By: Jeff Hoffman
As any salesperson will tell you, selling to an executive is fundamentally different than selling to a mid-level or junior decision maker.
Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t understand these differences. They unintentionally sabotage their C-suite interactions by approaching conversations with false assumptions.
Don’t fall prey to the same mistake — I’ve debunked the four biggest myths about selling to executives below.
Myth: It’s disrespectful to ask an executive probing questions or challenge her opinions.
Reality: This approach will earn you her respect.
The executive might be several rungs higher up the ladder than you, but don’t let that intimidate you. She doesn’t care about your status or title: She’s wholly focused on the quality of the conversation. If you head into the meeting armed with valuable insights, thoughtful questions, and personalized suggestions, you’ll receive respect and attention. But if you’re unprepared or unable to add value, the executive will quickly lose interest.
The biggest mistake you can make is acting deferential because you think that’s what she expects.Act like the executive’s peer, and she’ll treat you like a peer. Act like her inferior, and she’ll treat you like one.
Myth: Executives are often rude or curt.
Reality: They’re decisive and direct.
Most executives are extremely decisive — it’s one of the reasons they’re in their current role. You might be taken aback by an executive’s direct communication style, but she’s not annoyed with you. She’s made a decision or come to a conclusion. The sooner she can communicate that to you, the sooner she can move on to the next item on her list.
Executives are also accustomed to hearing “yes.” As a result, they don’t feel obligated to explain their rationale or persuade you.
Myth: Executives expect you to show gratitude for their time.
Reality: Being overly accommodating or apologetic will lower their opinion of you.
Salespeople often begin these calls or meetings with statements like, “I know you’re busy, so I’ll make this brief,” or “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me.”
These platitudes have the opposite of their intended effect. They’ll remind the executive how many competing priorities she has — and she’ll wonder whether you’re worth her time.
If you want to show consideration for her schedule, jump right into the meeting’s purpose.
Here’s a sample soundbite: “Hi [executive], thanks for jumping on a call. How long have you been using [vendor]?”
A mid-level manager might consider this approach too abrupt, but it’s ideal for a senior decision maker. Ultimately, she’ll judge you by how easy you make these conversations.
Myth: Gatekeepers will try to stop you from gaining access to the executive.
Reality: Gatekeepers can be your allies.
An executive assistant can either be your ally or your enemy. His role encompasses far more than simple scheduling — the executive relies on him to guard her time and make her more efficient. Think of him as the executive by proxy.
Make sure you’re always considerate and respectful when you speak to him. Never lie or manipulate the assistant — if he discovers you’ve tried to trick him, he’ll never let you through.
Before your call with the executive, ask her, “Is it okay if I talk to [assistant’s name] in advance so I can do some prep work?”
She’ll almost always agree. Then, you can work with the assistant to get valuable background information. I recommend asking the following questions:
- How frequently does [executive] take calls like this?
- Has she ever made a purchase from a vendor she’s met this year?
- What does she need to see in a proposal or she won’t even read it?
Use this information to inform your selling strategy. You can also build trust with the executive by mentioning what you learned at the start of the meeting.
Say something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me use [assistant’s name] as a resource. He gave me the following as context:
- [Fact #1]
- [Fact #2]
- [Fact #3]
With that in mind …”
The executive trusts her assistant, so this step makes you more credible by association.
With the right strategy, you can win over most executives. And once you have a senior decision maker bought in, you’re likely to close.
This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn. Click here to comment.
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