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Successful C-Suite Selling: Get Down to Business. Their Business

Sharon Gillenwater
by Sharon Gillenwater on Sep 30, 2016 6:46:12 PM

Ain't nobody got time for that..png

Don't waste your time.  Don't waste their time. 

Enterprise sales teams are under more pressure than ever. Customer budgets are tighter. There are more decision makers touching every deal. Sales cycles are getting longer and more deals dead end with no decision made. Sales teams are investing months—even years—nurturing relationships that seem as if they will never pay off.

Some companies—such as Salesforce—say they are successfully selling bigger deals faster by selling directly into the C-suite. Other companies—particularly in the tech space—are now prioritizing C-suite selling for this reason.

If your goal is to engage C-level customers, you need to take a different approach. You can’t afford waste their time or yours.

It isn’t enough to know your product or service inside out. Nor is a game of golf or a round of drinks the answer—especially for busy executives.

You need to get down to business—their business—with your very first outreach or conversation. You need to demonstrate within a few minutes that:

  • You’ve done your homework on them and their company
  • You understand their business and their objectives
  • You have clear ideas for helping them solve their business problems
  • You’ve done it before with other customers, preferably in their industry.

In short, it’s about them, not you.

While all this seems pretty straightforward, it is easier said than done. Many salespeople just want to keep doing what they are doing, which is pitching products and closing “low hanging fruit” deals to make quota. Others don’t have the training or business acumen to sell higher. Sales leaders looking to drive change within their organizations can do four things to help drive successful C-suite selling.

1. Train and incentivize your people to play the long game with strategic customers.

If you want to position your company as a strategic partner and close more substantial, long-term deals, you have to train and incentivize your salespeople to take a new approach—one that requires patience, business acumen, and speaking the language of the customer. It’s about being thoughtful and continually adding value for the customer, such as pointing them to a piece of thought leadership that’s relevant to one of their business initiatives, or introducing them to an industry peer. Some liken it to “drip irrigation.” When done well, relationships blossom and grow like flowers in a garden.

2. Get your infrastructure in place.

If you want your people to be successful in nurturing business relationships, you have to create a foundation of support and resources so that your sales team will have the information they need to have the right business conversations with CXOs. Up-to-the-minute customer insight can give your people an edge in both getting in the door and making the best case for why your solution is a good fit. Does your team know anything about their customer’s executive team? Do they know what they have been saying about their strategic initiatives, their budgets, their competition, their growth markets? Your people need to know these things and be able to discuss them confidently. Imagine walking into a meeting without this basic information. As President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

3. Train your team to connect the dots.

Knowing thy customer is an essential first step. The second, equally-essential step is to connect the dots between what the customer needs and what you are selling. For instance if a CIO has said publicly that she is going to spend 60% of her budget on technology that drives personalization, then you need to map out and demonstrate how your solution enables personalization. How can she not listen to you if you say you can help her with her biggest initiative? And how easy do you think it would be to get in her door without knowing this one piece of information?

4. Engage your own executive team as C-suite ambassadors.

Have you heard about the mega quarter Salesforce enjoyed earlier this year? The company achieved an all-time high in the number of large transactions, including a net-new nine-figure deal, a nine-figure renewal, and more than 600 seven-figure plus transactions. How did they do it? Founder, Chairman, and CEO Marc Benioff supports his sales organization by serving as an ambassador to his C-suite peers, meeting and selling directly to customer CEOs. Can you get your CEO or CIO to meet with their customer peers? If he or she is a natural salesperson, they could be the most important weapon in your company’s arsenal. If not, consider the rest of your executive team--your CTO, COO, or CMO. Figure out who’s up to the task and pitch that person for ongoing customer CXO engagement, letting them know that they will be brought in only when the time is right.

CXOs have so much on their plate. It can be very challenging to get their attention. But with the right approach, it can be done. What it takes are the right tools and strategy—and, critically, executive support—to help your teams create the kind of close, strategic relationships with customers that lay the groundwork over time for bigger, better, and more deals.

We are here to help you and your sales teams gain the information they need to have successful business conversations with CXOs. Take a look at our free sample profiles to learn the depth of insight our profiles contain. 

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Sharon Gillenwater
Written by Sharon Gillenwater
Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.
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