How to Meet With C-Level Executives (And Not Completely Blow It)

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost


Most salespeople are thrilled to land a meeting with a C-level executive.

What is C-level sales?

C-level sales involves meeting directly with executives at a prospect's company. Because they tend to have budget authority, you can close a deal quickly.

It also means you have less time (sometimes just one meeting) to make your case. These decision makers have a lot of influence yet barely any time -- so if you want to earn their business, you’ll have to use every minute effectively.

We’ve outlined the top six tips every rep should know about meeting with the C-suite. Use this advice, and you’ll be one step closer to getting 100% buy-in.

Selling to C-Level Executives

  1. Remember to reintroduce yourself
  2. Adapt your rapport-building strategy
  3. Create a flexible agenda
  4. Focus on the bottom line
  5. Get widespread support
  6. Project confidence
  7. Know when to ask for help

1) Remember to reintroduce yourself

C-level executives are usually in meetings from the minute they arrive at the office until the minute they leave. They might not remember who you are or why you’re on their calendar, so give them context when you begin the call.

Use this quick introduction to tie your goals to theirs:

“Hi [buyer], [your name] from [company] here. Looking forward to talking about [business driver] today.”

2) Adapt your rapport-building strategy

The typical executive buyer doesn’t want to shoot the breeze beforehand: They want to dive into the real agenda as quickly as possible.

If you try to build rapport the conventional way with questions like, “How long have you lived in Seattle?” or “How’s your week going?”, they’ll lose patience -- and you’ll be at a disadvantage before the conversation has truly even begun.

However, some C-suite buyers enjoy getting to know you on a human level first. With these buyers, immediately getting down to business might make you seem cold or self-interested.

To build rapport, while maintaining the professional focus, ask about a recent company announcement, industry change, or other high-level topics.

3) Create a flexible agenda

The fate of your meeting is usually set before it starts. A well-planned agenda will lead to a successful meeting, while a sloppy one -- or worse, no agenda at all -- will almost always lead to a flop.

Make sure your agenda isn’t too ambitious.

“[Many reps] over-prepare and walk in with an agenda that tries to accomplish too much and leaves little or no room for anything else (like discussing a potential new need they uncovered),” writes Ago Cluytens, EMEA Practice Director at RAIN Group.

Your agenda should be able to accommodate topics you didn’t anticipate. You should also be able to condense it: You never know when the executive will need to end the meeting earlier than scheduled.

4) Focus on the bottom line

Executive buyers have different priorities than the employees who will be using your product, so be sure to frame your conversation appropriately.

You shouldn’t “show up and throw up” no matter whom you’re talking to. But while lower-level employees are interested in seeing how key features of your product will help them accomplish their goals, most executives care about the bigger picture.

Getting too granular will make them tune out. “Execs don't care about features and functions,” Sales Source creator Geoffrey James writes. “They want to know how you're going to change the bottom line.”

You shouldn’t need to wing this conversation. Ask your other contacts at the company about the executive’s goals and challenges. Once you have that information, you can tie your product to their overarching strategy.

5) Get widespread support

You might assume that if you have the decision maker’s ear, you don’t need to get buy-in from other stakeholders. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to "The Challenger Sale," the number one thing decision makers care about is “widespread support for the supplier across [the] organization.” In other words, when it comes time to buy, executives want their teams’ backing.

That’s why it’s important to dig into your prospect’s buying process during the discovery call. If multiple stakeholders are involved, you need to know who they are, and what their challenges and goals are. By the time you’re meeting with a C-suite executive, you should have built support for your product across the organization.

6) Project confidence

Some reps get nervous around executive buyers. While a little anxiety is normal, showing it will make you seem less credible and trustworthy.

If your nerves are getting the best of you, remind yourself of your unique value and insights. You’re the expert in your specific domain -- at any given moment, executives are working on multiple company-wide initiatives, whereas you’re focused on your industry.

For that reason, executives need you to guide them through the buying process and help them achieve their goals.

7) Know when to ask for help

If you're new to C-level selling, don't be afraid to ask for help. That might mean quizzing a senior rep on their dos and don'ts or having them come along to the presentation or phone call. It's in your -- and the company's -- best interest for this meeting to go well.

Take a moment to identify whether a senior developer or product manager should accompany you. You want to make the most of the executive's time, and that means having the right people in the room to answer questions in real time.

And if your meeting or phone call was recorded, don't forget to schedule a call review and ask for honest feedback.

C-level sales can lead to huge career and company growth. Master it early and reap the rewards for years to come.

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