To win C-suite–level sales, you need a set of attributes most salespeople lack. Without them, your chances of winning over C-level executives is a little less than winning the lottery. By working on five key attributes, you improve your ability to sit across the giant desk and learn to create the level of value necessary to capture top executives’ attention and interest, eventually winning their business.
What Are C-Level Sales?
In C-level sales, the salesperson sells to the CEO (chief executive officer), the COO (chief operating officer), the CFO (chief financial officer), the CTO (chief technology officer), or some other contact who is responsible for a department.
At larger companies, C-suite–level purchases tend to be strategic, which is why they have the attention of a top executive. In smaller companies, salespeople may have easier access to C-level decision-makers, but the buyers are likely to have similar strategic motivations. In either case, strong sales fundamentals are necessary, but not enough. You also need these five attributes to win C-level sales.
Executive Presence: Feel Like a Peer
Your executive presence is mostly about how comfortable and confident you are. When you walk into a room with C-suite–level contacts, your body language and attitude will project whether you belong there. Any sign you are uncomfortable or lack confidence will prevent your contacts from seeing you as a peer.
When you walk into any sales meeting, you should already be smiling. Your smile projects confidence. Shaking hands, greeting your contacts, and making eye contact can also improve your executive presence. Even though executives tend not to wear suits, you should wear your best clothes and shine your shoes. You want to look buttoned up and successful without being flashy.
Start by working on your executive presence, exploring sales training and sales enablement options if needed. You need these attributes when selling to the C suite.
Information Disparity: Create Value
The ability to create information disparity is one of the most powerful sales strategies available. It defines the modern sales approach. When a sales professional knows something their prospective clients don't, they can create value for their contacts. Compared with their contacts—even C-level executives—salespeople have deeper experience in what they sell and the related problems their clients face. Knowing you can educate your C-level contacts on the decision they are considering will improve your confidence. This is incredibly important if the deal is a competitive displacement.
When a salesperson doesn't know anything their contacts don't, they are likely to struggle. It’s not possible to create relevance and credibility by sharing information about your company and your products and services. This legacy approach will result in the opposite of your intention and prevent you from closing deals.
You would do well to start the conversation by briefing your contacts on the trends in your business and how they intersect with the strategic outcomes the company's senior leaders need. This not only creates value for the decision-makers but also proves you are an expert and an authority. Unlike the questions you find in a standard sales process, your questions help your contacts learn something that provides them with a greater understanding.
Your B2B sales title might be account executive, but your C-level contacts don't need a salesperson; they need a business advisor. To fulfill this need a salesperson must be consultative, taking on the role of an advisor. Your interpersonal skills, like active listening, are critical here. What is most important is that you understand how your business works and how your prospective client's business works.
If you ask your client about their pain points, dissatisfaction, or hot button, you will shorten your meeting and lose an opportunity. Asking about the implications of these problems will also prove you are not prepared to sell at a C-suite level. C-level leaders are looking for people who can act as trusted advisors, providing counsel, advice, and recommendations.
It’s important to ask open-ended questions so you can better understand what you need to know to help your prospective client improve their strategic outcomes.
Comfortable with Conflict
In a lot of rooms, you will likely be challenged. It's one way some leaders test you to see if you are going to be a potential partner and trusted advisor. This a test of your comfort with the conflict you will encounter in business. Passing the test will prove you will not wilt the first time you experience a real challenge.
Some, but not all, C-suite executives also expect and enjoy being challenged. You must be able to read their disposition and temperament. For the C-level contact who enjoys this type of interaction, this is part of rapport building.
It's important to recognize that when a decision is important enough to be decided at the C-suite level, the stakes are high. Leaders worry about failing and any sign of crumbling in the face of a challenge will find the salesperson failing their audition.
Leading Your Clients
In my first book, The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need, I included a chapter about leadership in sales. Most of what you find there will allow you to lead your client. A reluctance to offer counsel, advice, and recommendations to senior leaders will cause them to look elsewhere for help.
If you are used to your clients telling you what they need you to do and how to do it, success in C-suite–level sales will require a role reversal. Senior executives need salespeople who can help them with decisions when they lack the experience to make them on their own.
Five Must-Have Attributes to Win C-Suite–Level Sales
These five attributes are next-level sales skills and competencies that take time and effort to acquire. As you become a stronger industry expert, you can move up to larger deals, working with senior leaders as clients and having them treat you like a trusted advisor. Without these attributes, your chances of winning over C-level executives are low.