The Secret to Selling to C-Level Executives

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Many sales professionals have no idea how to talk to a C-Level executive. In fact, many won't even attempt to set an appointment with a CEO. C-Level executives are just like everyone else; you must meet their emotional needs before they are going to want to do business with you. People buy for emotional reasons and justify with logic. Understanding how to communicate with someone in a way that meets his or her emotional needs, in that moment, is key to closing any sale.

As I was writing this article, I looked over at my 11 year old German Shepherd, his personality and emotional needs are very similar to CEO's I've met during my career. He needs a great deal of mental stimulation, he is loyal and he is very protective of his family. What a perfect way to describe the four different types of C-Level executives; from the perspective of their dog counterpart.

1. Golden Retriever -- They can't wait to please you and make you happy. They are warm and friendly. Everyone loves a golden retriever. They want to be loved and give love. The same holds true for their C-Level counterpart, they want to know how they can help their employees, their company and their community. Their main goal is to connect with people and add value.

How can you quickly recognize this C-Level leader?
  • Pictures of family members in their office
  • Warm smile and handshake
  • They immediately ask how you are and what you need
  • They are concerned with finding a solution that positively affects everyone

2. Pit Bull - Some people love pit bulls and some people hate them. But if you understand how they want to be treated, they can be the most loyal pet you've ever had. A pit bull is looking for an alpha. They will constantly test you, making sure you're not going to abandon them. They may growl, even snap when you first meet them, to see how you will react. You must show them confidence and strength because in order to win them over they must respect you. They have to believe that what you say you're going to do for them is true.

How can you quickly recognize this C-Level leader?
  • Firm handshake and they may pull your hand toward them while shaking
  • Abrupt and to the point welcome
  • May seem aggressive and even combative upon first meeting
  • They want to know you can back up your promises
  • You must let them know that what you are offering will make them look like a hero
  • Their main goal is to show the world they are worthy

3. German Shepherd - They are loyal, protectors who take care of their families. They are highly intelligent and need a lot of mental stimulation. They can be intimidating when you first meet them, but if you have good intent they will quickly warm to you. They can seem aloof but it's nothing personal, they just don't need a great deal of attention. They will let you know exactly what they need.

How can you quickly recognize this C-Level leader?
  • Very confident
  • Will ask you a lot of questions and follow up questions
  • They want to know the process in detail
  • You must do your homework and be fully prepared for every meeting
  • Follow through is key
  • Their main goal is to create win-win solutions
4. Giant Poodle - When you first meet a giant poodle they may seem aloof. They aren't really interested in you, until you show interest in them. They don't need your love and attention they believe they deserve it. If you don't show them the proper respect they feel they deserve, they will walk away and find someone else worthy. They like to be showed off and praised. They tend to shine in the spotlight.

How can you quickly recognize this C-Level leader?
  • Very well dressed (impeccable)
  • Firm handshake
  • Time sensitive and gets right down to business
  • First impressions are of a confident, driven, successful professional
  • You must let them know, that you know, they are awesome
  • They do not want to know the details, they are interested in the big picture
  • You must be someone who they believe can help them reach their goals

To communicate with someone the way they want to communicate and meeting their emotional communication needs is the fastest way to a sale.

To learn more about selling to C-Level check out NASP's ProSeries Program Catalog for the program titled The Secret to Selling to C-Level.
Brooke Dukes
Brooke Dukes> all articles
Known as an influential communicator, passionate leader and value focused consultative salesperson, Brooke has blazed a trail of multimillion-dollar achievement across industries including IT, Finance, Travel, Insurance, Coaching and Organizational Culture. A trusted advisor of CFO's, COO's and CEO's, she has leveraged intense product and service expertise to build a competitive advantage- fostering loyalty and collaborative problem solving that has been instrumental in the success of Align to Thrive, NASP and other Trusum Visions Companies.

Over the past 20 years Brooke has honed her skills as a leader and top sales professional. She was Director of Business Development for two Fortune 100 companies over 10 years before taking her skills into the private sector and building a thriving health insurance agency. Brooke joined NASP in 2007 focusing on supporting her team, coaching leaders, entrepreneurs and sales professionals and creating new client relationships in the area of cultural and behavioral change. She has worked with some of the largest and most successful companies in the world; Companies such as Lear, General Motors, United Airlines, Terumo, First Merit and many more.

As a key member of the leadership team tasked with growing the business, developing and delivering new products, coaching, training and building a strong team to support the company culture and the ultimate vision, Brooke has been instrumental in the company's revolutionary success.
  • /data/userPictures/34B73E37-B655-41C1-AD09-5FF38EC89D5A.jpgSajin Mohamed8/21/2017 12:22:13 PM
    Insightful article. I can related this to a number of senior executives that I have met.

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgColin Schreiber9/20/2017 11:10:18 PM
    Very interesting lens to focus things through. I've worked with each "breed" of executive.

  • /data/userPictures/1259D8E5-7BF0-46DA-9C42-B758A4F550D9.jpgAllison Pruden1/31/2018 9:16:07 AM
    Interesting perspective

  • /data/userPictures/4E078DEB-0FC7-4970-BEB9-2BC8612B5F33.jpgSean Wiggan2/28/2018 8:18:54 PM
    What an amazing analogy! This article was very well written. I interact with C-Levels and much of this i'v seen first hand. I also can see ties to the Customer Archetypes we are discussing in CPSP class (significance seeker, value seeker, esteem seeker, and connection seeker).

  • /data/userPictures/434FD119-E89F-42C6-AFE2-5903FEC72685.jpgLaura James3/1/2018 9:28:35 PM
    I liked the analogy to dogs! I am a pet lover and could understand well the traits and how to relate to each "breed" of CEO. Fun read and reinforces the client archetypes.

  • /data/userPictures/093EC457-52A5-41BE-93A4-6B10D775DCF9.jpgMike Morgan3/6/2018 9:23:37 AM
    Interesting analogy. Communicating at the level of the person you speak with is important, no matter the title. Good insight into the C-level nuances. I have seen the various types in meeting and it truly is an art of communication that is required.

  • /data/userPictures/C9880537-3E0E-4264-8A54-54CC7AD95B85.jpgEarvin Corpuz4/25/2018 2:42:27 PM
    I'm also a pet lover and have adopted a pit bull, boxer, and a labrador. I can attest to the different needs for each. Your perspective makes the concept stick. Thank you!

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgAbhishek Patil5/8/2018 9:20:41 PM

  • /data/userPictures/BD498EAA-76BC-4262-B951-EB2ADCAC7D3D.jpgChristian Ogbokor, Mr5/22/2018 5:40:45 AM
    This article is great and inspiring to all sales person

  • /data/userPictures/9736B2F5-7441-4127-9C92-6A26908AED58.jpgSam Knight10/11/2018 9:46:43 PM
    This is interesting... I recognize people with whom I have had such encounters.

  • /data/userPictures/E3128569-1A3D-4461-AD50-B2F5A5102BED.jpgJohn Paulo Gamitin12/5/2018 1:40:36 PM
    Wow, this article is very helpful. I'm just new in sales and I already come across people of different personalities which are not so different to those mentioned above. Such information are a great sales tool that comes handy most of the time.

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPicture.jpgJesse Rizzuto1/2/2019 2:17:32 AM
    This was a great article! Very interesting perspective to categorizing C-level executives.