Spotlight

Expert Talk Panel: Talking with the C-suite

Over the last 6 weeks, the discussions focused on the core elements of the B2B sales cycle. In this last wrap-up session, previous guests share their thoughts on how to get the attention of C-suite, how to get a meeting with them, and ultimately get the final push for a close. These are the key takeaways from the panel discussion:

1. Before we engage with someone from the C-suite, how can we open the door to them?

Peter Schwazer: After doing a bit of research about the person, you should find something in common. Some combined interests to kick-off this conversation can help to be really personalized. If its generic, it won’t work. 

Whitney SieckResearch their speaking engagements and hear the way they talk about their business. That helps you to speak their language, which is crucial in making a connection. You can find a lot of that information through their posts on social media. If it is an important enough account, I would recommend leveraging your executive team for an introduction because I find that executives like talking to other executives. 

Amy FrankoIn my research, I am looking for triggering events that will give me a really strong reason to reach out. Quarterly reports and investor briefs are especially useful if they are a publicly-traded organization. Look for any key initiatives and challengesthat a C-level executive is looking to solve. I will do anything that will warm up the introduction to improve the odds of them responding to me.

office buildings seen from the floor

2. How much time do you recommend investing in this preparatory research?

T. Melissa MadianAs much time as it takes to really get to understand the C-suite person and their company. This doesn’t require a lot of time.It canoften be found on a person’s LinkedIn profile. People want to buy from otherpeople that are similar and can relate to them. 

Ashton Williams: Before you start researching, prepare the right mindset. You will earn the right to anyone’s time if you’re providing value and a C-suite person typically has a lot less time. Respect their situation by thoroughly understanding it. Don’t be terrified or think that they have all the answers. You are there to offer value to their business and that is worth their time. If you feel like this is going to be transformational for their business, then you don’t have the interest of the C-suite

Franko: The average executive spends over 25 hours per week in meetings. Approach them with the mindset of being their peer and present a strong reason to earn time on their calendar. 

3. How can we easily give salespeople a quick tip on social listening?

Williams: The focus should be on the customer and understanding what they care about, instead of your own goals as a salesperson. That is generally where the social listening gap is: someone is focused on themselves, their end goal,  and they aren’t focused on providing true value to their customer. 

Madian: In the most polite way, nobody cares about you. If you don’t make it about the C-level person you are trying to talk to, they don’t care about you and don’t know you. Why should they talk to you out of the blue? If you are not providing value or framing it in their context, then they won’t understand how your solution relates to them.

4. How can salespeople engage the C-level person in the conversation when we have their valuable time available for us?

Williams: One of the main reasons why I see a meeting tank is when a salesperson forgets to lay out the risks and the benefits of the solution they are offering. A Senior Executive will be weighing the opportunity costs, the negative impact on the business, and whether it will outweigh the gainsPosition yourself as a trusted advisor by presenting the cost of doing the business. 

Sieck: Get on their level. Talk the same language as C-levels. Don’t treat C-level people like other personas. Salespeople really struggle with ‘feature focus’. Focus on the cost, risk, and revenue to their business when speaking with C-level executives

Franko: Take the time to prepare before your meetings.If you don't prepare ahead of time, you will probably go overtime in your meeting. Start the conversation knowing the two or three things you needed to walk out with.

Madian: A common pitfall is assuming that a meeting with a C-level person means that the deal is almost closed. The truth is that, if they don't want to make any changes to their business, your pitch is going to land on deaf ears. You need to have a really compelling story to convince them about the fact that they need to make a change and do things differently.

Sieck: C-level executives themselves are storytellers. Think about their role in their organization as being this motivational, inspirational speaker. They want those stories to tell at events, so they really lean in and listen when you’re telling them compelling stories.

c level executives in a meeting with a sales rep 

5. What are your thoughts on overpreparing when meeting a C-level person? 

Sieck: It really depends on your company’s prioritization of the specific account. I think it’s fine to overprepare if they are really valuable, but if its someone that’s a lower prioritization based on the needs of your ICP, then I can see that being a risk. 

Williams: Overpreparation usually means you don’t know your end goal. If someone takes too much time preparing, they are inefficient. It’s not about whato say, but more on the moving elements around and in the meeting itself. If you’re doing that, then you aren’t ready.

6. How do you think sales enablement could provide the right assets to salespeople before stepping into a meeting with a C-level person? 

Sieck: Enablement has several different vantage points; the leadership rolethe customer perspective, andthe salesperson’s perspective. With those 3 vantage points, you can create a comprehensive plan to target the right materials or support tools for the meeting. Look into any mutual companies and share how you’ve supported them. Narrowing the focus of the salesperson towards more impactful stories will be helpful in securing that deal. 

Williams: Enablement offers a process to facilitate preparation, and that is very important. You shouldn’t necessarily practicon every C-suite in your pipeline. But get comfortable with not keeping the peace. Don’t walk into a meeting with a C-suite and try to appease them.Be ready to be challenged and having someone knocking down your proposition. Coaching can help in this regard.

Madian: For me, enablement can make things more efficient for the seller. Itreduces friction, make it easier for reps to find things, coach them, practice with them, help eliminate some of the extra steps in a process if they aren’t necessary. Enablement improves all those things that happen throughout a salesperson’s activities, so they have a better chance at closing an opportunity.

Schwazer: It’s more a question of utility maximization. Lowering the cost or distributing scarce resources to get the best benefit. Find an internal system or sparring partner where you can practice and prepare for all those meetings.

Franko: Sales enablement professionals should look through the lens ofthe sales leadership team. They should work with their internal sales leaders, coach sales teams, andput together some metricsto improve the number and quantity of conversations with decision-makers.

7. Considering what is happening right now, do we have to change any behaviors or approaches on how we try to get the attention of a C-level? 

Madian: The fundamentals aren’t different. You still have to do your research, know your buyer, have a compelling story to start a connection, be where they are. What’s changed is that you can’t take advantage of those in-person events.

Franko: The change is having to master virtual selling skills throughout our entire process. We will absolutely get back to seeing people in person, but it might take a while. If we can master those virtual selling skills, we will have a whole toolkit of other skills that we can add to the skillset.  

Williams: This is aopportunity to see into people’s lives. It’s not that we’ve lost our arsenal, its that we must be more human about understanding the different value that has shifted. Keep in mind that its harder for C-suite to thread through their own organizations right now. Not every company is set up to virtually connect.

Sieck: CFOs are now getting involved in deals because companies are a lot tighter with their budgets. Salespeople need to be better at presenting the ROI justification and quantification of their solution.The big change I’ve seen is salespeople use those metrics on call to help C-suite understand theimpact for their business. 

SchwazerIt's still a question on how fast people can adapt to the new virtual medium. Companies have recentlyinvested a lot in bringing their salespeople into this virtual selling process. The speed that salespeople adapt to virtual can act as a competitive advantage for a company,but this could change in 5 years. 

8. Most C-suites have a gatekeeper, so how do you recommend overcoming them to secure a meeting?

Williams: The gatekeeper is not your adversary; they can sometimes teach you about the C-suite person you’re planning to connect with. An error that I see often is that salespeople don’t treat those gatekeepers with enough respect during the deal and don’t understand the influence that theyhave on your potential customer.

Madian: Leverage them as an asset. Provide the same value and be just as human as you would with the C-level person. 

Franko: There are other ways to connect, even sometimes outside the organizationI look for other ways to gain access, in addition to the gatekeeper. Social media has taken some of the hierarchy out of access to people.

Sieck: I would add value to the gatekeeper, but their perspective might be a bit different from that of the C-level person. They are a key part of the sales process, and they hold access to the C-level executives so try to build a relationship with them too. 

SchwazerNowadays, LinkedIn and similar platforms help us to avoid gatekeepers and allow us to go directly to the C-suite. I agree that in big companies, you have toaddress the gatekeeper. But in SMEs, I’m not sure if this is necessary.

Williams: Considering the evolution of the role, gatekeepers now are not just managing time, they also manage priorities that maybe that person just can’t do at all. You need to know who is going to be impacted by this deal, who stands to impact the deal itself, and what is moving or changing. Your gatekeeper can change.

Summaries from the discussion, by the speakers themselves:

Peter Schwazer: Be credible, be honest, and don’t be shy to contact somebody. We heard that you have to prepare for it. To bring the ball into the game, don’t be afraid to take the first step.

Whitney Sieck: Understand the person, understand their pain, speak their language, and use data and social-proof to share best practices. 

T. Melissa Madian: Nobody cares about you. If I’m a C-level person, you need to put your solution in the context of the value that it's going to provide to me. Otherwise, why I should care.

Ashton Williams: Understand the moving parts and the value that you’re providing. When you understand that, this shouldn’t be so scary or complicated. You’re going to know your way very clearly. If the way forward isn’t clear, you probably have more to learn about the pain you’re solving. 

Amy Franko: Our mindset is always crucial, but especially during this challenging time. Our thoughts, what we’re taking in, everything that happens up here has come through in our sales behaviors, in the impacts that we've had on our prospects and clients. So manage your mindset and have the courage to stay market forward and truly serve your clients.

Britta Lorenz

Britta Lorenz

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