8 Pitfalls to Avoid When Selling to C-Suite Executives
1. Being too Quirky or Overly Personal
A lot of salespeople think they have to stand out at all costs. The logic makes sense. C-suite executives get 100s of inquiries every week, and if you don’t make yourself known, you risk getting lost in the sea of noise. However, you have to be very careful about how you choose to stand out.
DON’T try to be overly quirky, funny, or cute.
For example, saying things like “I was just wondering if you haven’t replied because aliens have abducted you?!? If so, let me know so I can send help”. It’s not a good look. Sure, it’ll make you stand out, but probably for the wrong reasons. It’s annoying and memorable, and you don’t want to be remembered for being annoying.
The same is true for being overly personal. For example, making a reference to a photo or post, you saw on LinkedIn. If you see a post about a C-suite executive enjoying skiing, you might think it’s a good idea to delve into how you like to ski also. However, you risk coming across as nosy or overly personal. You can talk about interests and try to connect, but it should happen organically. Don’t just go straight in with references to their personal life. There’s a fine line between doing your research and stalking, and you never want to be on the wrong side of that line. It’s also worth remembering that the line exists in different places for different people.
2. Being Needy
Being too needy or pushy can make you look desperate for a sale. If you’re desperate for a deal, it’s because not many people are buying your products already. Successful businesses don’t beg for customers, and the same goes for sales staff. You have to get in the mindset that your goal is to remind people of your product or draw awareness to it, but you’re not chasing clients. You are worth pursuing, and your product is valuable in the marketplace – people should be coming to you.
3. Begging for a meeting
If you get turned down for a meeting, don’t push past this and ask for another one. Instead, you can say something like, “Thanks for your response. Can I ask if you don’t want a meeting because you can’t see enough value in the product?” If they answer yes, then it’s best just to move on. If you were planning to reply with something like “all your competitors are doing it” or “I think you’re making a mistake, X businesses see value in our product. I think you would be a good fit and I can explain more if you agree to another meeting”, don’t. The executive will likely see this response as too pushy and possibly even arrogant. They’ve taken time to give you an honest answer, and you’ve essentially told them they are wrong. This isn’t a strong start to a relationship.
If they reply saying their reluctance for a second meeting is due to value, but because they don’t have enough time, you can proceed. This is good news; it just means you need to be more flexible and change your approach. Either offer a meeting further into the future or suggest a quick call that will take no more than a few minutes.
4. Not Taking the Hint
Some people think that if they ignore the hints C-suite executives give off, they can just bulldoze over them and secure a meeting, and eventually, a sale. However, think about how this makes you look. The executive will think one of two things:
- You’re intentionally ignoring what they say – This makes you look pushy, rude, and desperate for a sale.
- You’re not very emotionally intelligent – If they believe you’re not doing it intentionally, then they’ll think you’re just not smart enough to understand what they’re saying. While this doesn’t have the same rudeness element as number 1, it makes you look incompetent. Who wants to do business with someone who can’t understand what they say? Not many people.
5. Giving Ultimatums
Giving ultimatums won’t work for C-suite executives. They’ve risen through the ranks at their company because they know how to set boundaries and stick to them. Rarely does someone become a C-suite executive by giving in to every request that comes their way. Avoid using phrases like “I won’t take no for an answer” and “I’ll keep emailing until I hear back from you”.
6. Going for the “One-Off” Sale and Not Prioritizing the Long Term Relationship
When it comes to C-suite executives, you need to prioritize the long-term relationship over a quick sale. Here are some tips on how to prioritize the long-term relationship:
- Make it clear what they can expect from you or their account manager. What hours will you be available to talk once the sale has gone through? Can they count on you to be around in the future?
- Tailor your messaging. Don’t use a cookie-cutter message when talking to executives. Each message needs to be tailored for their eyes.
- Make sure you connect with the marketing team. Selling to C-suite executives requires close alignment between the sales and marketing teams. Make sure you share what content you’re using and ask for feedback.
- Research. You need to understand how your product can impact the long-term growth of your client’s company. Your proposal needs to be future-focused and long-term ROI-centric. Executives are much more likely to do business with you if they think your goals go beyond the sale.
7. Not Recognizing When You’re Not a Good Fit
We get it; everyone wants to make a sale. But you shouldn’t want to make a sale at all costs. You should want to sell a product to someone who will experience the value of it. Studies have found that around 50% of prospects are not a good fit for what you’re selling. If you’re selling to a C-suite executive, then you’ve probably already done your research and determined that your product would be a good fit. However, you have to be opening to changing that opinion. The thing about research is you can only make a conclusion with the evidence in front of you. If the executive comes back with reasonable objections describing why their company isn’t a good fit for your product, you have to be open to listening. Sometimes they might be wrong, but sometimes they’ll be right.
Remember, the consequences of selling to someone who isn’t a good fit can be very damaging. C-suite executives have a lot of influence in the industry and a ton of social capital. If you sell them a product they get very little use out of, they will likely always have a bad impression of you and your company, which can stay with you far into the future.
8. Not Keeping Your Cool
This is one of those snippets of advice that seems obvious and intuitive but can be challenging in practice. Everyone knows you need not take things personally and keep your cool. However, logic has a way of disappearing when something strikes an emotional chord.
If you passionately disagree with an objection, the executive puts forward, take some time before you respond. Don’t just start slamming away at your keyboard in an effort to defend your truth. As a general rule, the more defensive you get, the less the other party will listen to you. When we see someone get defensive or angry, we tend to shut off and ignore what they’re saying. A much better strategy is to appeal to their concerns and empathize with their position.
Top Tips for Selling to C-Suite Executives
Focus on the Person, Not the Title
Selling to C-suite executives can be intimidating, but you have to remember, they’re just a person like you. They are probably bombarded with the business world all day, every day, and that can get pretty tiring. If you want to foster a more natural connection, then ignore the title and treat them like a person. Show them that you don’t see them as a faceless corporate entity that holds the keys to the next sale.
Getting this right can be tricky. If you remember from the ‘avoid’ section, we said not to get too personal. The key here is to read the room. If the executive is all business and doesn’t give anything away about who they are as a person, it’s best not to try and break through this.
Talk About the Big Picture
Talk about aspirations. Take about the big things like growth, increasing revenue, and where you think the business can get to with your product. As a general rule, the higher ranking the person, the more they care about the big picture aspirations. For example, if you’re selling to a lower-ranking employee, you might focus on the immediate benefits your product can bring to the team members. You talk about how the product can improve their day-to-day work. C-suite executives care much less about the daily aspect and much more about the big picture.
Talk About Risk
C-suite executives are highly tuned to risk, and if you don’t mention the risks and how you plan on mitigating them, the executive will be suspicious. Every product and project has risks, and to pretend otherwise is to be dishonest.
Share From Your Experience
This is where you tell stories. Bring up previous clients and how you helped their business thrive. Discuss a few case studies similar to the client company so they can envision how the product will work for them. Stories are how we connect ideas with reality, and they’re extremely powerful when done right.
There’s plenty of time to talk, but you should also be asking a lot of questions. Questions are how you show that you’re on the same page as the executive. They communicate that you want to sell them a product that is the right fit for their business and that you want the product to be a success. You want to consider all factors and deliver the best outcome.
It’s a good idea to have some questions prepared before you go into the room. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re staring blankly at the wall, trying to come up with something. Or, perhaps worse, saying any question that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the discussion.
Lastly, you want to ask questions because it makes you look competent. When you feel confident enough to ask questions, it conveys that you are a high-authority individual in your industry. You know your stuff, and you feel comfortable talking to senior-ranking people.
Set Out a Clear Next Step and Put Them in The Driving Seat
At the end of a sales meeting, salespeople tend to do one of three things when it comes to the next steps:
- They do nothing, thank the executive for the meeting, and leave.
- They say, “What would you like to do next?”
- They say, “Here’s what I’d like to do next”.
Okay, now read carefully, because what we’re about to say will transform your next steps approach.
C-suite executives love to make decisions.
Executives make decisions all day, and they’re likely good at it because they became an executive. If you want to secure the next step, then put them in the driving seat, and let them decide. Here’s how you do this. You present them with a few options and ask for their opinion.