Selling to the C-Suite Is a Must Read for Small Business Sales

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Every business owner or sales and marketing person knows that if you really want to sell something, you have to sell the person at the top.  And that’s usually anyone with a “Chief” as the first word of their title.  There are many books written on the topic, but Selling to the C-Suite: What Every Executive Wants You to Know About Successfully Selling to the Top by Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz claims to be the only one that features research-based advice on how to get to the CEO at the very moment when he or she is ready to listen and recommend you to the managers who will do the choosing.

The authors are experienced professional salespeople.   Nicholas A.C. Read is president of SalesLabs.  In 2005, he was awarded Winner of the Best Sales Trainer category in the International Business Awards.  Stephen J. Bistritz has more than 40 years of high-tech sales and sales management experience.  He’s currently president of his own sales training and consulting firm in Atlanta.

This book popped up in an search as something I might like. Amazon was right.  I snapped this puppy up in about two clicks and I am so glad I did.  This book should be at the top of your must-read list.

Books on timing your sales pitch have been popular lately.  I found a lot of advice in this book matched the advice offered in SHiFT. I would recommend using what you learn in SHiFT and putting it to use with what you get from Selling to the C-Suite.

What’s Inside Selling to the C-Suite

  1. Information based on research.  The authors conducted in-depth-interviews with C-level executives in over 500 organizations.  That’s a lot of people and a lot of qualitative information.  Who’s going to argue with that?
  2. When executives really get involved in the buying process. It’s earlier than you thought.  As it turns out, executives first start thinking about their problem, then they start talking to their trusted advisors (in fact, the term “trusted advisor” came from some of the research that the authors used for this book).  Get involved early in the buying cycle, because that’s when most decisions are made. Speak to the “what” and “why” in your marketing before you get to the “how.”
  3. What executives want. Believe it or not, executives want to hear sales pitches–but only if you’re talking about what’s important to them.  And figuring out what they want and what’s important to them takes old-fashioned research and legwork.  The authors recommend that younger salespeople who are used to the “everything now” approach get used to delayed gratification and schedule time every day or week to do research on their customers.
  4. What the drivers behind executives’ decision making are. As you’d expect, executives care about financial results, operations, suppliers, their business partners, globalization and regulation.  Think about the ways in which your product or service impacts those, and speak to those specific issues.
  5. How to gain access to the C-suite. On page 71 is a story about an observant salesperson who noticed that the receptionist in the lobby garnered an unusual amount of respect and deference from everyone who walked in the door.  When he dug a little deeper he discovered that Barbara was one of the largest shareholders and an original founder of the company who had traded her corner office for the front desk so that she could observe the unfiltered conversations of visitors to their organization.  Needless to say, the way to gain access to any company is to know a great deal about the organization and how it functions.
  6. How to establish credibility. In several of the research studies, the attributes that ranked the highest in importance were: the ability to marshal resources, understood my business goals, responsiveness to my requests, and willing to be held accountable.   It’s clear that if you want to be seen as a trusted advisor, you have to be at the top of your professional game.

What You Won’t Find in Selling to the C-Suite

You will not find any magic bullet in this book.  If you were looking for some magical way for Prince Charming (the CEO or executive) to notice or fall in love with you, your company or your product, you won’t find that here.

This book uses years of research to tell you how executives think and what they are looking for.  It’s up to you to do the work necessary to get noticed and get chosen.

Another thing you won’t find in this book is pity or sympathy for not doing your homework or not delivering on what you promised.  Take a look at this chart that shows the incredibly high gap between what benefits executives are promised and what benefits they  actually experience across a variety of product lines:

My favorite chapter, “How to Create Value at the Executive Level,” literally gives you a template that you can follow to get all your ducks in a row.  On page 125 there is an outline of how to structure your meetings with executives–how to run the introduction, what to say, what questions to ask and so on.  This chapter alone is worth the price of the book!

More Priceless Resources at the End of the Book

At the end of the book is an Appendix that contains a guide to customer research–everything from getting information on the industry you’re targeting to useful websites.  Not only that, but you also get an interview template complete with pre-written questions.

A second Appendix gives you tools for building the executive relationship.  It contains a sales opportunity profile, initial executive telephone call planner, meeting planner, value proposition worksheet and executive presentation guide.

The Bottom Line on Selling to the C-Suite

Selling to the C-Suite is an absolute must have for anyone in business today.   It’s like a practical MBA that sellers will appreciate for its touchstone guides on connecting with executives and that purchasing executives will appreciate because it will keep the salespeople they see focused on providing real solutions instead of lip service.

Check out the book’s website at Selling to the C-Suite.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

8 Reactions
  1. Ivana,

    This book must be a perfect guide when you want to reach the decision leaders and the people doing the buying decisions.

    Could you explain what the word “c-suite” stands for? Could you find A and B suites too? 😉

  2. OH Hi Martin — Now I can see that C-Suite must be a purely American term. C-Suite refers to the highest level of leadership in any organization. In the US these individuals have titles like CEO (Chief Executive Officer) or CFO (Chief Financial Officer) CIO (Chief Information Officer) , CMO(Chief Marketing Officer) — and they usually all have offices on the same floor of a building or the same area of a building — and so they call that the “C-Suite”

    Of course the bigger the organization is the more difficult it is to get a hold of these people.

  3. Ivana,

    Thanks for the explanation! Here in Sweden we have a slang expression that would translate like “cream shelf” in English (VIP Lane).

  4. @Martin – “Cream shelf” – yes I can imagine that. If only it were true that the executive cream rises to the top! We can only hope!

  5. Yes, we could hope that! And I have seen great examples of it. I recommend you to check out Edwin A. Locke’s work on this topic, e.g., The Essence of Leadership: The Four Keys to Leading Successfully and Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior: Indispensable Knowledge for Evidence-Based Management.

  6. Hi Ivana,

    The book seems very interesting, with the amount of research gone into the book as you’ve mentioned, I bet there would be very detailed information on how these CEO’s think and how the make their decisions. This book will surely help in reaching top management that makes key buying decisions. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    Riya Sam
    Training for