Establishing Credibility When Speaking to a CEO

BY Rachel Cagle
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Before prospects can trust you with sensitive business information, they first have to see you as having credibility. Establishing credibility is a difficult enough task on its own. But what if the decision-​maker you’re meeting with is the company’s CEO? Yikes. The CEO has definitely been through more than their fair share of sales pitches. So, how can you stand out from the hundreds of meetings they’ve had in the past?

Establishing Credibility When Asking for a Meeting

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. First you need to schedule a sales meeting with the CEO. Jeff Hoffman, writing for HubSpot, reminds sales reps that you only have one shot at engaging a CEO.

First off, be prepared to name drop. The easiest way to begin establishing credibility with someone you’ve never met is to name a mutual connection. You can point out that the connection referred you to the CEO. Or you could even begin the conversation with an inside joke between the CEO and the connection (“[Connection’s name] told me to tell you this.”). That will get the CEO in good spirits and help them to feel closer to you right off the bat.

Hoffman also recommends that you not ask outright for a sales meeting. You may come on too strong or seem entitled to the CEO’s limited time. That won’t bode well for you when establishing credibility. Instead, you can ask the CEO about who to contact regarding extended outreach. “I want to make sure I don’t sound foolish when I call your organization about X issue. Where/​from whom can I get the best information on this topic?” is the terminology Hoffman recommends. That way, the CEO may name themselves, or when you do reach out to another employee, you can name drop the CEO.

Conversing with a CEO

Yes, a CEO’s level of power within their company can be intimidating, but they’re still human. Additionally, as Hoffman points out, “In general, CEOs are friendly and outgoing since they’re constantly representing their companies to a variety of audiences. They’re extremely savvy when it comes to social dynamics and credibility.” They are, in all likelihood, not going to be rude to you since that would reflect poorly on their company (or simply because they’re a good person). Just focus on further establishing your credibility to them and you’ll be just fine.

Marc Wayshak, in an article for the National Association of Sales Professionals, also reminds reps that it can get lonely at the top. Not a lot of salespeople are brave enough to call on the CEO when there are employees lower in the chain of power to contact. “The reality is that CEOs are often easy to get through to and usually have more time to talk than a typical over-​worked, under-​paid ‘buyer,’” says Wayshak. “Just call very early or very late. The CEO will probably be there and waiting to chat.”

Neither of those points means that you should talk to a CEO as if they’re just anyone. They are different than the typical people you usually meet with. When establishing credibility with a CEO, Wayshak says that you need to think and talk c‑suite. “When you sell to a marketing director, you will talk about company apparel and giveaway products. However, when you sell to a CEO, those topics are below his radar. Instead, you would have to start talking about issues related to company branding and market perceptions of that company. Those are the issues that keep the CEO up at night.”