Learn How to Pitch to the CEO

sales meeting
Selling to the CEO.

Many salespeople dream of selling their product straight to the top of the food chain. Selling to the CEO helps you to cut through all the red tape that normally goes along with selling to a medium or large company, and you don't have to worry about being overruled by his boss! But impressing a C-suite decision maker requires a little extra work on your part.

Once you get the appointment, your first step is to start doing research.

CEOs will expect you to know the basics about their company and themselves. Fortunately, most of the information you need will be easily available on the Internet. Look for details like the company's size (e.g. annual revenue), how long it's been in business, whether it's publicly or privately owned, what products or services it offers, and what industry it's in.

Then dig a little deeper to uncover details about the nature of the competition, whether the company has had recent successes or failures, any new legislation that might affect it, and what the company's biggest challenges are likely to be. Don't forget to look at the CEO's background as well – at a minimum, you should know how long he's been in his current position, where he held his previous position, and who he replaced (and why). If you can, also look for details on his style of doing business and for the approaches he advocates for the company.

The details you dig up in your research will help you in two ways. First, you can mention important bits and pieces during your meeting and thus show the CEO that you've done your homework. And second, some of this background information can be extremely helpful in tuning your pitch. For example, if you discover that your prospect company recently hired the current CEO because the company has fallen behind in market share, that's a pretty powerful motivator that you can tie into your presentation.

An effective sales meeting with a CEO or other C-suite member has four specific parts. First, you introduce yourself, mentioning any sponsors who helped you get this meeting. Then state your goal for the meeting and get the CEO's buy-in on it. The goal you choose should express a benefit for both yourself and your prospect. For example, your goal might be to strategize with your prospect on ways that your company can help his comply with recent legislation. The whole introduction should be brief, taking up perhaps 10 minutes of an hour-long meeting.

Second, it's time to start asking some smart questions. This is your chance to show off your newly-acquired knowledge of the prospect's company and to dig for deeper insights. Some salespeople are afraid to ask C-suite prospects a lot of questions because they think they'll come off as ignorant, but if you've taken the time to learn the basic details you're more likely to impress the CEO with your willingness to learn more. Ask open-ended questions and take notes on the answers. Plan on taking roughly half the meeting just to ask questions and gather information.

Third, it's time for you to bring out your sales pitch. Keep your focus on solutions rather than products; the goal here is to show that you're taking the information the CEO just gave you regarding his needs and using it to work with him on possible fixes.

Ideally, you should express your solutions in terms of how they will help both the company as a whole and the CEO personally. Keep your pitch brief (10-15 minutes for an hour long meeting) by trimming out all the slides about your company and your products. The focus should remain on the prospect, not on you.​

Finally, wrap up the meeting by determining the next steps. In the best case, the next step would be starting the purchase process. If your prospect isn't ready to make the leap (which is likely for the CEO of a good-sized company), then get his approval on what you will do next. For example, you might set a date for a follow-up meeting to which you will bring an expert from your company who can further explore possible solutions.