During my sales coaching or running the Elite Sales Athletes cohort, I often get asked how to speak and run meetings confidently with the CEO, CxO or senior leaders.
And this can be terrifying at times for many reasons. We don't want to muck it up, and we want to do our best, so we overthink.
Thinking about this question and my experience so far, I have written below four strategies for speaking and engaging with C-level clients to nurture the relationship.
I also added video clips from past Elite Sales Athlete cohorts with our Key CEO guest answering the question during our Sales lab day.
I hope you enjoy and find today's newsletter enlightening and powering you with the strategies I shared.
Let’s dig in!
1/Manage your mindset by reframing your thoughts.
As a young account manager, I was so nervous in these meetings. It did not help that my first meeting with a CEO was in a massive 31st-floor boardroom.
Even today, I would sometimes have some impostor syndrome lurking around.
You will learn and manage these situations and feelings as your sales career grows. It is part of the process of gaining experience.
One strategy is to reframe the "I'm nervous" to "I am excited".
You still have the same physiological state but are changing the stories you tell yourself.
Instead of thinking you "lack experience" or "will not make a good impression with the CEO", change this to "It's a great experience and an excellent opportunity to meet the CEO".
You will learn a lot and practice your "A-Game" skills (that's why Role-Playing in sales meetings is essential to your development).
2/Practice Self-awareness and behavioural flexibility.
In one of our fireside chats with Bart Giordano, the CEO of Ruckus Networks, his advice is to remember that CEOs are people. They are also human beings. Start with the basics. Be respectful, authentic, curious and open to learning in the process.
🎥Watch here if Bart’s video above does not play.
Second, practice self-awareness and behavioural flexibility.
Observe your client and take on an active listener role. During these important encounters, be prepared to adjust your approach to best accommodate your client's behavioural style. Are they calm, reserved and talk in detail? Or energetic, open, inspiring and articulate big vision? Are they happy to talk about personal matters like how their kids love tennis, or do they stick to work conversations?
I once broke the ice with a new C-level client when he talked about his kid playing tennis and looking for a coach. My daughter was playing for the national team, and I offered to give him a list of coaches if he was keen. Somehow, the relationship became more open and accessible.
A well-planned message with a flexible delivery will ensure successful outcomes in your upcoming meetings. Understand what will add the most significant value to your discussion and adapt when needed.
Proactively prepare by role-playing with your sales manager or teammate. Preparation is vital to ensuring success during engagements with CEO-level decision-makers.
3/ Bring your unique perspective and earn the right to meet the CEO.
Bring value and thought leadership to your C-level client by researching and account profiling.
Active listening, being curious and asking questions are essential, but there is a fine line with C-levels.
It's a balance between asking too many questions and demonstrating and validating your knowledge with empathy and a clear understanding of the business and industry of your client.
When Selina Lo (Selina's leadership was instrumental in Ruckus' becoming the hottest and most successful wifi vendor), former Ruckus Wireless CEO, was my guest in our campfire chat, she advised salespeople to be "interesting" and express their unique points of view.
It's not just asking great questions; it's being able to engage in a conversation and develop the relationship further.
- Selina Lo
🎥Watch here if Selina’s video does not play above.
How to do this?
As Selina advised, research the company, your CEO client, your client's key clients, their industry, the opportunity you want to pursue and the ecosystem around it.
If you manage a big client, chances are they have publicly available annual reports. You will learn a lot by reading the annual reports.
You can also listen to past and current stockholders' meetings.
Amazon's Jeff Bezos letter to stakeholders is one of my favourites.
letter to stockholders
Summary of Financial Statements and Notes
Sales Navigator have rich features that will help you learn and know more about your client.
Leverage your existing clients and network to get a warm introduction to your CEO client and find the most efficient relationship pathways. You can create "Account Maps" and identify your first and second connections connected to your client.
Find the Right Time to Reach Out. Find effective engagement strategies through the right buyer intention. You can find the "Change Agents" and "Trigger Events" of your Key Clients by using keywords with the "Advanced Filter" features. For example, if you set up transformation, IoT or AI as a keyword, you will get notified when your client mentions the keyword.
Use Updated and Recent Activities and Information. The "Leads Page" highlights recent activities, company updates and connections. It will help you personalise and align your message.
4/ Prepare a Pre-Meeting Plan.
When getting ready for a meeting, there are seven key factors to keep in mind.
End in Mind - What do you want the client to say, do, and decide at the end of the meeting? How will you gain agreement to the End in Mind before or after the beginning of the meeting?
Client's Key Belief - What will the client likely need to believe, intellectually and emotionally, to decide on the end in mind comfortably?
Action - What proposed action will you provide to address the fundamental beliefs?
Questions - What would you most like to know from the client? How will you ask? What questions will the client likely ask? How will you respond?
What to watch out for - Are there any potential roadblocks that could arise during the meeting? How will you handle them?
Next Steps - What needs to happen after the meeting for it to be considered successful?
Create a concise agenda that covers all of the above points. An agenda will guide you during the meeting and help keep you on track. Send it to your CEO client beforehand so they know what to expect and can prepare accordingly.
Following these strategies will not only help increase your chances of having a successful meeting with a C-level executive or decision-maker but also change your mindset and have a more enjoyable experience.
The template and account plan will help drive your sales process and enable you to prepare well.
Let me know how you go. I would love to hear from you!💜
Have a great week ahead!