Selling to C-Suite Decision-Makers: Tactics and Pro Tips

Selling to C-Suite Decision-Makers: Tactics and Pro Tips

When it comes to making the sale, sometimes it pays to go right to the top. For high-value products and services, the C-suite’s stamp of approval will often be needed, so getting them involved as early as possible will give you a big advantage. 

Unfortunately, CEOs and other top decision-makers are often overwhelmed with sales pitches, making it challenging for sales professionals to capture their attention. Thanks to this constant barrage of generic pitches, really valuable offers can easily get lost in the noise.

To engage C-suite executives, sales professionals have to think carefully about their outreach, using tailored strategies to stand out. In this article, we’ll look at some of the different ways sales professionals can effectively engage C-suite executives, build relationships, and close more deals.

To preface: Make sure you’re targeting the right person

Before we go any further, it’s important to know whether you should really be selling to the C-suite in the first place. To make sure you’re targeting the right person at a company, you should have a clearly defined ideal customer profile (ICP) along with accurate buyer personas

There are plenty of details that go into creating an accurate ICP — firmographics, technographics, psychographics, etc. For the purposes of this guide, the most important thing to know is that there are three distinct buyer persona types you should be talking to.

Each persona plays an important part in the purchasing process, with different viewpoints and priorities depending on the deal stage. In the case of decision-makers, they do often hold senior positions in the company. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to speak to the CEO every time you want to close a deal. 

Sometimes, the C-suite is the wrong target. For example, you might be selling a jet flight to the CEO, but the decision-maker is actually the CEO’s assistant. By targeting this persona instead of the CEO, you will get a higher conversion rate.

It’s particularly important to verify who the decision-maker is in smaller companies and startups, where roles and responsibilities are often blended. If there are 4 people in the company, the Chief Sales Officer could be a one-man army — selling, reporting, and optimizing. On the other hand, if there are 2,000 people in the company, the Chief Sales Officer is most likely driving a BMW to the office and making strategic plans to open a new office on the other side of the world — and not deciding which sales engagement platform to adopt.

While business size is one indicator, there are other ways to identify the decision-makers you need to talk to. Larger businesses may have published organizational charts, outlining the different roles and responsibilities. In other cases, you might need to get in touch and ask directly. 

Either way, ensuring that you’re reaching out to the right person saves valuable time and makes your pitch much more effective. When you understand the decision-maker persona and how it differs from the other personas, you can personalize your tactics and messaging more effectively and help the C-suite make the best decision. 

Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Personas Workbook (+ Templates)

If you’re looking to build or update your ICP and create spot-on buyer personas, grab a copy of this workbook packed with handy tips and ready-to-use templates.

3 useful tactics for selling to C-suite

Reaching the upper echelons of any organization can be a formidable task. C-suite executives are usually hard to reach, so selling to them demands a tailored approach that respects their time, aligns with their priorities, and speaks to their strategic concerns.

Let’s talk about a few battle-tested tactics that can open doors, earn trust, and ultimately lead to successful partnerships with C-suite leaders.

1. Find out what really matters to the C-suite

C-suite executives are responsible for different business domains: processes, revenue, execution, sales, marketing, and so on. At the highest level, selling to the C-suite means helping them improve and optimize those domains, whether that’s through reducing costs or improving performance. The bigger the business, the bigger the objectives and investment profits should be. 

However, simply promising to save money or deliver better results will lead to more of those generic pitches that get lost in the prospect’s inbox. To close the deal with the C-suite you’re going to have to find out what matters to them specifically. What are their goals, both in the short term and long term? How do they measure performance? What’s preventing them from reaching those goals? 

Answering these questions means doing some research. Fortunately, there’s plenty of information freely available online. Businesses will often share relevant news — such as recent investments or new product launches — on their website or social media feeds. Setting a Google Alert for the company’s name means you’ll always be up to date, while LinkedIn can help you get a better understanding of the C-suite executives themselves and the content they engage with.

The key is to analyze the company and test different ideas of your product application for their needs. So when you choose whom to target, you apply it to the business and his role inside the business.

For example, when we sell Reply to a small business, we will offer to show them how to implement a growth strategy, starting with a one-seat proof of concept and then nurturing the lead to buy more seats. 

For bigger companies, we look at their current sales process and see how they can benefit from the product. How much time does the manager save for other activities like meetings? How can it apply to the general sales strategy? How much revenue can they achieve with it? Everything is connected to size, role, domain, stage, recent activities, market, and so on.

2. Build strong relationships with the C-suite

When it comes to standing out from hundreds of other sales pitches, you simply can’t beat a strong personal relationship. By establishing a genuine human connection first, you position yourself as a trusted advisor rather than just another salesperson. This trust can be the deciding factor in choosing your solution over a competitor’s.

Strong relationships help with every aspect of the sale, including the tactics we’ve already discussed. When the C-suite decision-maker trusts you, they’re more likely to open up about their pain points, challenges, and goals. They can also refer you to others involved in the purchasing decision, so you can be confident you’re talking to all the right people. 

Of course, relationships aren’t built overnight. They take time and effort, where you consistently offer value and demonstrate that you’re committed to a positive outcome for both sides. However, when it comes to building relationships with the C-suite, it’s often worth going the extra mile. 

For example, if you know the executive has a hobby or interest outside of work, find ways to incorporate that into your engagement. If they’re into golf, invite them to a charity golf event. Similarly, if the prospect is passionate about a particular cause, align your pitch or engagement around that, perhaps offering a partnership where a percentage of the sale goes to a charity they support.

Sometimes, it also makes sense to offer exclusive access to your expertise or your solution when targeting high-priority accounts. This might mean personalized training for their team, an extended test drive of your product, or early access to exclusive features. 

By building a relationship, you can not only make the sale but pave the way for future upsells, referrals, and long-term partnerships. 

3. Keep it clear and concise

Being a C-suite executive comes with plenty of responsibilities. Their time is incredibly valuable. When you get the opportunity to communicate with them, make every word count. 

The key challenge when selling to the C-suite is that they normally have too little time to dive into the details of your product offering. Unlike the end-users who’d be willing to learn more about the specific features and integrations, a C-level executive would be more interested in how the product generates ROI in general.

So you need to be able to get your message through in a clear and concise manner that relates to their day-to-day focus/concerns. Getting through to them and delivering that message effectively is a much more productive use of time as they’re the ones with decision-making authority and access to the budget.

When you’re preparing to talk with the C-suite, use the following tips to keep your message understandable and compact:

  • Plan ahead. Before you send that email or jump on a call, outline the key points you want to convey. This helps you stay on track and avoid going off on any unnecessary tangents.
  • Use visual aids. Infographics, charts, some slides, videos, and other means of visual prospecting can help you convey complex information quickly and effectively and add some more personalization to your engagement efforts.
  • Be ready to answer any questions. It’s important to know the concerns that may arise during the call and be ready to address any objections directly, rather than rigidly sticking to a sales script that may no longer be relevant.
  • Seek feedback. After presenting your message, ask if there are any areas they’d like more information on. This ensures they’ve understood what you’ve said while also showing that you value their input.

One more thing that’s worth mentioning here is that your communication should always have a clear purpose and carry real value. Be it a discovery call or a follow-up email, keep your messaging on point and try to bring something to the table before you ask for anything in return (even if it’s just 5 minutes of their time).  

Pro tip: Referral sequence to reach the decision-maker

Getting your messages through to the right person is by far the hardest part of selling to the C-suite. Inboxes flooded with generic cold emails and multiple gatekeepers double the struggles of outreach.

Luckily, there are a few creative sales tactics to overcome this challenge. One of the most effective hacks to reach the C-level decision-maker is through their junior/middle-level employees in the relevant department.

Simply put, you can build a list of non-decision-makers at the target account and reach out to them first asking about the right person to talk to. Needless to say how much easier it is to hear back from a regular SDR compared to a VP of Sales. And, once you do get in touch with them, the probability that they will refer you to their decision-maker or forward your emails to the right person is pretty high. 

Here are some stats for referral sequence using this approach to prove this point.

A huge benefit of this approach is that you can also get more info about their current stack or processes from that initial point of contact. This will help you customize your value proposition when approaching a decision-maker. 

All you need to do when emailing the decision-maker next is to mention your initial contact with their employee and personalize your message using any additional information you were able to get from them.

Explore the ultimate collection of 100+ battle-tested email templates to meet all your business communication needs.

Learn more

Final thoughts

Selling to the C-suite can feel like an overwhelming challenge at times. It requires a blend of research, relationship-building, clarity, and genuine engagement.

However, the rewards of successfully connecting with these top-tier decision-makers are unparalleled. Not only do you gain access to those with the authority to green-light projects and allocate budgets, but you also forge relationships that can lead to long-term partnerships and growth opportunities. 

Remember, it’s not just about making a sale; it’s about establishing trust, offering value, and positioning yourself as a trusted advisor in their journey. With the right strategies and an approach that’s authentic, selling to the C-suite is not only possible but can also be a win-win experience for both you and your prospects.

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