The key to understanding how to sell into the C suite doesn’t come from understanding how to sell to c-level executives, as much as it does from understanding how they buy.
C-level executives don’t care about the features, advantages, and benefits of your product.
Instead, they care about how much of an impact your product or service will have on helping them to solve their biggest problems.
Think Like a C-Level Executive
To understand what is important to the C-suite, you need to think like them.
For example, below is a small sample of some of the top problems that many of today’s top C-level executives face:
- How do we increase market share?
- How can we ensure that we continue to meet earnings expectations?
- How can we increase our profit margin?
- How can we create a sustainable competitive advantage?
- How can we increase operational efficiency?
- How can we ensure that we keep our investors happy?
- How are we going to stay compliant with regulatory requirements?
- How can we lower the cost of a service call?
- How can we lower the cost of acquiring new customers?
- How can we attract more of the right talent for our team?
Making a Positive First Impression
The C-suite is not looking to be sold on why your product or service is the best/cheapest/fastest, etc…
If you begin your conversation with them by talking about your how awesome your company and product is, the chances that you will be referred to one of their staff, or ignored altogether, is extremely high.
The key to making a positive first impression with the C-suite is to show them that you are genuinely interested in helping them solve their business problems, regardless of whether or not you have a product or service to fit the bill.
While it’s true that you probably do have a solution of some kind (which they also realize), making your stuff the topic of early conversations is a huge mistake.
Focus on Building Trust
The best way to build trust with someone is to focus on helping instead of selling. This is where the field of sales has drastically changed in recent years.
Thanks to the internet, today’s buyer has easy access to more information about your company, your products, and your competitors than ever before.
The days of the sales rep holding all the power are long gone.
Today, the customer has the power, and they know it. As a result, positioning yourself as their most trusted advisor has never been more important.
What hasn’t changed is that every executive still has just 24 hours in a day, and as a result, they need to ensure that they get the maximum benefit from every hour of every day.
As a buyer, I don’t have time (or interest) in hearing you tell me all about why your product is the best.
I can read all I want online and I can easily see what other users are saying on sites like G2Crowd.
However, it’s unlikely that I know about the vast array of helpful resources that are available to me to help me solve my most important problems.
If you selflessly help me to solve my greatest problems, I’m much more likely to trust you…and (eventually) I will become interested enough in your products and services to want to buy from you.
Step 1: Starting the Conversation
Whenever I’m talking with a new prospect or existing account for the first time, I have only one objective: to learn as much as I can about the problems they are most interested in solving.
As a result, I spend the vast majority of my time asking questions that will help me to understand their problems and top priorities.
These are the things that they are most likely to allocate resources to solving.
So that you better understand how to do this, let’s suppose that I work for a large software company, and I’m tasked with selling their CRM product.
If my conversation started at the C-level, I sure as heck wouldn’t be asking them about what kind of features they are looking for in a CRM! (If my conversation started with a user, then I might ask about features they need.)
If I did start by asking about features, they would see me as just another CRM sales rep and would have little interest in talking with me again in the future. At best, they’d refer me to someone lower down the totem pole.
Instead, I’d be asking them things like:
- How much revenue do you need to produce to hit your numbers this year?
- How many new customers do you need for that?
- What is a customer worth?
- Do you have customers like this now?
- Where did they come from?
- What does it currently cost you to acquire a customer like this?
- How many sales reps do you have?
- What does each one cost you?
- What percentage of your reps achieve quota?
- Will you be hiring more reps this year?
- How many?
- How will you find them?
- Besides hiring more reps, what else are you planning on doing to increase the number of leads into the top of your funnel?
- What does the current sales process look like?
- Do you have insights (from data) into which parts of your sales funnel are working and which aren’t?
- Is repeat business going to play a big role in hitting this year’s revenue targets?
- What does customer retention look like?
- Do your sales and services teams have access to the same pieces of customer data?
- How does your team handle support?
- Do you have field support reps?
- How do you manage them?
- How do they get access to the information they need while on the road?
- Have you investigated any technologies that could help to improve customer service?
- What have you looked at?
- What is working best for you now?
The list of questions above is only just a fraction of the questions that, over time, I need to ask the customer if I’m to truly understand what their greatest challenges are.
As I work my way through these questions, some of them will provide me with the opportunity to ask more detailed follow up questions, and it’s these “2nd and 3rd layer” questions that are most likely going to give me the really deep understanding of a problem that I’m going to need to understand if I’m going to be helpful.
Remember: asking questions isn’t about just completing a checklist. Instead, it’s about ensuring that your customer gets the impression that you are genuinely interested in helping them to find a solution to their problems….even if that solution isn’t something you sell.
When a customer sees you asking this many questions instead of talking about your own products, two things are going to happen:
- They are going to appreciate your interest in their problems
- They are going to start trusting that you are putting their needs ahead of your own
Step 2: Focus on Helping (Not Selling) to Build More Trust
If you take the approach I’ve described above from the start, you will have taken the first step towards becoming a trusted advisor.
What you do next will either move you closer to that goal or further way.
Let’s assume that in your first conversation with your customer, you learned that they had the following priorities and problems:
- They need to hire 50 more sales reps this year
- They don’t have enough insight (data) into which parts of their sales process is working / not working
- There is a disconnect between sales and customers service
- They need to increase revenue by $100,000,000 (each new rep will have a $2M quota)
Is now the right time to start talking about a demo for your CRM product?
If you immediately start trying to sell them on why your CRM is going to make life easy for their sales reps, you will erode trust.
If you continue to focus on helping find solutions to their problems, you will build more trust.
The great thing about helping is that it’s actually not very difficult to do…once you clearly understand what your customer actually wants help with.
In this case, you know that your customer needs 50 new sales reps.
If you were smart, you would have also asked them if they thought finding 50 sales reps was going to be hard to do. If they said no, then they likely won’t really value any help you might offer.
However, if they said yes, you have a terrific opportunity to build trust by offering help.
What kind of help can you offer if you are a CRM sales rep? Plenty.
For example, you could:
- Offer to connect them with another of your customers that has already built a very large sales team so that they could learn what has worked for them and what mistakes to avoid.
- Interview a number of HR professionals that have proven expertise at hiring sales reps and then provide them with a recording of your interview or an article that summarizes your findings (or you could just point them to content created by others that provides similar insights)
- Send them links to helpful content (blog posts, eBooks, webinars, books, etc…). The content needn’t be created by your company. It need only be helpful.
As you are sending your customer this information, it would also be a good idea to continue to talk with them to learn whether or not the information you are sending is actually helping. If so, how? If not, what could you be doing better?
If you needed to hire 50 sales reps, do you think you might value receiving help like this? Do you think that you might see the person who provided the help in a more positive light?
You bet you would.
Step 3: Be Reliable
When you go away on vacation and need someone to look after your pets, who do you call? Do you call your friend Dave, who sometimes forgets to call you back or make good on his promises? Probably not.
Instead, you call Kate because you know you can absolutely count on Kate not to drop the ball.
Being reliable (doing what you say, when you say you are going to) is a major part of building trust with people.
When you are in meetings with your customers, take notes. They will notice it. If you don’t, they will notice that, too.
When you say you are going to send a link to an article this afternoon, do it. Sure, you could send it tomorrow, but that isn’t what you said you were going to do…and not keeping your word, even on something that is seemingly trivial, will erode trust.
Remember, reliable people are trustworthy people.
Step 4: Be Personable and Connect Emotionally
Not every person in the world is going to become your new BFF; however, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to make personal connections with your customers.
To do this, don’t start asking them a bunch of questions about their family on your first encounter…unless, of course, they start asking you questions about yours.
Instead, at the appropriate time, volunteer some information about your family. Maybe your daughter just got her first tooth (mine just did), or maybe your wife loves to rock climb and had recently shared some wonderful photos with you.
By offering up your personal stories first, you are opening the door for them to do the same, and if they do, you then have their permission to ask more about their life outside of work…and when you start to connect on non-business issues like family, you build more trust and rapport.
Remember, we are more likely to trust people we feel a connection with.
Step 5: Write
These days, having your own blog is dead simple, and you can be up and running in 10 minutes or less. Once you have a blog, start writing.
Why write, you ask? Simple, it allows you to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry by demonstrating your expertise on topics that your customers are interested in.
Why do you think so many people think being an author is such a big deal?
When you write well, and people like what you’ve written, they will also develop an affinity for you.
If you want to be a trusted advisor, you must continually be on the lookout for ways to help your clients and the best way to learn about new things is to write about them.
Additionally, if you give them access to parts of your personal life by sharing personal stories and photos in your writing, you will also be giving your readers even more ways to feel an emotional connection with you.
For example, if you are reading this post and you’ve never met me, what do you think so far? If you’ve read this far, chances are you’ve enjoyed my post.
Chances are also pretty good that you might like to read a few more. Heck, maybe you’d even like to watch one of my videos.
Remember, writing is an excellent way to demonstrate your expertise on a topic, which builds credibility and trust.
Step 6: Build Long Term Relationships
You cannot become the trusted advisor over night. It will probably take months or even years.
One article, or one conversation is not going to be enough.
Building trust requires you to take consistent action over the long term.
Trusted advisors are the people whom the C-suite wants to talk to, and as a result, trusted advisors are continually exceeding their quotas. They get more referrals, manage the best accounts, win the most awards, get the best job offers, and keep their customers for the long haul.
If you want to become one of the elite salespeople in your organization, decide today to do what it takes to become your client’s trusted advisor.