
Getting an executive on the phone might sound daunting, but at the end of the day, he or she is simply another potential customer. Believe in yourself, believe in the value of what you’re selling, and remember the fundamentals that have gotten you to this point. If needed, review relevant sales content, or use a video coaching solution to prepare for the scenario.
When selling to the C-suite, reps should be particularly mindful of the following:
- Don’t waste their time. These are among the busiest people you’ll ever engage; get to the point and be respectful of their time.
- Be humble. The goal is to show you understand the executive’s business without acting like you know more about their business than they do.
- Be prepared to listen. Executives are accustomed to controlling the conversation. Sales reps that capture C-level interest should be ready to let their prospects do most of the driving.
Download our free eBook, Sales Transformations: A Sales Enablement Survival Guide, to learn about the key challenges sales enablement leaders face during transformations, and how they can address common hurdles.
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