If he is a senior executive, or “C” level, he is responsible for the direction, strategy, planning and financial results (profitability) of the company. Fortunately you have done your basic research (making money, growing, or losing money, cutting budgets) and if you are really smart you will have been to the company website and had a look at the Press Release on their latest annual or quarterly results. This takes 3 or 4 minutes, it is the minimum level of preparation you should do before meeting with any executive in any new company.
Start by congratulating him on the latest results (if they are good), if you have an engagement with his company, summarize what you do for them. Try to take guidance from his behaviour what his tolerance for a social discussion is, you should not assume he wants to talk about the weekend sports game for more than two minutes. A word of warning, if you are a new sales professional you are going to struggle to maintain a relationship with a CEO, or other “C” level executive by talking to him about business. You almost certainly will come across as talking above your pay grade. I would recommend that you have a High Level Value Proposition ready (sometimes called an Elevator Pitch) and ask for a referral to the appropriate line executive to follow up with.
The key is to keep the interaction short, do not challenge his attention span, and remain focused on his interests, and your objective from the conversation is to be referred to a middle ranking executive.
So what is an Elevator Pitch? An Elevator pitch is an analogy which suggests you are in an elevator in the head office building of the company of the company you are trying to do business with and the CEO gets into the elevator and you have one minute to communicate with him before the doors open and he is gone. What do you say to him?
The Elevator Pitch is the highest level of a Value Proposition that addresses the interests, and responsibility of a CEO and how he thinks about major procurements. We know already that a CEO is responsible for issues like Strategy & Direction which very few products affect (services like Business Consulting can directly target CEO’s responsibilities) but he is also responsible for delivering profitability. So we are definitely going to mention the Value of cost reduction that arises from the feature that our servers use less electricity. Is this enough? Probably not, research has shown that senior executives apply two tests to any major procurement:
- Does this do the job?
- Is this a company we should be doing business with?
The Elevator Pitch should address both issues. So the structure is:-
“ Hi, my name is …….. ……..”
“ I work for …………… The leading vendor of ………. In the world / US / Europe /”
“I am talking to your company about reducing your costs by $250,000 per annum”
No mention here of new generation of chips or motherboards, just who you are; how what you are trying to sell to his company will reduce his costs and increase his profitability; and that you work for a company that is reputable. Even when I was working for a start up company that had only grown to 15 employees, I always introduced the company with the statement “We are xxxx’s Partner of the Year”.
There is a hierarchy of statements regarding company market position starting with “The Leading” followed by “A Leading”, followed by “the Fastest Growing” or “Technology Leading”. You should follow the positioning in your company’s collateral or website.
The Elevator Pitch can be longer, but not more than twice as long as the example. A warning, asking for something in an elevator may annoy the CEO. So make the statement an introduction, extend your hand for a handshake, and decide based on his response what your second statement should be. If it is coolly received follow the age old adage “the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is stop digging” in other words stop talking and respect his desire not to communicate. If he does respond then the option I would usually go for is to offer to write to him and update him on what your activities with his company have been and to more fully introduce yourself. The letter, or email not the handshake in the elevator will generate the referral if you are not already talking to the right executive. The CEO will, if you execute the Elevator Pitch and the follow up letter or email well, refer you to the responsible Middle Manager, he will not take your meeting or sign your PO or become your golf buddy unless you really are a natural or your Elevator Pitch is about one of the top one or two operational issues that he is worried about (called getting lucky).
So I think enough on this topic, in 31 years of selling I can count on the fingers of one hand when I have met a “C” level contact unexpectedly, so have an Elevator Pitch ready but do not expect miracles. The main value of this exercise is to get you to think about how your value proposition needs to be tailored to the recipient and his role & responsibility. So if the “C’ level deals with Strategy & Direction and results, who actually runs the business?