Selling at the executive level represents a double-edged sword: On one hand, getting an audience with C-level prospects is a significant feat; but the opportunity is also viewed as a high-risk/high-reward proposition that intimidates many sales professionals. Selling to executive prospects may seem fundamentally different than selling to mid- and lower-level decision makers, but it really isn't (and shouldn't be) a dramatic departure if we regularly use good sales practices and professional selling skills. These tips will help you make the most of your opportunities with executive-level customers:

  1. Focus on the objective. Don't get preoccupied with the rank of your executive prospects; it isn't their primary focus, and it shouldn't be yours. Their key objective in meeting with you is to find out how you can benefit them and their organizations. Sharing this pragmatic view will keep you focused on the task at hand, understanding their needs to provide solutions that maximize your value contribution.
  1. Don't be intimidated. This is closely related to tip #1. The single biggest mistake in selling to C-level prospects is being overly deferential toward them. The negative impact is two-fold: First, when we are too accommodating or apologetic, it communicates a lack of confidence and credibility. This will undercut the customer's respect for us and all that we have to say. Second, when functioning in this mode, we are less likely to ask probing questions or challenge current practices, two things needed to uncover gaps and unrealized potential in order to develop a unique and superior solution.
  1. Engage and leverage the executive assistant. Don't make the mistake of viewing the C-level prospect's assistant as an adversary/gate keeper, or engage him/her in a manipulative, phony or pandering manner. Instead, engage executive assistants as the valuable allies and information sources that they are. First, ask your C-level customer for permission to reach out to his/her assistant. When engaging the executive assistant, do so with the primary objective of ensuring 1) you make the best use of the executive's time and 2) the information you provide to his/her boss is as spot-on as possible. This approach is honest, productive and appropriately recognizes the assistant's insight and vital role in your relationship with the customer.

When engaging C-level customers, it should be "business as usual" doing our research for key insights, exploring for customer needs, motivations and opportunities, and then engaging the prospect with a high-impact solution presentation. Staying focused and deploying best sales practices will ensure success for the customer (regardless of his/her title) and, as a result, our success in the sales role.