Selling to the CEO

Selling to the CEO

Your salespeople will have the opportunity to sell directly with the CEO. The most important aspect of their preparation is not how they will present the information. They can even leave their PowerPoint slides at work when selling to the CEO. Their preparation should include knowing what to pay attention to. This is not manipulation. It’s about engaging at a higher level and more strategic level.

Fundamental Difference

Bi-focal vision is the difference between selling to the CEO or selling to any other person in the company. The CEO may be very focused on quarterly results. CEOs also have a long-term vision for their companies. CEOs must be visionaries who can see the future and their company’s role in it. This longer-term view is what drives a different sales conversation. The conversation should be about the needs of business managers. It is essential to understand the needs of business managers and their implications. Then, we must present solutions that address their needs. Vision is the key to selling to CEOs. What are their goals for their company? Then, our “solutions” should focus on how to help them get there.

Questions about CEO Selling

A powerful questioning method that salespeople can use to sell to CEOs has been developed by me. It consists of 5 steps that are easily remembered by the acronym A SALE.

A stands for Amenity. The Amenity questions are meant to encourage small talk and give the CEO’s subconscious mind a chance to become comfortable with you. The CEO can look into your eyes and listen to what you are saying about the weather or the latest news. He/she can also observe your body movements and monitor your speech rate. It is unlikely that the CEO will reveal any useful information if he or she remains uneasy.

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Strategic context is the acronym S. Salespeople will want to immediately focus on customer needs to determine how they can meet them. We must remember that CEOs have a bi-focal view when selling to them. They are focused on current needs, which is why they often delegate the task of addressing those needs to their direct reports. However, CEOs are more interested in creating the company’s future. Most sales reps desire to have a conversation where they can say, “Here’s your need, and here’s mine.” You want sales reps to be able to say, “I get where you’re going.” Here’s how you can get there.

A stands for Attention-Focusing. Attention-Focusing questions focus on what isn’t happening that should or what shouldn’t. Here, the sales rep can focus on their immediate needs.

L stands for Linkage. Linkage questions connect the Strategic Context and Attention Focusing questions. Linkage questions allow the CEO to create the connection. Your sales rep shouldn’t try to make the connection even if there isn’t an obvious connection. Your rep should ask the question: What does (need just discovered) have to do (strategic context previously uncovered). CEOs can immediately see the strategic value in their current need when they make this connection. This will make the need a strategic priority instead of one of the many organizational needs.

E stands for Envisioning. Envisioning questions aim to generate emotional energy about the future. Your sales rep asks the CEO to draw a picture of the future company after all the frustrations and needs have been addressed. It is an emotionally satisfying experience for the CEO, and it stimulates emotion of desire.

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This questioning method will allow your sales reps and executives to ask more than the “what do I need?” questions. This style of questioning is more strategic than the traditional “what do you need?” approach. Instead, ask them to think strategically about “where are we going and how can you help me?” It’s lonely up there. Chief executives value having people they can talk to. Selling to the CEO is more about the CEO feeling understood than about helping the CEO appreciate the merits of your product, company, or service.