How to Sell to C-Level Executives

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Picture the scene: you’re working on a proposal for a prospect that you desperately want to win. Your solution meets the potential client’s needs, and you’ve stolen a march on your competitors. But in the end, the deal is scuppered over an objection from the head honchos in the C-suite.

Naturally, you ask yourself, ‘what went wrong?’.

A C-suite executive’s requirements are often very different from any of the other decision-makers within a company, which means, as a salesperson, you must customize your message accordingly.

Executives are more focused on achieving the business’s long-term goals rather than getting involved in the general day-to-day. When selling to the executives of a C-suite, your solution must address ongoing, long-term objectives.

In this blog, we’re going to look closely at what skills are required to sell your solution to the top dogs in a business.

The Basics

Selling to the C-suite is a whole new ball game to anything most salespeople are used to. You need to be succinct, mindful of their time, and able to come up with a way to distinguish yourself from the countless other salespeople vying for their attention.

Any salesperson worth their salt knows the worth of bringing together a sales strategy for a prospect. After all, chipping away at them without creating a value-driven narrative is only ever likely to fail. It is not what we use but how we use it. The example below couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of that fact:

How to Sell to C-Level Executives

The advantage of pitching straight to the C-level over lower levels is that you’re getting straight to the crux of the matter without having your message distorted as it moves through the chain of command.

If you can get to the C-level and pitch the right tone, you’ll close sales much faster; no doubt about it. This is because the ultimate decision-makers are hearing the facts straight from the source.

Learning How People Make Decisions

According to Harvard Business Review research, all C-level execs will fall into one of five decision-making styles. It’s your job to categorize the executive you’re selling to into one of these categories and then customize your message and sales strategy accordingly.

These decision-making styles are:

  • Charismatic – Charismatic decision-makers are typically bubbly extroverts. These kinds of folk are always on the lookout for the next big thing and are willing to hear people out if their solution can help them bring their ideas into reality.
  • Thinkers– Thinkers are more cautious and precise in their approach. These types are typically vigilant, rational, and methodical. Thinkers are always looking for the process behind the solution.
  • Skeptics – Sceptical decision-makers are suspicious of any opportunity that doesn’t align with their view of the world. Skeptics are assertive and require credible sources to make decisions.
  • Followers – Followers are all too aware of the risk that their decisions might bring. They are typically very disciplined in their approach and prefer solutions that align with previous experience.
  • Controllers – Controllers tend to be micromanagers and perfectionists, driven by their fear of failure. They require a good grasp of ownership of an idea before they are comfortable with proceeding.

How to Figure Out an Executive’s Decision-Making Style

To successfully prepare yourself for a C-level executive sales presentation, you must first understand what makes that person tick. The crucial aspect here is to decipher their decision-making style when developing your strategy.

Remember, executives will be looking at the consequences and company-wide impacts of saying yes to you, so you need to ask questions, such as:

  • How much risk will they take?
  • Will they seek counsel from others? If so, how much?
  • How much responsibility is attached to the decisions they’re making?

Obviously, you can’t ask them these questions. Instead, you need to use the resources you have available to you, such as press releases, financial reports, company literature, and any published works they may have written.

Reach out to any mutual connections that may have had dealings with this person before; this is an excellent opportunity to determine whether the exec has been in charge of making critical decisions in the past.

Tailoring Your Message

According to research, 80% of sales presentations are tailored towards the Sceptic and Controller decision-makers. This really nails home how important it really is to tailor your message to the style of the executive you’re pitching to.

It tells us that salespeople will often deliver a pitch in the way they, in turn, would like to receive it. The problem with doing this is that the person sat across from you may not respond to what you would like to hear. Although 80% of pitches are driven towards these types, they actually only represent around 30% of all execs.

Develop a Compelling Call-to-Action

In any circumstance, it’s easy to misinterpret the level of commitment a buyer has when you’re looking to close a deal. This is especially so when it comes to executives – who are particularly adept at rolling out a poker face when they need to.

To side-step this, put together a clear call to action, which requires the executive to take a specific step to move the opportunity to the next phase. This way, if they wish to move forward, they will take the time to ensure this step is completed.

On the flip side, if this step isn’t finalized within the desired time frame, you know that your prospect perhaps needs a little further nurturing along the sales funnel.

Additionally, if you find yourself greeted with complete radio silence, then you can give yourself a time frame before moving to the next opportunity.

Rise to the Position of CVO (Chief Value Officer)

When it comes to selling to C-level execs, time is literally money. There’s a good chance you’ll be turfed out of the room if you aren’t able to get to the point, and fast. Remember, you need to be the Chief Value Officer in that room – focusing on time and money.

You may only have a finite window in front of these people, so you need to be both persuasive and eloquent. There’s virtually no prospect in the world that would complain about a meeting running shorter than expected. Still, within this setting, you need to touch upon how your solution can deliver value and solve any issues that they are currently facing.


The most crucial part of selling to C-level executives is ensuring that your sales communication is pitched to make the most of their decision-making style. The chances of winning the deal increase when you place the executive into one of the five decision making styles. Tailor your message and develop a clear call to action to assess how your audience committed to closing the deal.

Ben Harper is a sales expert and the CEO & Founder of

How to Sell to C-Level Executives

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