Many salespeople have heard this advice before about communication style: you must speak like the person you’re talking to in order to make a lasting impact. If you’re talking to a C-level executive who is responsible for finance, then it will be a much different conversation than when you’re talking to an executive who is responsible for marketing, operations, risk or manufacturing. You get the picture. And, to take that to another level, you would also speak differently to those who work for these executives.
Typically, people who report to the executives are given clear goals and priorities for the next 12 to 24 months. They need to get into the weeds to understand details on technology, process, manpower or whatever is needed to accomplish those goals. No doubt, you’ve all seen the detailed documents and diagrams that attempt to show your potential customer how you can help them attain their business goals and priorities.
But, C-level executives have a longer-term view − typically 3 to 5 years. Their need for information is different than those who work for them. They want to ensure they’re profitable, have happy clients, will minimize risk, and stay viable and competitive.
That’s a tall order at a time when new ways of doing things can rapidly and totally disrupt and change an entire marketplace. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is a good example. How will Amazon change the course of how we buy groceries? How has Uber changed the way we get from one place to another? Technology is moving fast, and as salespeople, we have to understand industry changes and the consequences for the customers we serve.
Executives want to hear new ideas. They hope the people who call on them not only understand their company, but also their competitors and the trends in their industry and others that are similar.
What C-level executives don’t want is someone coming to talk to them about products and services. They have people working for them who care about that level of detail. So, why do salespeople – when they finally get the opportunity to talk to executives – show up and throw up data that executives could care less about?
The good news is this: executives typically don’t use jargon and prefer to communicate in laymen’s terms. The simpler, the better. They also don’t want to sit through a presentation or read a proposal. They want to hear a new idea or become enlightened about something they have not thought about. Anything that provokes them to think differently is a good thing.
Your communication style with an executive should be short, concise and relevant. Remember, C-level executives get called on by everyone and they are crazy busy. You have to capture their attention quickly – and hold it.
I have seen salespeople spend days preparing an email to send to an executive to provoke them to book a meeting with them. If you go this route, then the email needs to be short (no more than 7 lines, 3 bullets, and fit on a phone screen) and powerful enough for the executive to take the meeting. The subject line should pack a punch and include a business benefit to ensure the executive doesn’t immediately delete it. And, when you do get the meeting, you have to know their business better than they do (so to speak). You have to be able to have a natural conversation without relying on PowerPoint.
So, why do so many salespeople, when they finally get in front of a C-level executive, show up with a PowerPoint? Who knows, but I keep hearing from those sales people that, afterward, they got pushed down in the organization or they never heard from that executive again. When will sales people learn that communication style matters? As always − know our audience and provide value.