Reasons to Gain Access

Although not all sales require C-level access, engaging at the C-level is critical if your goals are to build long term client relationships, be perceived as a trusted partner and differentiate your company (and yourself) from the competition. As in any selling situation, the first step in gaining access to C-level executives is to understand your customer.

We all know that C-level executives are the most powerful and influential members within organizations.  Consequently, C-level executives make higher-stakes decisions, have more demanding workloads and command higher levels of compensation. What we also need to remember is:

  • C-Level decision makers are measured by their ability to improve their business and meet (or exceed) key performance metrics
    • Your approach to C-level executives needs to align with their specific key performance indicators.
  • C-Level decision makers constantly deal with changing priorities
    • When you sell to C-level decisions makers, you are not just competing with external competitors for a specific project. You are also competing with other internal projects that are all vying for resources, budget and management’s attention.
    • To acknowledge this, you must position your solutions in terms of your prospect’s business priorities and financial goals.
  • C-Level decision makers rely on others
    • C-level executive seldom make decisions on their own. They often defer to other people on their team and seek feedback from peers and/or subordinates.
    • This means you need to involve these trusted advisors in your conversations and include them in the decision making process.
  • C-Level decision makers don’t like to make mistakes
    • Your proposals should articulate how to minimize the C-level decision maker’s personal risk.

You must always remember that C-level executives are business executives, not technical or functional leaders.

“I look at myself as a business leader and not as a CIO. I talk to my team about how to have different types of conversations. For instance, don’t talk about how great the new smartphone is—talk about how it will increase sales calls, drive up revenue growth, and improve market share.” —CIO, Global Consumer Goods Company

So what does this mean to you?

Being able to effectively engage in business-oriented discussions is critical to establish your credibility and differentiate yourself from the competition. This is not only true for selling to the C-level executive, but also for selling to their network of trusted advisors. You need to understand each executive’s:

  • Role and responsibilities
  • Key performance indicators
  • Direct reports
  • Primary issues and challenges

More Companies are Recognizing the Importance of a Vertical Approach

To credibly approach C-level executives, you also need to speak their language. You need to understand their industry and their competitive environment:

  • Who are their customers?
  • Who are the competitors? Who are the leaders in their industry?
  • What products and services do they offer?
  • What risks and regulations do they face?
  • How is technology used in their industry?
  • What are the most important challenges facing them today?

Unfortunately, a comment that many solution providers continue to hear is “your professionals don’t understand our business”.

To better prepare their sales professionals for engaging with C-level executives and their trusted network of advisors, many companies have a vertical go-to-market approach that aligns sales (and support) resources with specific industries. Some recent examples of companies that are adopting this approach to better understand and support clients include:

  • SAS
    • When asked to express his opinion of his employees, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said, “What truly differentiates SAS is its ‘creative capital’. The technical and domain expertise of SAS employees allow the company to serve nearly all industries in multiple cutting-edge analytical capacities”.
    • Goodnight recognizes it is the combination of technical competency and industry/client knowledge that successfully positions SAS’ professionals.
  • Salesforce
    • Salesforce President and Vice Chairman Keith Block recently announced to his company that Salesforce had plans to assemble new packages of software tailored to a handful of high-value industries (such as financial services, telecom, government agencies, healthcare and life sciences).
    • To capitalize on this approach, Salesforce has implemented a vertical go-to-market approach.
  • ACI Worldwide
    • Sylvie Boucheron-Saunier (ACI Worldwide’s GM) recently said in an interview with Finextra, “It’s about business, not technology.”
    • Boucheron-Saunier reminds us that understanding the client and their business is what matters, and it is what differentiates established technology companies from startup Fintech firms in the financial services industry
  • Unisys
    • Just last month, as part of Unisys’ Third Quarter 2015 Result, President and CEO Peter Altebef told industry analysts, “There are three primary pillars supporting Unisys’ transition. The first is an emphasis on a more vertically oriented go-to-market strategy that provides more domain knowledge, deepens our client and prospect discussions and allows for customized offerings within each vertical, while leveraging a central delivery engine”.

The bottom line is that C-level executives are senior business executives with greater decision authority, higher performance responsibility and budgets. However, to gain access to these executives, you need to understand their needs, challenges and industry environment.

What are your thoughts?

Let me know your thoughts and some of the experiences you have had in gaining access to C-level executives.

About the author

Howard Stein is a co-founding partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) and works with leading technology companies to help their professionals understand and engage with key executives.LinkedIn

Performance Solutions International (PSI)

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