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Sales Solutions
Selling at the C-Level vol 2, issue #15
August 15, 2004

Most of us have heard the phrase "Selling at the C-Level". With too many purchase decisions being made on price by individuals lower in the food chain, Sales Directors have begun exhorting their teams to "call higher in the organization", where decisions are made on strategic value. Yet while we understand and agree with the logic as to why we should, many of us nevertheless don't. There are several reasons for this: we're more comfortable dealing with people at "our level"; we're unsure what to say to, or how to engage, an executive at this level; we feel we'll never get through to such a person, so why bother? And so on. These are all legitimate excuses, but excuses don't pay the bills. Selling at this level requires a different approach, a different mindset from what is acceptable when selling lower in the organization. It requires additional, higher-level skills. But most sales people - never having had to use these skills - simply haven't acquired them. Furthermore, few managers have provided their troops with the training necessary to effectively engage senior-level executives. Rather than fall back on excuses, then, why not address the issue head-on? How to sell to these top executives? The dos and don'ts in this Sales Tip begin to take us in that direction.

It's important to understand that CEO's and other C- level executives are not in the least bit interested in the nuts and bolts of your offering. They are interested in knowing how partnering with your organization can help move their company forward not incrementally, but by orders of magnitude. They have tremendous demands on their time. They are asked to consider dozens of "great ideas" each week (internally, from staff, and externally, from vendors like you). Most are loathe to meet with a sales person. You can imagine, then, how a C-level executive would react to a sales person who manages to get on his calendar, only to waste his time by being unprepared, inefficient, or both.

Here, then, are some dos and don'ts for successfully dealing with CEO's and other C-level people:


  1. Waste time with small talk. C-level executives are busy people - they prefer efficiency to BS. Introduce yourself, dispense quickly with the small talk, then get down to business

  2. Discuss the features of your offering. Features are the what of your offering - what its component part are. Just as C-level people don't monitor the nuts and bolts of their organizations, they're not concerned with those of your offering. They are concerned with high-level issues, and how your offering will help them deal with those issues. So you need to be talking about what your offering does - what the benefits are - for this executive and his company. Some of the benefits C-level executives value were covered in Sales Tip vol. 1, #9.

  3. Ask him or her to "share his/her challenges" with you. You should already have a pretty good understanding of what's important to most people at this level across most organizations. You should have determined fairly well with what issues this organization is dealing, through the research you did in preparation for the meeting (see below).

  4. Ask for nor take more than a half hour to make your case.


  1. Your research. Find out from publicly-available sources (including the web); from vendors to; and customers and employees of the company, what's going on, what the company's goals are, and what challenges they're encountering in achieving their goals.

  2. Using your knowledge of these goals and challenges, make the case in your meeting that not addressing these challenges will have serious adverse ramifications (significantly impact on revenues or costs, market share/competitive position, impact on public image and prestige, etc.) for the company.

  3. Make the case succinctly and convincingly that not only can your organization address these high-level issues, but that it is the best qualified to do so.

  4. Get agreement that the company should begin discussions with you, and begin them now, and ask how best to go about starting the process. Get names, departments, and decision process. Agree on a time frame for resolution.


Action Item

What can managers do to prepare their teams to sell at the C-level? Give them these and other tools to use. Invest time in a training session where C-level selling concepts are learned and practiced - using role plays and other mechanisms. If you yourself don't have the time to prepare such a session, consider outsourcing it to a professional sales trainer. And sales people - if your organization does not provide this kind of "continuing education", seek out courses or workshops yourself. The investment you make in yourself will be more than returned with the first big sale you make at the enterprise level to a C-level executive!

Good Selling!

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