Here’s what he said: “I know what I want to do. What I need from you is to teach me how to educate my CEO.”
Less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs “grew up” in sales. Sometimes it’s understandably difficult for them to take a “sales” perspective. And some Sales SVPs are uncomfortable with the “data-driven” approach many CEOs prefer. This is about something much more important than hiring a sales & marketing consultancy. Finding common ground is central to your ability to achieve the company’s objectives. It’s also critical if you are a big fan of your job security. How can you do it?
Use your CEO’s questions to understand and educate him.
Download the “Key CEO Questions” Guide here!
CEOs have questions. The stronger the CEO, the more inquisitive he probably is. If you don’t understand what these questions are, you are hurting yourself. You are missing an essential element of how they think. The CEO’s thought process is like a Buyer’s Journey. Their questions are how they move through the “buying” process. The “sale” is the adoption of your ideas or POV. Does your CEO “buy” from you? He might, if you understand what questions he asks himself while considering your proposal. We talk with CEOs every day. We can help.
There are three components to understanding and educating your CEO. If you’re the top sales leader, you probably interact with your CEO regularly. Nonetheless, let’s spend just a moment looking at each component individually. Here are the highlights:
Understand what CEOs care about
- Speed (“How long until I see results?”)
- Making the Number in the current year.
- Setting the table to Make the Number next year.
- Remaining in the Board’s good graces.
- Were they put in place by the Board or by private equity? If so, they may see their job as an opportunity to create personal wealth.
- Are they a “Founder CEO” or long-term CEO? If so, they may care more about the “journey” the company is on. They also may care more about company employees.
Understand how CEOs think
- You think you’re busy? Your CEO is busier. When you burn his time you burn your credibility. Plan your talk track in advance to maximize the impact of your message.
- Everyone needs a WIIFM. CEOs are no different. Show them how your idea has a “What’s In It For Me” element. How can it help him win?
- Get your “Big Picture” mindset fully engaged. Individuals who run entire organizations are mindful of how your proposal affects the whole. Make sure you’ve thought through macro considerations and can respond to questions.
Understand what metrics to use (proof points)
Metrics are the numbers and data. The metrics they want to see will be specific to your project or idea. “Proof Points” are “proof” that your idea will work. Your Proof Points will also be specific to your project. As an example, here are some Proof Points clients use when hiring SBI:
- References and Client Roster
- Biographies of the Delivery Team
- Evidence-based methodologies
- Execution-based consultancy
- Field Adoption (actionable results)
You must be able to provide metrics and proof points to support your case. This is even more important for the top sales leader. You may have to overcome the bias that says salespeople are articulate, but lack data. If you need help with what data to present, let us know. Almost every week, we receive requests for best practice benchmarking data for Board level presentations.
Now the caveat: everyone is different. The guidance provided in this article represents the broad middle of the bell curve. However, you can bet money on one thing. Using this “questioning” method to think about how your CEO operates will work. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of his point of view. You’ll get more projects approved. And you might even become more tightly aligned with him. All of these are worthwhile outcomes, justifying the effort you make to understand.