Selling To Executives: What Actually Works


Originally published in Forbes

By Randy Illig

This is the third article of our three-part series, “Selling to Executives.” Hear from top-level executives about how they like to be sold to and what drives them absolutely crazy. 

When I speak with executives, they tell me the vast majority of sales people haven’t even mastered the basics. But a few talented sales people do stand out from the crowd. “I like dealing with professionals,” one executive said. “People that are good at their craft and good at their game.”

Read on to learn three best practices that executives say really work. Sales people who master these might actually close some deals with these executives.

Note: these responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Watch the full video interviews here.

1. Prepare Obsessively

What executives say: “The best sales people come to the meeting knowing who I am personally. They know about my career. They’ve figured out connections and people we might know in common. They might be able to quote something I’ve written or said and link it to their organization’s values. They understand our strategy and connect it to their product or service.” As one executive said, “It’s impossible to do too much background research.”

What to do: Run through this checklist before any call:

  • Do I know how the client has been performing?
  • Do I know what’s happening in the client’s industry?
  • Do I know how the client’s peers are performing?
  • How can my organization assist this industry and this company, in particular?
  • Can I articulate my objective for this call? Can I articulate the client’s objective?

During your meeting, ask the executive to validate what you’ve uncovered. As one leader said, “A good executive is forgiving if you miss the mark a little bit. They appreciate the preparedness.”

2. Think Three Steps Ahead

What executives say: “One sales team differentiated themselves because they weren’t relying on their good reputation or even their past body of work. They figured out how to engage us right from the very start. They found out ways to visit the offices of our competitors, so when they came in and showed us a 3D model, it wasn’t just, ‘Here’s how we think you should lay out your offices.’ They said, ‘Here’s how we think you should lay out your offices, and here’s how it contrasts with how your competitors lay out their offices.’ It had the ring of how they could help us compete from a talent perspective.”

Randy Illig is global leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice.