Sell with a CEO’s Perspective

Gaining consensus is the new closing, but often the reality is that the CEO or business owner has the last word before signing a contract. Ideally, you have built your business case for change from the bottom up, meaning you have met with stakeholders in all kinds of functions and layers of the organization. Most likely, you will bring your change champion to the CEO meeting. So how do you plan for this meeting? How do you start? What are helpful tips and hints you wish you had before entering the board room?

In his book “Think Like A CEO”, Byron Morrison highlights how different a meeting with a CEO or business owner is from meeting with middle management stakeholders. CEOs think differently; hence to seal the deal, you need to sell with the CEOs’ perspective.

As you prepare, it makes sense first to understand what type of CEO you will meet. Morrison distinguishes two types: “Overwhelmed” CEOs and “Evolved” CEOs.

Overwhelmed CEOsEvolved CEOs
Are in permanent reactive modePractices proactive leadership
Are firefighters rather than the chief of the firefightersAre the chief of the firefighters
Give in to emotional, shortsighted, tactical thinkingDrive more on long-term, strategic thinking
Responding, usually ineffectually, to business problems and negative situations.Strong communicators, being proactive, showing adaptability, perseverance and thoughtful analysis.
The main goal is to keep their heads above waterHave a well-developed vision of the future, and
Suffer, together with their management team suffer, due to a lack of visionTheir immediate decisions support that long-range vision.

When you are dealing with an Overwhelmed CEO, there is a risk that the team has not briefed this important stakeholder on all the details of Why Change, Change to What and Change to Who? In these cases, the CEO can still be in the Why Change? Phase as a strong Hidden Competitor, while the rest of the Buying Room has moved forward to Commit to Change and is now hoping the CEO would go with their recommendation. This situation is, of course, more challenging than dealing with an Evolved CEO. Your best bet is to have only Why Change and Change to What? conversations.

Evolved CEOs come into your meeting differently. They do not feel the pressure that they need to know everything. Or to have a solution to every challenge. Hence they trust their senior management team more to come up with ideas backed up by solid analysis and practical recommendations. That doesn’t mean they cannot be a Hidden Competitor.

However, dealing with either type of CEO, there are certain basics to be aware of and can help you with your preparation:

CEOs ThoughtsYour Actions
Time is money: Top executives have tremendous demands on their time and are necessarily very protective of that time. Get to the point. Answer the question of what the meeting is about and why you are here.
A sharp focus on producing business results and avoiding anything that does not have any connection with thatIf your focus is driving better business results like theirs, then you will have their attention.
Buying Room: CEOs often wonder how much their team have been involved in your business case. Summarize with who you have met , the progress made and what consensus is so far.
What is the business case, and what is the ROI?Don’t even think about pitching your products, services, or solutions. This is about you being seen as someone who can help them to move their business forward and improve profits in a big way. You got to show your business acumen.
Can you be trusted? This is probably the biggest selling point at CEO meetings. Trust is based on what value you bring to the meeting. YYou come with advice, based on your ideas, your opinion, your stories that are all about business value the company currently is missing out on. Trust is not gained on the golf course, but at the boardroom table.

Above all, CEOs appreciate hearing that your proposal for change has been a team effort. You are not the hero, but the buying room is. There is consensus to move forward. One last thing to do is communicate when you believe the return on investment can be achieved. Again, this forecast is based on what you have agreed with the change champion and the other stakeholders. It should be operationally feasible and realistically time-bound. Also in Commit to Change, you sell with the CEO’s perspective.

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