How would you approach and sell to high level employees like CEO's?
I am looking to sell CEO dashboards and need to reach out to CEO's. What has worked well for you in sales selling to higher level executives, if you don't mind sharing. Do you cold call, email, attend trade shows? Appreciate any help in advance.
I always receive this question in my sales seminars.
Delegates are afraid to call on CEOs and similar levels for three major fears:
- They are busy and have no time
- They are very demanding and asks for lot
- Sellers don;t have enough confidence
The reality is that they have time but it is very valuable, they just hate superficial questions that waste their time.
You have to do your search before meeting them and go ask strategic questions that only them can answer. So you have to do some homework.
- List all the questions you need to ask and all information you need to get
- List all the people in their hierarchy who can answer most of the questions
- Narrow your questions to very few but highly relevant to their level
My top suggested questions :
1. If there is one thing you want to change in your corporate or business process. What would that be?
2. What are some of the secrets for reaching where you are now?
3. What are the major changes you are expecting in the trends of your industry?
4. To which new horizons are you willing to take your business?
And of course my assumption as Erin Nelson stated you already passed all the gate keepers who are paid o block unnecessary visitors.
Have you networked with others within the organization that can get you to the person you want to reach? CEOs, depending on the organization, can be very hard to reach. You have to get past the gatekeeper to get to them. Not sure what your title is but would assume you must be the CEO of your organization.
Try to find a person within that company that you may have a connection with. Go to your Facebook and LinkedIn connections who may know the CEO and connect with them and ask for an introduction.
I think one of the most important aspects to consider here is what type of company are you targeting? There is CEO's and there is CEO's. Let me elaborate:
A CEO is not always the top of the company. As you already point out in your question, they are high profile employees, and in sales, it is important to understand the hierarchy in the business. For example, I'm the CEO in my business, I'm also the business owner. I don't have anyone above my head that I need to answer to (except my wife but that is a different matter). I'm my own boss and I don't have a board of directors.
A CEO of a multi-national for example, answers to a board of directors. He can make many decisions but his decisions will in most cases need to be accepted by the board of directors. Getting the CEO on board to change or adapt a new product is easy enough but in this case, you would need to convince the board of directors. The CEO then could act as an internal advisor to you on how to address the board best (what approach to take, what to say, what not to say etc.).
I think most answers here are covering SME CEO's (the likes of myself for example or slightly larger companies up to maybe 250 employees). And they are all valid answers and great advise is already given to you.
When it comes to sell to large nationals or even multi-nationals it is important to keep the hierarchy.
For a product that you recommend to CEO's it might be good to talk to the following people:
1st Gatekeeper - Main receptionist to find out who is in charge, what is the procedure to introduce a product that is specifically designed for CEO's etc.
2nd Gatekeeper - Secretary or PA of CEO - This is only to be done if you can get straight to the source (only if recommended by the 1st gatekeeper). You can approach the 2nd Gatekeeper by simply asking for a meeting (it's easier than most people think. Sometimes all you have to do is ask without big sales talk and convincing. Keep in mind that the 2nd gatekeeper is not interested in your story nor is she/ he interested in your products or services. She is there to serve the CEO and knows what makes his/ her life miserable. But she is also there to book meetings (not always to keep people away, the right approach and you can get in easily). A great approach is to ask for help. For example: Hi Mary, we have an incredible product that is designed to help CEO's improve company turnover and profits. Right now I'm not interested in selling this to you as our target market is more the SME's (or if you talk to a SME gatekeeper, our target market is large multinationals etc.). However I was wondering if I could get 15 min with Bill to show him the product and get his advise/ opinion on the same. As we try to make it more relevant to CEO's I would really like to get his input. I promise it will only take 15 min of his valuable time. When would it be good for me to drop by? (may not be everybody's cup of tea and some people might think it's deceiving but in the end it's important that you get the meeting. You won't sell the product to them anyway in the first round so make sure you are not to much focused on selling. Your approach need to be information based for the first round with a CEO.)
You could also try to book a meeting with the PA and talk to him/ her first to show what your product is all about. This could really benefit you as the PA is the right hand of the CEO and if she recommends you to the CEO then your product is nearly sold.
This approach will land you a meeting in approx. 60% of the time. Sometimes you may need to send in information first before getting him/ her to agree to meet with you.
High profile CEO's are not part of networking groups (or rarely) however they might be a member of a certain club (millionaires clubs/ golf clubs etc.) Getting to them right there is more difficult than getting them in their own business. Don't get me wrong, it's not impossible, but it is much easier to approach them through the right channels through their business.
Another approach, especially when your product benefits the entire company, making it more valuable to investors and shareholders is to go after the CFO. The CFO can make similar decisions and sometimes has even higher (spending) power than the CEO does. He/ she can make decisions on what to buy, when to buy and who to buy from. But again, the likelihood is that you may need to convince a board of directors before you get to provide your product.
The way I explain a large national or multi-national to my clients is to see it as a game with different levels. Each level will get you closer to your goal if you keep the hierarchy. Like in computer games (and I don't even like computer games) you can't skip levels to get ahead of the game.
Start at the first level, the main receptionist as your first big "evil" villain that you need to overcome. As you go along, the levels to reach will become more challenging until you get to the top.
After you achieve your goal within the levels, make sure you are grateful to the last person who helped you reach the next level. For example, main receptionist advises you to talk to the corporate buyer for IT products and services. She provides you with contact details and you can easily now refer to the conversation that you had with her. Simply sending a thank you note to her will make her feel better about the job she's done and it will help you build valuable contacts in the company.
Same with the next level, corporate buyer. He might need you to talk to the Director of finance or IT Director first. Again a simple thank you note could work wonders.
As you reach higher ground, the thank you's might need to be more complex or more giving. It's not about bribing people, but simply to appreciate the help they have given you. A small gift to show your appreciation could really benefit you in the long run. And when you get the deal, make sure that the last person you spoke to, who helped you (might even be the CEO) receives a nice token of your appreciation and continue building the relationship from there.
Getting to high profile CEO's is easier than most people think but it requires a lot of effort, time and investment to get to that level. Keep in mind, just because you convinced the CEO doesn't mean you will get the deal. A board of directors need to see the benefits to them, their shareholders and investors.
Getting to a CEO or board of directors is a challenge for anybody. See a company as a big networking group and each person has different contacts that they could help you get to. Building relationships with the "other" employees is important and will give you great insight into the business. Find out how they deal with customers and suppliers directly from the source and what learn about the corporate core values. The core values can tell you already a lot of how and who to contact. And you can use the corporate values and mission statement to get closer by taking the approach that they have towards their employees and customers. This will benefit you more than you think.
Again another long read, but I hope you find this a bit helpful.
Let me know if you require further information or help in this matter.
Good luck and happy selling
For me I consider approaching & sell CEO"s is easier than selling others , In the sense that they are decision makers & within short time you can finish the deal , I use to approach them in two ways , through people know them very well or study the product or services very well before approaching them with focusing on points considered very important to them with good rate of concssion to attract them , I have done it many times .
The trick here is the gatekeeper.
Most will have at least one and familiarity is paramount.
For example first call take note about the gatekeeper.
secretary, name alice, stoic but friendly
add the key to the next gate...personal assistant, executive assistant etc...Name Paul / each attempt at contact on tuesdays has found him in meetings all morning
Stay aware of company or product news. This will come in handy
Now put your best salesfoot forward, ready
1st gate (tuesday afternoon based on prev contact attempts)
on pick up/ Hey Alice, its Erin...Is Paul still stuck in the fish bowl, or did he find a window I can squeeze through...Great thanks sweety...Here use of familiarity causes the gate to open to a caused assumption that she should be familiar with me, and that my call was anticipated.
2nd gate, familiarity again is key...sounding surprised
Paul...ooh my goodness, you mean they actually let you out of your box.
Being tuesday, I thought sure id be listening to your voicemail for the umpteenth time.
(TThis is where company awareness comes iinto play.---ceo gayle
Hey listen is gayle free for a minute, I needed to ask her a question about Charleston
Roger ( director of ops hq ) is going live on 15 in about ten minutes. Is she up to speed on the offer from obmsc (mmy own co and totally unrelated lol paul of course has no idea what obmsc is or why gayle should know but name dropping with inferred time constraint unlocksbgate 2)
Thanks Paul I appreciate it.
Hi, this Erin with Obmsc, ive been watching ...(whatever applies) important to create instant rapport,
Now, no mattervthe title, gayle, is just another human like you and me.
just talk, if what you have to say has value, shell listen.
She is too aware of the pains of the company to not listen if you quickly assert yourself as the solution. The gates are open now just do what you do best, the solution has the sizzle, let the sizzle draw attention, the scent will bring her in, all thats left is to make sure she knows that youre the steaklsteak.
It all depends on the CEO personality and even his/her organizational culture. There are lots of companies set up in a way in where they have a person or department designed to handle and manage providers. There are also those who are in control of expanding their businesses or creating strategic alliances. No one likes to be sold directly, somehow. I has worked recently with 3 Ceo's and I would say all of them are complete different at managing their time and even becoming more approachable. There are the hardest one and the very social one. As the companies get bigger and 'complicated' you may get a sense of a formal approach. Some of them have linkedin profile that is not necessarily updated by them. Get into the tradeshows and networks like likedIn. I believe there are 2-3 groups targeting CEOs and few on the startups as well.
Have at hand a concise letter or web page you can forward to them for more information. The hardest part in better approaching people has to do with connecting personally with them. If they like you initially, presenting your products and services will be a lot easier.
Success to you!
All of the above methods you've mentioned minus cold calling. Visibility online/offline is key. I have a business development method that has allowed me to reach C level execs pretty regularly without as much as leaving my office. I'd be happy to chat 1:1 about it if you'd like.
The answer is network, network, network! Go to business based events eg breakfast briefings, where you will get a chance to meet and talk to the right people. Once you know your target audience, find out what they go to, and go there.
These groups very rarely buy on cold call / email, and are much more likely to value relationships.
When you do meet, resist the urge to sell or talk about your own company. Sure, have your elevator speech ready, but spend most of the time asking them questions about their organisation; develop a handy list of 4-5 to get them talking, and use the answers to work out if there is something there for you. If there is, politely arrange a follow up; best of all, get them to invite you in!
All of this takes time to pay off, but it will. Expect 6-24 months.
Additionally, use the current CEOs to refer you and recommend you on if you can. Or offer to give a talk about what you do / have done with a group he/she belongs to, for free.
I may answer this question in detail later today but quickly. Offline business mixers and tradeshows, converting those contacts into permission based email data base and use value based email marketing.. and lastly, Linkedin is amazing to reach out to such decision makers.
Hope this helps.