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The #1 Mistake Salespeople Make When Calling on Senior Executives and What You Should Do Instead

By Susan Hall

Do you lead C-suite sales calls with your product? Do you feel the need to talk instead of asking the executive questions? In this video, Susan Hall, Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement at Strategic Enhancement Group, discusses the common mistake salespeople make when meeting with executives and provides tips on conducting successful strategic business calls.

Susan Hall: 00:01 Hi, I'm Susan Hall, Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement with Strategic Enhancement Group. Every salesperson has been told at some point in their career that they need to call at a higher, more strategic level of their client organization. And while this can be a good idea, there's a risk in doing this. When meeting with the C-suite, you get one shot at building credibility and trust, and unfortunately, many salespeople miss the mark. Today I want to talk with you about the number one mistake salespeople make when meeting with executives and what to do instead. By far, the most common mistake salespeople make is thinking that the purpose of an initial meeting with an executive is to present to tell the executive all the wonderful things about their product or service. After all, this is their opportunity to sell, right?

Susan Hall: 01:05 The reality is executives don't care about your product or service. What they care about is how can you help them achieve their business goals and priorities. So to do this, you first need to understand what their goals and priorities are. In this critical first meeting, it's important to do a lot more asking and a lot less telling. So how do you do this? I want to share a few tips for conducting what we call a strategic business call with your executive clients. A strategic business call is a non-product-oriented discovery call to understand their most important business objectives. When I meet with executives, my goal is not to talk about training and development. In fact, I don't even use those words. The goal is to understand what's important to them. So this way, when you're ready to present your solution to the buying team, you can connect your offering directly to how it will help the company achieve what's most important to their senior leadership.

Susan Hall: 02:08 So what should you be asking the executive? It's important to ask questions like, "What are your goals? What must happen to achieve these goals? What strategies are currently in place to help you achieve them?" But rather than starting with general questions like this, do some homework first. Leverage your knowledge from your current contacts. Read the company's financial statements. Research online trade publications to see what challenges and opportunities other companies in their industry are facing. This will help focus your conversation and demonstrate your credibility to the executive. Once you've done your research, prepare your questions for the meeting using the information you've gained. So, for example, let's say you're selling chemicals for cleaning and you want to focus on the hospital industry. Through your research, you've learned that hospitals in general are focused on ensuring regulatory compliance. They're also focused on staffing, as many are dealing with shortages of trained staff and employee burnout since the pandemic.

Susan Hall: 03:13 You can start by asking a question like, "Many of our clients in the hospital industry are dealing with critical shortages of trained staff after the pandemic. How is that impacting your hospital?" Or, "I read in such and such trade magazine that you're expanding into a new market this year. What must happen for you to do this successfully?" Questions like these build credibility and signal to the executive that you are there to talk about their business issues, not your cleaning products, which they probably don't care about. Keep in mind that while every industry has their general trends and focus areas, each company within that industry will have different priorities, which you'll need to uncover. So going back to our hospital example, while regulatory compliance and staffing is important in general, hospital A might be focused on getting financing for an additional expansion, whereas hospital B is focused on strengthening their public image. So it's equally important to ask broader, open-ended questions like, "What other priorities are you focused on in the coming year?"

Susan Hall: 04:23 And a few of my favorite questions – "What's the impact on the hospital if you achieve these goals? What's the impact if you don't? What's the impact on you personally?" Note that you need to have a high degree of trust to ask this question. Other questions are, "What do you see as some of the barriers getting in the way? How will you measure success?" It's important to understand your customers' strategic imperatives because they roll down from the top and become goals for the next levels of leaders within the organization. So going back to our hospital example, if they want to strengthen their public image, your job is to connect the dots in their minds for how your cleaning chemicals can help them do that. For example, perhaps your chemicals can help them create a cleaner health environment for employees and the patient community, which will improve the hospital's image. This is where you can get really creative, but make sure you make those direct connections. If you can link your solution directly to how it will help clients achieve their strategic goals, you will be in a better place to differentiate and perceived as bringing more value across the organization.

Susan Hall: 05:37 So in summary, the number one mistake salespeople make when calling on the C-suite is selling – presenting all this stuff about their offering. Remember, this is about asking strategic questions, not telling. To ask these more intelligent questions. Do your homework first to understand industry trends and company trends. And while these trends are general across an industry, remember that each company has their own unique goals, so don't make assumptions. Again, ask those good, open-ended questions. And when you do get to the point in the process where you're ready to recommend your solution, remember to connect the dots for your customer by showing them very specifically and directly how your product or service drives the achievement of senior leadership's goals and priorities.

Susan Hall: 06:27 By preparing for and conducting more strategic business calls with executives, you'll better demonstrate your value as a critical resource to your client. We have just begun to scratch the surface on this topic today. If you're interested in learning more about how this process can help you and your team specifically, reach out to us at My colleagues and I love helping clients and are happy to share ideas with you to help your organization.

Published: March 15, 2024

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Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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