How to Sell to the C‑Suite and Why It Matters Now

BY Jessica Helinski
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As buying shifts and purchase paths evolve, knowing how to sell to the C‑suite will be more important than ever. High-​level executives are paying more attention to purchases and are increasingly involved in decision-​making. "…the C‑Suite is driving more of the research and vendor selection stages of the buyers’ journey than in the past," explains Jennifer Voisard for ComBlu. "Influencing them from the bottom up may no longer be as effective. Modern buying centers require a top-​down approach."

Sellers who can confidently engage and sell to these execs will find not only increased sales, but also deeper relations within the company.

Sell to the C‑suite by understanding how they’re different

As Ago Cluytens writes for RAIN Group, “Selling to the C‑suite is a process that starts by recognizing the ways in which selling to senior executives differs from other sales and taking steps to adjust your approach accordingly.” Being thoughtful about your approach ensures you connect, no matter what their level. 

He first recommends starting out by preparing, just as you would do for a typical sales meeting. But your preparation will go a bit deeper than just scoping the webpage or checking out the competition. In fact, there are four very specific goals that you should seek to accomplish:

  • Come across as an expert
  • Build the relationship
  • Stroke their ego a little
  • Discover their agenda

These should shape how you research and what information you seek. Uncover what you can to get those four things accomplished and kick off the meeting on the right foot. Time is vital to executives, so make sure that you immediately connect with them and demonstrate value. 

Plan the journey

When you get time to sell to the C‑suite, it can be difficult to determine how to spend it. Do you take control with a loaded agenda or do you let them lead? Cluytens suggests finding balance by planning out the conversation. While you don’t need a script, you do need some guidance. He recommends thinking of it as a journey in which you plot out major points. To uncover what you really want to get accomplished, consider the following questions before each meeting:

  • What's your destination? 
  • Where do you want to stop over on the way? 
  • What are the ‘must sees’ (must dos) while you're on the road? 
  • Which points do you want to hit?”

Having guided points to follow ensures that both the exec’s and your agendas get discussed. It also prevents you from trying to accomplish too much at once, which can cost you another meeting. 

Be confident and poised

There’s no doubt that when you do get to sell to the C‑suite, it’s intimidating. But don't let nerves rattle you and cost the sale. Basic techniques, such as focusing on your breathing and maintaining eye contact, can speak volumes to others. They may not seem like big things, but they will calm anxious feelings and help you exude confidence (even if you don’t necessarily feel it). 

If you’re interested in how breathwork can settle your mind and body, check out this episode from the Manage Smarter podcast. Dr. Kathy Gruver guides listeners through a simple breathing exercise that is easy for beginners and effective. 

SalesFuel’s Tim Londergan suggests that sellers, to boost their own confidence, take on an “executive presence” to build a more confident mindset. He explains how sellers can cultivate and nurture this skill, which can boost your comfort level, and poise, when engaging with executives.

These are only highlights of all of his tips, and Cluyten breaks down other tactics, including how to speak to them at their level and the importance of overdelivering. And for even more professional advice on the topic, check out another Manage Smart podcast episode, “Secrets of the C‑Suite” with Jeffrey Hayzlett

With some practice, thought and the right mindset, sellers can confidently engage, sell to, and build relationships with top executives. They’ll find that these skills will be even more invaluable as buyers and their processes continue to evolve.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko