C-Suite Buyers

Effective Ways to Sell to C-Suite Buyers

When you’re selling to a mid- or lower-level buyer, it’s usually a multi-step process to get to the real decision-maker. By the time your careful messaging has run up the ladder, it’s been mutilated. But, if you sell directly to an executive, your sale can get closed faster – and better. 

But selling to C-level buyers requires a different approach than with typical buyers. You need to be concise, be respectful of their time, and be aware of what they care about. You also need to highlight your edge against competitors to stand out – and talking about customer service and your low prices isn’t going to cut it at this level. 

The difference between a typical sales rep that earns $40,000 a year and the one who earns $500,000 a year comes down to approach.  The former tries to apply the same strategies he or she would to a manager, procurement, or HR employee while the latter goes for the bigger guns and targets the C-suite buyers. What sets them apart is that one knows how to speak to these executives in their language. They know what these buyers care about and how to get through to them. 

The difference between an executive buyer and low-level buyers

  • They don’t believe the over-the-top claims about ROI from sellers;
  • They don’t have time for endless discovery questions – their workload is tremendous;
  • They don’t care about all the outreach efforts being shot your way (refer to the last point); and 
  • The outreach requests they do look at are filtered based on whether they were referred by a trusted source. 

If you can understand these few points about C-suite buyers, you’re halfway there. You can now start to figure out how your approach needs to change. But that doesn’t mean some tips won’t help you get there faster. 

7 tips for selling high-level prospects

1. Do your research

When you approach a C-suite exec, come prepared. Find credible, relevant sources to reference, and make sure they come from the prospect’s market and region. Doing anything less is disrespectful to the prospect. 

LinkedIn is a good place to do some research on the prospect and their company, as well as competitors, relevant industry trends, etc. It’s also a great place to start for your….

2. Warm introduction

CEOs, COO, CFOs, etc. are all busy. Often, the only way to get past their gatekeepers will be via a warm introduction from someone they know and trust as a credible source. Just make sure you understand the nature of the prospect’s relationship with your introducer – that’ll give you context for how well the prospect themselves will receive your introduction. 

Again, you can use LinkedIn to help with this. Plus, it can help greatly to speak to multiple individuals in the organization about your solution. If you can educate and nurture multiple stakeholders, not only might you get a warm introduction from one of them, you might also have someone on your side to support your pitch to the executive. 

3. Know their industry

This goes alongside the very first point on doing your research – who does the executive’s company define as their competition? Why? Do you have any insights you can provide about them? That’s not to say you should give away trade secrets, but if you have something valuable to offer it will go a long way. 

4. Aim for “trusted advisor” 

Hari Krishnan, CEO of PropertyGuru, defines vendor roles in 3 distinct levels

  1. Trusted advisor – You collaborate together and are a deeply-involved part of the planning, with a deeply emotional and personal connection and a high level of trust. 
  2. Partner – You are strategic to the executive’s business and they are interested in hearing your thoughts during planning. 
  3. Vendor – It’s a transaction relationship. Price is the primary way of determining your value. 

To be successful in selling to C-suite execs, aim to be the “Trusted Advisor.” Focus on their best interests; it’s not a cliché, it’s a fact. It takes time to reach this level, but there’s one thing you can do to achieve this more easily: see yourself as a C-Suite executive. 

Set aside any self-esteem issues and don’t talk “up” to the prospect. Instead, no matter their title, sell to them like you’re on the same level, as a peer. Every time. View yourself as an expert on-level with them, and your executive prospects will, too. 

5. Keep it short/get to the point

Again, C-suite buyers don’t have time. Once you get through to them, be friendly, but get to the point right away. You can ask a small handful of discovery questions, sure, but not too many – after a certain point, asking more questions actually decreases your win rate.

This is very different from low-level buyers and is actually one of the most important skills for selling to C-level executives. 

6. Understand how they define success

Conversely, you also need to understand how the prospect defines success in their organization. What motivates them and how do they measure it? What KPIs do they need to improve? If you can glean this information, you can focus on how your solution can help them achieve those things. 

7. Identify and present your solution around bottom-line results

We’ll say it again: C-suite buyers don’t care about customer service or low prices. They care about results – more importantly, increasing profits – EBITA. 

Instead of focusing on those features and benefits that lower-level prospects like to hear about, focus on how your solution can help increase profits. Once they see the real value that your solution provides, they’ll pay your price. 

Wrapping up

To summarize: 

  1. C-suite buyers care about different things than lower-level buyers do. You need to adjust your approach to reflect this. 
  2. Use LinkedIn to research the best path to a warm introduction and make sure you understand their industry and competitors. 
  3. View yourself as a C-suite buyer – you’re an expert on your solution, so see yourself as one, and they will too. 
  4. Once you get to them, get to the point and present your solution around the bottom-line results it can provide. 

Selling to C-suite buyers isn’t as complicated as you’d think. However, it does require a different, more strategic approach. Understand what they care about and speak to them in their language. With some practice, you’ll soon be closing deals. 

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James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.