dos and donts

Insider Secrets for Selling to the C-Suite

by Travis Kassay

One of the biggest challenges faced by scale-up companies is how to get a foot in the door with high powered executives. If you sell to large enterprises, the C-suite is either the direct buyer of your solution or significantly influences the decision. Mining existing relationships can only get you so far – what do you do after your network is exhausted?

A panel session addressed this topic at Insight Onsite’s Scaling2020 Summit for the sales and marketing leaders in Insight’s portfolio companies. The panel comprised of an enterprise CRO, CMO and CIO who shared their thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of marketing to executives at their level. Some of their feedback may help your team be more effective in creating new leads and building enterprise awareness.

In summary: our panelists noted that traditional sales tactics such as phone calls, webinars, trade-shows and emails are no longer impactful. C-Suite executives are bombarded with marketing materials; companies need to cut through the noise with targeted messaging that addresses their key challenges, and the issues they’re tackling.

As a scale-up company, how do you stand out in a sea of marketing communications?

  1. Make sure that you know the issues that they’re facing. You should understand this from an industry perspective (e.g., new regulations, competitive dynamics, business models), their company perspective (e.g., differentiation, stock price and performance, stated strategy, announced initiatives) and, more specifically their role within the company (e.g., CTO, CISO, CDO, CMO etc.). Much of this can be discovered via thorough research and access to tools like D&B Hoovers, but you can also leverage local intelligence through your contacts elsewhere in the organization.
  2. Tailor your message to show how your product can address their specific issues. “How can you help me solve my problems?” This requires a blend of account & persona-based marketing. Drafting a personalized email might take a little longer than your standard email, but the likelihood that they’ll read and respond to it goes up considerably.
  3. Get to the point quickly. You have just a few sentences to capture their attention and get them to make a decision on whether to meet with you or pass you on to the right decision-maker in their organization. Be succinct. Don’t waste the first paragraph writing about their college football team or the charity that they’re engaged in – focus on the problem and how you’ll help solve it.

The panel had strong opinions and went into detail on what does and doesn’t work. Some of their insights may make you re-think your approach. Note that this is specific to Enterprise level executives. Many of the things that don’t work for Enterprise work extremely well for small and medium businesses, so please consider your specific situation.

What Doesn’t Work:

Phone calls – Execs never answer their office phone. If for some reason something does make it through to the gatekeeper, it never ends up on the executive’s desk and either gets re-routed to someone in the organization or ignored.

Takeaway: Don’t have your ISRs or BDRs cold-calling in to C-level executives. It’s a waste of your resources.

Webinars – Executives rarely attend and get engaged unless one of their peers or a trusted advisor recommends it.

Takeaway: Use webinars to build awareness within the organization so that you have influencers who can impact the C-Suite’s decision. Target webinars to level n minus 1 or n minus 2.

Trade Show booths – CROs, CMOs, CIOs rarely go to the booths at trade shows. They go to trade shows to keynote or speak on panels. When they go to trade shows at all, they prefer to engage their peers or higher. In the case of CIOs, there is an intellectual curiosity to understand the new technologies so they will often stop by the entrepreneur section of the trade show booths.

Takeaway: Use trade shows to build awareness and forge relationships with influencers and people who will advocate that their organization includes you in their consideration set.

VIP Events – There are two types of events – prospect and customer/vendor.

  • In the case of prospect events, the glitz and glamour of the event isn’t that appealing to the execs; but they will attend if it means that their team members get to come and get a taste of a VIP experience. This rarely impacts their decision. Takeaway: Spend your money wisely on these high cost events; you can likely reach their team members through lower cost means.
  • Customer and Vendor events are different. In these situations, based on the scope of the customer relationship, the execs will be active participants. Takeaway: These are high impact events and can help deepen the relationship.

Emails – Interestingly each of the execs said they look at most emails that make it through, so this medium presents an opportunity for engagement.

Takeaway: As mentioned above, you have a small window to make an impression – cover the value add and the problem you address quickly and succinctly.

Swag – Always gets regifted or thrown in the trash, and doesn’t impact decisions.

Takeaway: Don’t waste your money sending gifts to C-level executives. Save the swag for people who report to the C-level exec.

Personalized gifting – There is a growing trend in the market to research the individual and gift them something more personal (e.g., a plaque of their college) in order to gain access. The execs felt that this was potentially creepy and cautioned against it.

Takeaway: The risk of actively turning an exec off, or creating a bad impression is too high. Save your money.

What Does Work:

Trusted network introductions – Leverage your existing clients and board of directors for referrals into the prospect. If there are sales people who have established themselves as trusted advisors from previous sales engagements, they can often get through to the executives.

Takeaway: Be systematic about documenting and managing the network of your board, and the people in your organization.

Be contextual – Listen and add value with every engagement. “Don’t be the sales rep who doesn’t let me get off the phone until I commit to a meeting. In many cases, I want to steer you to someone in my organization that would be interested in the solution you’re offering – take that offer”. Remember to always think through how you can help me solve my problems.

Takeaway: Ask the exec who the right person is to speak to. Get an intro from them, and follow up.

Videos – Execs do not have the time to watch videos sent in an email. Videos work well when they’re easy to access as part of the research an executive is doing to look for solutions to their problems. They will watch videos on company websites if the videos help them better understand your product’s value.

Takeaway: Videos should be prominent as a way of supplementing a prospect’s research. Make them short and highly impactful. Sales videos in an email don’t work, infographics and data do.

LinkedIn – LinkedIn-mail used to work well because it was unique and stood out from the crowd. It’s now become overwhelming. A C-level will not accept a LinkedIn request from a sales rep.

Takeaway: Sponsor ads in the executives feed, but don’t encourage reps to waste time connecting via In-mail. They should connect with direct reports.

Emphasize Value – The most important thing is value, not price. C-Suite execs don’t get involved in the negotiation process – they leave that up to their procurement teams. As the CRO-panelist said “I am much more focused on driving value than on getting a pound of flesh. If I see value in the solution, I may even give them some pointers on how to engage with my procurement team.”

Takeaway: Sales teams and products that solve real problems and put the customer’s needs first will always find an audience. 

Smart brevity: Be succinct. Listen. Leverage trusted relationships to get in the door. Be respectful of the person’s time. Know their business and the problem you help them solve. Target your message to the right decision-maker and the right level.

If you can do this, you can cut through the noise and reach key decision makers.
 

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Travis Kassay

Senior Vice President, Sales COE

Travis joined Insight in 2019 as an SVP on the Insight Onsite team. Travis partners with portfolio company CEOs and their leadership teams to build scalable and effective go-to-market strategies. Leveraging his more than 20 years of experience in sales, inside sales, and sales operations, Travis…

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