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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Riccetto

5 Tips for Pitching to C-Suite

In the world of business development, you are going to get rejected. A lot. Anyone that’s tried to build or grow a business will tell you that you get your fair share of:

  • No

  • No response

  • Maybe down the line

  • I need to run this past…

  • Let me think about it (but they’re not thinking about it)

  • More no.

There’s a lot of ways to approach development work. You can cast a wide net with automated messages and see what sticks; relentlessly pursue leads with a more personal approach; leverage your network for referrals; rely on a variety of sales and marketing methods to bring in new clients; the list goes on. But this article is going to focus on maximising efforts by providing tips on how you pitch C-Suite. Sure, there are plenty of purchasers in a company like middle management, VPs, etc. but realistically the big decisions and major investments are decided by the C-Suite.

Of course, it’s not easy to directly go up the chain of command, but the effort put in to reach the decision maker versus trying to convince a ladder of employees and then hope your message gets across is similar to playing telephone as a kid and seeing what word comes out at the end of the line. We all know that when someone started with “bicycle”, it somehow turned into “lobster” along that way —messaging loses its integrity with each hand off. Save yourself the lobster, put in the effort to go straight to C-Suite.

The following are some well tested tactics to approach c-suite thoughtfully, invest your efforts and time more wisely, and up your chances of success:

1. Do your homework.

It should be obvious that going into a sales meeting, a pitch, an interview, etc. you should come prepared. And yet, you’d be surprised on how many people really hope the product or their charisma will sell itself.

It won’t.

Going through the prospect’s website, annual reports, LinkedIn is a great start, but to make a better impression and demonstrate an understanding of the executive at the table and their business, start looking at interviews, articles, podcasts, TedTalks, conference keynotes and presentations. Read more than just the most recent annual or quarterly report, go back several years, and familiarise yourself with the industry as a whole: what it looks like locally/regionally/globally and how the competition is doing. Go in with a deep sense of industry knowledge. You need to prove you understand the big picture; how the prospect fits within it; and how you and your product/service can optimise their operations, vision, and expand their competitive advantage.

It's also important to distinguish company size as well. There’s a fairly large difference in a CEO or executive at a company with 20 people in a startup versus a longstanding legacy company with 28,000 employees. The former will be pretty hands on compared to the latter and will likely have a much more intimate knowledge with the day-to-day of the company. This could translate to more questions on how your service/product will affect the daily lives of their employee’s and not just a big picture view on the company’s pipeline/revenue/retention.

2. Establish credibility early on.

Tying in closely to the point above on industry knowledge, add in research on existing or emerging external factors that could affect your prospect and tie into the value add of your product or service. Take note of any recent legislation in debate or recently passed bills that could alter the industry or company. Seek out information on new regulations, political upheaval, energy prices, interest rates, natural calamities, and so on that will impact their industry, and address it — early. Establish your understanding of the industry and their external factors from the start of the conversation. This is your opportunity to earn credibility and create a lasting impression. In general, people pay more attention to what you’re saying and hold your words in higher regard if they think you have a shared understanding and that you know what you’re talking about. This includes paying attention to shifts in technology being used in the industry— no point in selling floppy disks when everyone’s data is managed in the cloud. But more so, being ahead on the technology curve allows the opportunity to offer your prospect a competitive advantage over their competition if your product or service is on the cutting edge and offering them digital solutions when their competition is still stuck in analog.

3. Get to the point.

C-Suite are busy people and often spread thin between internal obligations, external meetings and trying to scale their company — regardless of the size, growth is a lot of work. Plus, no one likes being in meetings longer than need be. We’ve all had that immediate sense of relief when one gets cancelled, or the joy when another is cut short. Spread the joy, get to the point. Regardless of the industry, C-Suite executives are all concerned about three main things that have direct impact on the financial health of a company:

  • Pipeline (customer acquisition from leads to after sales support)

  • Revenue (Efficient and profitable growth)

  • Retention (Customers that stay with a company)

In every decision made by C-Suite, they are reflecting on how it impacts those three areas, from budget cuts, staffing decisions, marketing, to the software used in warehouses. Your sales pitch needs to touch on these three areas efficiently and effectively. Don’t allude to it, make it clear that you will help them achieve a better customer pipeline, revenue growth, and keep their customers loyal with your service or product. Remember, while keeping it succinct is a good approach, be sure to leave room for natural flow of conversation and questions.

4. Strategic value.

Outside of the three big areas above (Pipeline /Revenue /Retention) and how your solution will improve one or more of these, a pitch needs to address a pain point. This is the basis of your product, really. What is the specific problem you are solving, and tailor this to your prospective client. Big picture is great, if the product overall increases customer retention they are going to want to see how it fits in directly with their business and advances their specific interests. Company vision and strategic goals, especially with large companies, are typically very public knowledge and accessible right on their website and alluded to in most of their external communication and marketing. Typically, at least once a year, CEOs set specific annual goals that move the needle on their overall vision but with more specific goals and objectives. Example, if the company has an overall goal of the best customer service this side of the Mississippi River, and this year they’re focusing on delivering that by reducing customer wait times, connect to that specific goal. If your product or service falls outside of that strategic objective, the CXO is likely to tell you they have other priorities, try again later.

5. Remember, CEOs are people, too.

We get it. It can be very intimidating to approach a CEO, especially as a new company trying to make a name for itself. Once upon a time, the author of this article worked for a Fortune 100 company in Corporate America. The CEO of our parent company came by our office for a Townhall and even the most senior VPs and executives at our branch had wavering voices as they asked questions during his presentation and were afraid to approach him after. Meanwhile, I was a low-level contractor at the bottom of the food chain and ran into him in the hallway. I decided to ask him about his private jet. He looked up from his phone, smiled, and we chatted for a minute about how cool flying on a private jet was. He left the building immediately after our chat, as his team ushered him out, but he wished me well and said goodbye. To only me. I was the only person at the entire company that had a private conversation with this big time CEO, and I held his undivided attention. Because I was the only one that treated him as a regular person. Because he is a person, just like the rest of us, and private jets are undeniably cool to most people.

Focus on the person, not the title. Any sales pitch or funding meeting you ever have regardless of the audience, go in with confidence. Don’t let the title intimidate you, your pitch will suffer, and it won’t go unnoticed. A pitch becomes a lot less intimidating when you remember that the voice on the other end of the conversation belongs to a human being just like you, they are not deities with superpowers.

Choosing a great partner who has been through the process goes a long way to help navigate the development landscape. You can always reach out to our team at at any point in your product development journey. We may not be able to do the pitch for you, but we can provide support along the way.

It’s not just a product, it’s our passion.


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