Selling to Key Executives: Start with Research

Selling Skills | Prospecting

How do you prepare for a meeting with a CXO or other important executive? A friend of mine who is a senior investment banker at a major Wall Street firm once told me, “I prepare for each meeting like it’s the Super Bowl.” My friend then explained the massive amount of time he and his research team put into preparing for each important meeting. No wonder he routinely meets with CEOs, CFOs, Boards of Directors, and major investors.

On the other hand, most salespeople meet with key executives infrequently. They may even treat such a meeting as another demo or discovery call. That’s a mistake. Meeting with a key executive can give you the inside track on a sales opportunity. It can also help you build a critical relationship with a significant account.

But key executives have high expectations and limited time. To have a productive conversation with a senior-level executive, you must focus on strategic issues, not just tactical issues (i.e., your product’s features). That’s because key executives operate at the strategic level. They have to look at issues from an organization-wide perspective.

To understand the strategic issues your key executive cares about, you have to start by doing research. You should do your deep-dive homework into the key executive's industry, company, and the people within that company. Note: For an overview on how to sell to key executives, read this.

Industry

How do you research an industry? Where do you start? Consider conducting a PEST Analysis. PEST stands for Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors that can impact an industry. It is a powerful analytical framework for understanding strategic issues influencing your key executive’s industry.

When investigating how the political arena impacts an industry, consider, for example, recent potential changes in governmental leadership, regulations, and tax policies. Any of these can alter a company’s business environment and influence its strategic priorities.

Next, consider the current and future economic conditions that impact the key executive’s business. These might include economic growth rates, interest rates, unemployment rates, and inflation.

Social changes can significantly impact a company, its products and services, and how it does business. Are there critical social changes impacting your key executive’s industry? Consider trends in demographics, social attitudes, cultural changes, and consumer attitudes.

Finally, emerging technological trends can have an enormous impact on an industry.

Company

Once you have a firm grasp of the trends in your key executive’s industry, narrow your focus and research their company. Your research should give you a solid understanding of the company’s products and services, customers, growth, earnings, recent news, organizational changes, and competitors. These topics will inform your conversation with the key executive and help you better define your value to their enterprise.

The good news is that there’s a tremendous amount of information available about most companies right on their websites. If the company you’re researching is public, you’re in luck. In the United States, public companies are required to file a 10-K, a comprehensive annual report about their financial performance. You can generally find a company’s 10-K on its website in the “Investor Relations” section. The “Management Discussion & Analysis” section of the 10-K can be particularly helpful. You should also read the company’s press releases to understand recent developments.

Another great source of information is to talk to your contacts at the company, including any customer coaches you may have. A customer coach is someone within the key executive’s organization who has a personal or professional vested interest in your success in the opportunity. Customer coaches are willing to share important information about the company, important initiatives, and key players. To learn about developing customer coaches, read this blog.

People

The final area to research is the people within the company, focusing on the key executive that you’re meeting. LinkedIn is an excellent research tool to learn more about the senior-level executive’s background and experience, who they are connected with and their interests.

In addition to the key executive, you should understand who the other players are and how they relate to each other. More importantly, what is their level of commitment towards you, your company, your solution? And how much influence do they have over important strategic initiatives or buying decisions? Here are four personas to consider:

  • Champion: Someone with high influence and who actively supports you, your company, or your solution.
  • Supporter: Someone who likes your solution but has limited influence over the buying decision.
  • Doubter: Someone who isn’t a supporter of your solution but also has limited influence, so is not too much of a threat.
  • Obstructionist: This person is the most dangerous – they have high levels of influence but don’t support your solution. They may support one of your competitors or prefer the status quo. Obstructionists may also negatively influence others.

Your customer coach can be an essential resource as you research the organizational dynamics of the company.

When you meet with a key executive, the stakes are high. By demonstrating that you have a deep understanding of the key executive’s industry, company, and people, you will differentiate yourself from other salespeople and demonstrate that you belong in the Super Bowl.

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.