Pitching to C-Level: Do you know the secret to selling to executives?

4 Aug, 2017Edward Appleby

This article was originally written and published by Speak First

Finding the right pitch

Pitching to CEOs, CFOs and COOs can be daunting, because senior executives take no prisoners. Here are five powerful tips, tactics and techniques to help you maximize your success.

You’ve seen them on Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. Optimistically bidding for investment. They’ve practiced their pitch and got it word perfect. They know their numbers inside out. And they’ve prepared for the challenging questions that are bound to come. It all starts well. They’re looking good. Confidently presenting their business case.

Then it starts to fall apart. They make a claim they can’t substantiate. The Sharks/Dragons attack. A feeding frenzy ensues. You can smell the fear. And before you know it, someone in the audience is shaking their head and rolling their eyes in contempt. It’s all over.

That could never happen to you though. You’re experienced in selling. Knowledgeable about your product or service. And have swagger to spare.

But as we all know, pitching to the C-Level can be daunting, because senior executives take no prisoners. Here are five secrets to help you maximize your success.

1. Think conversation, not presentation

They’ve asked you to give a 20 minute presentation followed by 20 minutes of questions. So that’s what you do – right? No. Don’t even consider it. Research reveals that 88% of executive buyers want a conversation not a presentation. Start with some introductory remarks but aim to bring them into the pitch as soon as possible. Talk with them, not at them.

2. Get to the point and focus on the WIIFM

Most C-Level executives have a short attention span. Very, very short. Think nanoseconds. So don’t give lots of context – get straight to the point. If you haven’t engaged their interest within the first minute you probably never will.

The critical thing you need to do right from the start is demonstrate you can help them. They’ll be focused on ‘What’s In It For Me’ (WIIFM) and you need to focus obsessively on the WIIFM as well. Recite a dreary list of features and you’ll have them thinking ‘So what? Who cares?’

They don’t care about you, about your company, or about your product or service. It’s nothing personal. The reason they’re talking to you is because they have a problem they can’t solve on their own or an opportunity they’re looking to take and need help.

It’s all about benefits, benefits and benefits. Can you improve their bottom line? Can you give them a competitive edge? Can you make them more successful?

3. Know your stuff/provide evidence

To sell to the C-Level you need to be credible – and that means knowing your stuff. The moment they believe you have no idea what you’re talking about, you’re as good as dead to them. So prepare, prepare and then prepare some more if you want to be fire-proof and bullet-proof.

Most importantly, avoid ‘puffery’ – statements such as ‘We’re the leading vendor in this sector’. They don’t impress. Mostly they irritate. Substantiate any claims you make with evidence, case studies and proof points. ‘On average we reduce costs by around 17%’.

CFOs, CIOs and COOs in particular love metrics you’re able to back up.

4. Speak with conviction

Most executives respect strength and despise what they perceive to be weakness – so speak with certainty and conviction. Avoid ‘wimp talk’ such as ‘I think this is right for you’ or ‘hopefully you’ll find this useful’.

Have a strong, confident tone that gives the impression you know what you’re talking about. Any signs of nervousness on your part, such as ‘umming’ and ‘erring’, will give the typical CEO cause for concern – and can lead to them saying ‘no’.

5. Stand your ground

C-Level executives rarely take anything at face value. Their nature is to question and challenge. Expect them to interrupt you whenever they want – sometimes aggressively.

It’s not uncommon during a pitch for the COO to jump in and ask a pointed question during the personal introduction phase – before the pitch even begins!

Attacking doesn’t, of course, necessarily mean they disagree with you. Often it’s just a test. When you stand your ground under fire you enhance your credibility in their eyes.


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