Selling to the C-Suite
Q: Why did you write a book on selling to executives?
A: There is much in the literature about selling to executives, written by salespeople from an anecdotal perspective. Selling to the C-Suite highlights the results of research with CXO-level executives where they were asked about their relationships with professional salespeople. We believe this book depicts the relationship between salespeople and senior client executives from the executive’s perspective and because of that makes a significant contribution to the sales profession.
Q: There seems to be quite a number of books on the market already about how to sell. What makes this book different?
A: Most – if not all – of the books on the market today were written by salespeople from an anecdotal perspective. The content is mainly about how the salesperson was able to sell effectively in a particular environment. To our knowledge, none of the books currently available on this topic were developed mainly from the executive’s perspective. This book is based on a number of research projects, conducted by the authors over an extended period of time, where CXO-level executives were asked about their relationships with salespeople. One of the research projects was in the US, while the other was in Asia Pacific.
Q: When conducting research for your book, what were some of the questions you asked CXO-level executives about their relationships with professional salespeople?
A: Some of the specific questions posed to those executives included the following:
· When and why do senior executives get involved in the decision-making process for major purchases?
· What is the most effective method for salespeople to use to gain access to executives?
· How do executives screen or test salespeople?
· What has to happen in meetings with salespeople for the executive to feel it was effective?
· How do salespeople establish trust and credibility with executives, thereby gaining return access?
Q: What surprised you the most about the responses to the research questions you posed to senior executives about their relationships with professional salespeople?
A: A number of things – first, that executives said they were not opposed to receiving sales pitches or presentations – as long as salespeople listened and understood their major concerns and business issues before proposing a solution. From the executive’s perspective, salespeople often came to their office with a solution looking for a problem and that was a significant turn-off for the executives.
Second, that executives said they wanted a single point of contact to help them resolve problems that arose during the implementation of a solution. Executives understand that complex solutions may often involve multiple business partners, but executives wanted a single point of contact and accountability.
Third, it was interesting how executives still value responsiveness and value that characteristic.
Fourth, their description of when they get involved in the buying process for major purchases was interesting and insightful. It also indicated to us that they want to meet with salespeople at specific times in the buying process and may also avoid meetings with salespeople at other times in that process.
Q: From an anecdotal perspective, what response did you receive about some of those issues that most impressed you?
A: When we did the initial interviews with CXO-level executives, we practiced our interviewing techniques using executives from one of our sponsors (Hewlett Packard). We were sitting in the CIO’s conference room after the interview and I asked him: Why would an executive at your level ever agree to meet with a professional salesperson. And I’ll never forget his answer! He said to me: “Steve, I like to meet with professional salespeople because often they can offer me solutions to my problems that even people within my own organization can’t solve. And that’s because they have encountered and solved those problems in other organizations – and I want the benefit of their experience.”
That clearly showed me the value of being a professional salesperson!
Q: In your book you focus on determining the “relevant executive.” What does that term mean?
A: In the book, we talk about the need to get access to the relevant executive for the sales opportunity. This executive is often overlooked – even by the most experienced salespeople.
We make the point in the book that you may not always need to get to the CEO of the client organization to sell your solutions. In fact, in many cases, salespeople are better served by not getting to that level to try to close deals involving their solutions. You need to find the executive with the highest rank and greatest influence for the specific sales opportunity. We identify that executive as the relevant executive – and we also point out that the relevant executive could also be defined as the executive who stands to gain the most or lose the most as a result of the application or project associated with the sales opportunity. If you can align with that executive you will find that s/he will be able to exert an element of informal power as it relates to the buying decision.
Q: How would you suggest proposing a new idea such as implementing incentives as part of a wellness program or adding a voluntary benefits program to an executive?
A: When considering approaching an executive within any organization, the first question to consider is who is the relevant executive to approach. ’Which executive within your organization or in the client organization stands to either gain the most or lose the most, as a result of the new idea that you’re proposing? That executive is probably the relevant executive for your sales opportunity – and you should get passionate about approaching that executive. Remember – executives told us that the best way to gain access to them is by having someone in their own organization – perhaps even a gatekeeper – support (or sponsor) your approach to the executive. I believe that the gatekeeper should be treated as a resource – and I take that even one step further – treat the gatekeeper as if s/he was the executive herself or himself! . Before making that critical first phone call, however, make certain that you’ve done your homework and have developed an understanding of the client’s industry, the client’s company, as well as the client executive. In addition, as you make your initial approach to the executive, be ready to answer the question of how you can deliver some element of value to the client – even if you reach the executive’s assistant. Plan your phone call in advance so that you can organize your thoughts and have a clear message that resonates with the executive.
Q: What additional sales experience did the authors have in writing this book?
A: Nic Read and Steve Bistritz have more than 60 years of practical sales, sales management and sales training experience between them. Both have been involved with sales training initiatives which were implemented on a worldwide basis and focused on business-to-business sales in companies ranging from start-ups to global leaders.
As examples, Steve was the project leader on a sales training initiative with a major Fortune 100 company delivered to more than 35,000 salespeople worldwide over a three-year period. Nic has been project leader for sales performance improvement programs around the world for deals that range from $50K to quarter billion dollar negotiations with clients such as Celestica, Hewlett Packard and Alcatel.
Q: What were some of the initial reviews of the book been like?
A: The book has received overwhelming praise from numerous sales leaders and sales executives on a global scale. Many initial reviewers have commented on the value of the “street-level” ideas and models delivered throughout the book that give it a sense of relevancy and applicability in the salesperson’s fast-paced environment of the 21st century. In addition, many sales leaders also liked the empirical background of the research conducted with CXO-level executives where those executives were asked about their relationships with professional salespeople.
Q: Now that the book has been out there for awhile, what has been the biggest surprise for you?
A: The biggest surprise for me has been the acceptance of the book in the marketplace! Even after we’ve sold nearly 20,000 copies, I continue to hear from both clients and salespeople that they have received significant value from the book – and that’s why we wrote it. For example, I was speaking with a client just yesterday and she told me that Selling to the C-Suite was like the sales bible for her company. It has become required reading for every salesperson within the organization – and that’s pretty powerful!
Q: Why should people attend your session at the 5th Annual Employer Healthcare & Benefits Congress this November in Las Vegas?
A: I have worked with numerous companies in the healthcare industry – helping their business professionals and salespeople create, maintain and leverage relationships with senior executives within their business and in their client organizations. My approach is simple, but effective: Make certain you are dealing with the right executive, delivering the right message, at the right time. My book, Selling to the C-Suite, as well as my one-day workshop, focuses on helping professional salespeople identify and align with the relevant executive for the sales opportunity and then becoming the trusted advisor of that executive. As I say in my workshop, those approaches sound like common sense – we help salespeople put them into common practice. My session at the Conference will outline some of the ways that you can create and develop those critical relationships with C-level executives.
Dr. Steve Bistritz is President and Founder of SellXL.com, a global sales training and consulting company based in Atlanta. In that role, he has developed several exciting sales methodologies that have been delivered to thousands of professional salespeople around the world, including Selling at the Executive Level (SellXL) and Sales Opportunity Snapshot (SOS).
Prior to forming his own company, Steve spent eight years as Vice President of Product Development for OnTarget, where he led the development of world-class sales training programs. He also spent nearly 28 years with IBM in sales, sales management and training management positions.
His articles on managing and winning major sales opportunities, selling to executives and other sales and marketing related issues have appeared in numerous publications including Velocity – the Quarterly Journal of the Strategic Account Management Association, Selling Power magazine, the Journal of Selling and Major Account Management, BtoB Magazine and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine.
He has co-authored a best-selling sales book called Selling to the C-Suite which was published by McGraw-Hill in 2010 and enthusiastically endorsed by Neil Rackham.
Steve received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master of Science from Stevens Institute of Technology. In 1995, he received a doctorate in Human Resource Development from Vanderbilt University. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Claire, three grown children and five grandchildren.