Understanding the pains of C-level executives: the anatomy of B2B sales
Demonstrating competence when selling to a C-level executive makes all the difference in B2B sales. But it is not the same in all cases and it is therefore key to know how to deal with each of them.
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7 minutes
/ Author:
María Viéitez

If you've ever set out to sell to a C-level executive, you must know that it can be challenging to get a few minutes of their time. C-level executives occupy the top corporate positions in their companies and value their time enough not to give it away to a B2B sales rep who doesn't understand how the game works. But there is a reason why it is crucial to know how to deal with them: they are the ones that will close the sale and they should hear the facts straight from you.

To shed some light on this, VAEKST analysed conversations with CEOs, CFOs, and CTOs in the Nordic countries in June to understand their pains and find the best approach to reach them. These are our conclusions.

The complexities of B2B sales

For C-level executives to take you seriously, you need to understand the issues they face. They play strategic roles within organisations and make company-wide decisions. Therefore, anticipating their needs is a sure way to get their attention. To do this, you have to do your research. Let’s start with that.

The jobs-to-be-done are the tasks that our customer needs to solve and for which he or she is looking for a solution. In contrast to traditional sales and marketing techniques, this framework no longer analyses the products or the customers, but the needs and pains that our customer struggles with and that we could offer a solution for.

Solving their tasks is the priority of C-level officers, and you need to do your research to get there. You need to show them that you are at their level.

Getting to senior executive’s level

Senior managers do not have time for a sales rep talking about their new product or service. As a sales rep, you must bring value to the conversation by teaching the buyer something they do not know but need to know. This is how you do it.

1. Elevate the sales conversation by adding value

You must bring value to the conversation by addressing the pain points for which your buyer is seeking a solution. And to do so, you need to know what their jobs-to-be-done are. It will give them the feeling that you have your head in their business.

2. Speak the language of leadership

The more you research the market, the company, and the challenges your buyer faces, the more personalized your pitch and solution will be. This information will allow you to find the focus and get the C-level excited and engaged with your idea.

Show them that you know the job-to-be-done they need to solve and use it to tell a unique story about how your solution can be the ultimate solution. Some tips:

  • Talk numbers and metrics, figures that allow them to see that you have imbibed their case and can deliver a competent solution.
  • Don't be desperate to make a sale. Offer your product and if your buyer doesn't find it relevant, don't push, just move on.
  • Keep it short and simple. Don't waste their time, and remember that less is always more.
  • Run it as a conversation, not a meeting. Be humble while still showing that you are competent and have something of value to offer. They probably need you more than you need them.

3. Talk about risk and address their pain points

Senior executives will not make decisions that challenge their company's strategy unless they perceive risk in the way they are doing things. That's where you step in to challenge their certainty and highlight a need they didn't know they had that you know how to solve. 

C-level executive’s pain points in B2B sales

It would be logical to assume that C-levels face similar difficulties, but the truth is that they don't come from the same mould. The research carried out at VAEKST has allowed us to find out what are the priorities of CEOs, CTOs, and CFOs and, with them, what is the best way to approach these executives.  

1. The CEO

Although they are the head of the company, CEOs often delegate many tasks and decisions. They are not all-powerful and it is crucial to know how to address them.

VAEKST's business developers found that a casual approach, matching language, and asking the right questions are key to capturing a CEO's interest. They are mainly concerned with digitalisation, productivity, and capacity efficiency, and a good way to connect with them is addressing uncertainty, ways to meet obligations to their shareholders, and increasing competitiveness.

2. The CTO

The CTO is the 'idea developer' operating backstage, and the good news is that they tend to be open to implementing changes to improve digitalisation, automatisation, and online presence.

The experience of business developers at VAEKST shows that the best way to reach out to a CTO is to show humbleness and respect.  How? Proving expertise in their industry and tasks and demonstrating you appreciate their role. Yes, CTOs complain about being undervalued in their companies. That can be an excellent pain point to connect with them.

3. The CFO

In many companies, CFOs have the final say when a company-wide decision is made. It is as simple as the fact that they are the ones who manage the budget.

They don't have time to waste, they care about dollar signs, and they want to get down to the detail. So, explain at the beginning of the conversation what the purpose of the call is and, if possible, refer to employees or other relevant points of contact. That will make them perceive that you have value to offer.

Business developers at VAEKST found that CFOs face two fundamental problems: they spend too much time working on annual reports and have too many things to attend to. Those are two excellent pain points for which to offer solutions.

Selling B2B to the C-level is not magic but the strategy

Demonstrating competence when selling to a C-level executive makes all the difference in B2B sales. Dealing with stakeholders is very different from dealing with senior executives and, therefore, requires you to take certain steps before reaching out to them. If you don't follow that path, you won't be able to bring the strategic value to the conversation that will get the C-level officer to engage and bear with you.

You must enter the sales conversation with a solution story to present. And you must rely on that solution to make them see that you are on the same level of competence and that you can help them achieve their strategic objectives.

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