“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This familiar adage comes from Norman Vincent Peale, and has been used to inspire and motivate people around the world. Why, then, do salespeople seem to shoot for the clouds and land among the trees? Why are so many calls made and emails sent that don’t even attempt to connect with the absolute highest decision maker? Cold calling the CEO is difficult, but not impossible – if you know how to structure your pitch and how to get past gatekeepers.
At Abstrakt we’ve scheduled more than 100,000 B2B sales meetings in the last 8 years, so we have unique insight and hundreds of thousands of hours put into mastering this skill. I’ve seen it in almost every new rep: fear of the owner, fear of the gatekeeper, fear of the 2nd gatekeeper (the dreaded executive assistant), and reluctance to even approach the challenge.
Is it easier to get a mid-level manager on the phone? Absolutely. A 2012 Harvard Business Review article reported a survey finding that ‘more than 90% of C-level executives said they ‘never’ respond to cold calls or e-mail blasts.’”
Is it more productive? Definitely not. During an earnings call on February 24th, 2016, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff credited their success to their ability to target the CEO. “When I look at the largest transactions… every transaction was done with the CEO,” Benioff said. “I think it’s really unusual, and that’s why we’re really selling more enterprise software than Oracle or SAP.”
According to Anthony Parinello in the book “Selling to Vito,” targeting the CEO/President/Owner will result in:
* A shorter sales cycle.
* Larger deal sizes.
* More add-on business.
But I assume you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t already know you should be reaching higher. So, with more decision makers guarding their time and companies adding more layers of protection to keep them insulated from pesky salespeople, how do we get a conversation, and keep a conversation going with the top decision maker?
Start at the Top
CEO’s will occasionally push you down, but mid-level managers will rarely connect you up. If you don’t start at the top it’s a difficult climb to get there that risks relationships you build along the way.
Forget the Features
Features are great for an operations person, but the higher you climb the more your conversation should be tied to the benefits to their organization.
Understand their Priorities
A CEO’s performance is tied to driving revenue, improving margins, and increasing the bottom line. They will spend their time in conversations that will help them achieve these objectives.
Level with Them
Yes, this can mean to be straightforward. More importantly in this context, however, it means to make sure that you’re perceived as an equal. People naturally like to have
conversations with people they perceive as having similar characteristics, challenges, and experiences to them.
According to a white paper published by IDC, “75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level/vice president (VP) executives surveyed use social media to make purchasing decisions.” If 90% of executives are ignoring your cold efforts, warm them up by sharing relevant information and engaging their content and industry on LinkedIn and other social platforms.
A blog post from LinkedIn selling provides the following statistics:
- 92% of buyers engage if the professional is a known industry thought leader.
- 88% of buyers accept connections through someone in their existing professional network.
- 86% of buyers will listen if sales professionals provide insights about their business.
- 46% of buyers will engage in the professionals has a complete LinkedIn profile.
Don’t Burn Bridges
The funny thing about CEOs is, they tend to hang around other CEOs. This means that when you get a little overzealous in one of your conversations, you run the risk of hurting your reputation with multiple other potential partners. Be confident in your message and confident in the value you bring, but also respectful of their timelines and their priorities.
Be Pleasantly Persistent
Depending on the product you sell, you may already know that sales can largely be a timing game. If the time isn’t right now, gain agreement to follow-up down the road at a time that makes sense and never miss a follow-up.
They don’t want you calling and bugging talking to their executive assistant every day while they’re in meetings any more than you want to do it. It will save both parties time to agree to a follow-up and stick to it.
Add value in every interaction! Commit to never touch a base again (unless you’re in a softball league).
These are all strategies we’ve used to great effect – are there any that I missed? Have you experienced success using similar tactics?
Watch the webinar with Gabe Larsen and Jason McElhone from MarketSource to learn more cold-calling techniques that are guaranteed to help you win.