Make Executive Sales Conversations More Insightful With This 20-minute Cheat Sheet


Establishing a discipline of properly preparing for executive sales conversations is a critical first step in delivering value to your clients. Basic blocking and tackling, right? But most salespeople either aren’t doing it or aren’t doing it right.

If your reps are telling you that they’re doing their homework on your prospects, don’t believe them. The proof is in their report card. According to Forrester Research, executive decision makers are giving reps an “F” when it comes to their ability to hold a conversation on business challenges, issues, and insights.

We’re here to say it’s okay to cheat your way to a winning grade. It only takes 20 minutes. Just use this guide to tap into the ultimate treasure trove of customer intelligence: the annual report to shareholders.

The First 7.5 Minutes: The Letter To Shareholders

The letter to shareholders is your best source of information about your customer’s business. Although published only once a year, the external factors, business initiatives, and financial metrics it cites generally have long-term applicability.

You’re looking for the following:

External Factors:

What are some of the market factors outside of your customer’s control that are impacting all of the companies in their industry? Examples are everywhere: regulatory requirements, customer trends, interest rates, fuel prices, exchange rates, etc.

Action > Reference external factors early in customer conversations to demonstrate you understand their business and to establish your credibility.

Business Initiatives:

What strategic initiatives has the customer identified as essential to their growth plans?

Action > How can your solution help your prospect impact one of these business objectives in a way that bolsters their departments’ credibility and their professional standing?

Forward-looking Statements:

What insights can be gained into the company’s future plans?

Action > Position your business case to foster a long-term customer relationship.

Business Metrics:

What financial metrics, ratios or prior-year successes are highlighted?

Action > Quantify the value proposition of what you’re selling using these metrics – using the financial language of your prospect’s company.

Significant Trends:

Are any market, product or divisional trends discussed that align with your solutions?

Action > Preempt your competitors by being the first to engage with new ideas

The Next 7.5 Minutes: Pull Insights From The Financial Statements

Changes in financial performance, for better or for worse, can be spun into selling opportunities.

You’re looking for the following:

In the income statement:

  • What was the company’s revenue trend over the past three years?
  • Did any significant product or service mix changes occur?
  • Did a significant percent of revenue change occur by region or business unit?
  • What was the company’s gross margin trend over the past three years? Did any significant year-over-year percentage changes occur by region, business unit or product segment?
  • What was the company’s profitability trend over the past three years?

Insights > Any of the above that show a downward trend represent a selling opportunity to recover/improve performance with an investment in your solution.

Assess the percent of revenue for each major expense category: R&D, sales and marketing, general and administrative, and any others that apply.

Insights > Line items showing an upward trend also represent a selling opportunity to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Balance sheet:

  • Over the last year, did the customer’s total assets grow or shrink?
  • Did any significant asset categories (accounts receivable, inventory, etc.) record a notable change in balance?

Insights > Any asset category (other than cash) that shows a growth trend represents a selling opportunity. Why? Because decreasing non-cash assets improves cash flow, making cash available for other investment.

Wherever you can correlate asset category trends to income statement trends, there’s a selling opportunity.

The Last 5 Minutes: Scan Other Parts Of The Annual Report

Management discussion & analysis (MD&A):

Whether you’re already selling to a strategic business unit (SBU), or looking to identify an SBU as a point of entry, the MD&A describes high growth areas.

Look for the following:

  • The results of operations
  • Changes in financial condition
  • Risk management strategies

Insights > High growth areas represent your strongest selling opportunities.

Notes to the financial statements:

These notes are integral to the financial statements. In addition to harboring hidden opportunities, they’re also useful for explaining financial trends.

Insights > References to relationships, contingencies or other factors provide effective data points for strengthening your business case and aligning your solution’s value.

And that’s it! 20 well-invested minutes for a more insightful and informed executive dialogue.

To learn more about equipping your salespeople to credibly and confidently go toe-to-toe with any CXO, check out Corporate Visions’ sales skills training.

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Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions, is dedicated to helping companies improve their conversations with prospects and customers to win more business. A visionary researcher, thought leader, keynote speaker, and practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in marketing and sales management, Riesterer is co-author of four books, including Customer Message Management, Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, The Three Value Conversations, and The Expansion Sale.

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