Sell To C‑Level Executives With Confidence : Part 1

c-level executives

Speaking with C‑level executives can be very intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from doing so. This group of decision-​makers wields power and if you engage with them in a thoughtful way, you have an excellent chance of winning their respect–and their business. “It can be intimidating to engage C‑level executives, especially if you’re not in a similar age range or pay grade,” writes Julie Thomas for LinkedIn. “We may never become a peer to C‑level executives, but we certainly can be relevant, credible, and able to have peer-​to-​peer business conversations with them.” Her tips to successfully engage with these professionals can help boost business savvy to drive valuable conversations (and sales).

C‑Level Executives Value Your Business Acumen

In order to sell successfully to these prospects, you must have a strong understanding of business in general. This knowledge is known as business acumen, and Thomas defines it as follows:

Business acumen is that keen insight into business matters. It’s the combination of judgment, experience, and knowledge that all come together as the foundation for how business executives make quick, intelligent business decisions.”

Sellers with this insight have an ability to expertly answer questions such as:

  • How does the business make money?
  • How is profit calculated?
  • What’s the difference between top-​line and bottom-​line revenue?
  • How are budgets created and managed in an organization?
  • What metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to the business?

Sellers seeking an audience with C‑level executives must showcase business acumen to add value to the meeting. Rattling on about their product or service will not impress these prospects. Revealing business acumen will be what justifies the conversation with the seller. “One of the keys to value-​based selling — no matter what you sell — is elevating conversations with buyers from focusing strictly on the technical problem your product or service solves to the business issues of the buyer’s organization,” Thomas explains. “Connecting business value to the business issue builds the business case and justifies the sale.”

Selling to the C‑Level: Step One

Before a sales conversation, most reps know that research is important. But research, when working with C‑level executives, requires a broader scope. Sellers seeking an audience with a company’s top decision-​makers should first take time to research and learn about the basics of accounting and finance. Even a basic understanding can help you be able to see the company from a perspective other than a salesperson. There are various free courses available, as well as videos, professional groups and other educational resources online. Thomas suggests that salespeople particularly learn how to: 

  • read balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements
  • understand the difference between gross profit and net profit
  • know the disparity between debt and equity
  • measure a business using financial and accounting terms
  • draw conclusions about the financial health of a business using financial statements

These abilities can help you gain a deeper knowledge of the C‑level executive’s business and look for opportunities where your business or product can specifically be of value. Your informed insights will also set you apart from other sellers who simply don’t understand their business at the same level. 

Two More Prep Steps

Thomas goes on to share two more must-​do steps to successfully sell to C‑level executives. Check back for the second part of this article series here on Media Sales Today on September 1.

Photo by Keren Levand

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica is a senior research analyst for SalesFuel focusing on selling to SMB decision makers. She also reports on sales and presentation tips for SalesFuel and Media Sales Today. Jessica is a graduate of Ohio University.