Persuading CEOs to Buy

Wednesday, January 22, 2014, Vol. 129, No. 14

CEO-level sales calls are to salespeople like marathons are to runners. Neither is for the faint of heart, but with risk comes reward.

Starting at the top certainly has its benefits, as CEOs are the ultimate decision-makers. But you’ve got to be sure what you’re selling fulfills a need likely on a CEO’s radar versus a product someone down the line would normally handle. These are not prospects with which you can afford to burn a bridge, and wasting their time is a fast path to doing so.

There are a handful of tried and true strategies for reaching a CEO. Many opt to climb the corporate ladder, by making first contact at a lower level and selling their way up. While first contact may be more easily achieved using this method, the path upward can be a long one. Others choose to network through a mutual connection to be introduced to a CEO. You might also try attending events you believe the CEO will attend in the hopes of an “accidental” meeting. And lastly, you can simply cold call.

More salespeople have luck reaching CEOs very early or late in the day. When you do reach him, avoid the traditional question-based sales approach, momentarily, and focus on quickly piquing his curiosity in order to earn a meeting.

If you’re unable to reach the CEO directly, take a straightforward approach with his assistant by simply telling your story. Offer to send a short email explaining why you’re calling and why it’s important you speak with the CEO. If an executive assistant sees value in what you’re offering, your message will likely reach the boss’s hands.

Once you finally land the coveted CEO meeting, it’s time to get your game face on. This isn’t your average sales pitch.

What CEOs crave most is to have interesting conversations with smart people who can help them better understand the problems they face and how to solve them. What they dread most – formal, rehearsed sales presentations focused more on demonstrating knowledge than actually conversing.

To have credibility with a CEO, you must relate as a peer versus a vendor, jointly solving problems and talking on their level.

Identify through questioning the challenges the CEO faces and share real examples, with limited detail, of how you’ve helped other CEOs overcome those same challenges.

Address risks the CEO will face in choosing to work with you. Also focus on the future, as they may be one of the only people within an organization with the time to do so.

Wrap up by recapping next steps for generating results within their organization vs. next steps in selling your product/service. Assume most will make quick decisions, so don’t be hesitant to ask what that decision is.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (