Let’s play a game.
Imagine you sell high value items to large organisations. A new customer is worth $1,000,000+. You’ve put in lots of work to profile your ideal customer, you’ve identified a public company in an industry where you have credibility and you know they need help.
The key people who own the issue and approve any purchase are the CEO and the CFO. If they don’t buy in to what you sell you have no chance. The best way to get a meeting is a referral but you can’t find anyone who knows them.
What do you do? Asking yourself these five questions will help you.
- What do they really care about?
There’s a difference between a problem and a priority. Every company has hundreds of problems but they can only focus on a few at a time. It’s much easier to interest them in a current priority than to make something a priority.
The place to start with “C” level is the annual report. The letter to the shareholders sets out the company’s priorities for the year. The Financial Report identifies their key financial goals; the Risk Report discusses key areas of risk. Probably the most crucial section is the Remuneration Report – this sets out each executive’s short and long term rewards, the criteria they’re based on and their KPIs.
Salespeople are motivated by incentives – that’s why they get commission. “C” level executives are no different. If they think you might be able to help them with one of their KPIs and their incentive it’s a great motivator.
Different executives have different focuses and KPIs. CEOs focus on attracting and retaining loyal customers; increasing market share; improving profitability; managing risk & reputation; building a responsive operation and executing mergers and acquisitions.
CFOs focus on reducing costs and increasing efficiency; maximising return on assets; improving the return on human capital; achieving specific financial metrics and improving the perception of financial analysts. If you can help them achieve one these objectives, particularly if their bonus depends on it, you’re in with a good shot.
There are other places you can research their priorities – their website, LinkedIn, newspaper reports and – often overlooked but very important – the quarterly analyst briefing. Every salesperson selling to public companies should watch this.
- “Can I genuinely help with one of those?”
If you can’t, move on.
- What’s my initial objective?
The answer is simple – to get an initial meeting with the right people. In this case the right people are the CEO and/or the CFO. They may refer you down a level but if they do you’ll still high enough to get a referral back – IF you can show you can help them.
- What message will get me a meeting?
Let’s look at questions 4 and 5 from the perspective of the recipient. There are MANY people who want a slice of the CEO’s time; the board, financial analysts; journalists; regulatory authorities; his or her direct reports; other employees; their customers; their existing suppliers; family, friends, lovers. To them, ALL of these are more important than you – and than the other 78 salespeople who also want to speak to the CEO.
Everyone is busy today and has a limited attention span – particularly “C” level executives. Even if they get and read/hear/see your message they’ll give it limited attention. It isn’t their job to work out what you mean – it’s your job to make it as easy as possible to understand.
So it must be short, simple, easy to repeat and relevant. It must say what you can do for them – in their terms – rather than how you do it. If you get to speak directly to them or to their EA, simply tell them you think you may be able to help them do something you know they care about and ask can they schedule five minutes to explore the possibility.
Don’t try to pitch to them immediately. They’re busy, you’ve interrupted them and whatever they were doing when you called they certainly weren’t thinking “I hope a salesperson calls and tries to pitch me”. They want to get rid of you and get back to what they were doing – so make it easy for them. Give them a compelling reason to schedule a time when they can give you their undivided attention for five minutes.
Scheduling a five minute call is much easier than getting a 30 minute meeting. Five minutes gives you enough time pique their interest so they will agree to a longer meeting. If it isn’t it should be.
- How can I get it to them so they pay attention to it?
How do you get your message to them when they have MANY other people they’d rather talk to than you and when they’re protected by silent numbers, voicemail, Executive Assistants and so on? Especially when you want them to get the message, pay attention to it, understand it and act on it.
There are many channels – phone, text, the gatekeeper, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, Fedex, hiring a billboard outside their office window, using a drone, marrying their child (it worked for Jared Kushner) but that’s a conversation for the next article. See you then.
I’d like to thank Jacques Sciammas, President of Selling to Executives, Paris, whose ideas I pinched for much of this article.