Executive Conversations and the Power of a Great Idea

Recall any Holiday gatherings, while growing up, when you were assigned a seat at the kids’ table?

It wasn’t the worst thing: The food was just as good, the banter often better. Still, whether you’re nine or 90, no one likes feeling inferior. So when you were at last promoted to the adult table, you were pretty thrilled. But you also knew that one mistake could get you relegated back to the short chairs.

Knowing this, you might’ve sensed it was time to elevate your conversation, realizing that if you acted and sounded like a child at the grownup table, you wouldn’t be sitting there for long. Or you’d simply be passed over as irrelevant.

Your salespeople need to adopt a similar mentality during executive conversations—those rare, potentially golden opportunities to speak to high-level prospects whose buy-in can swing the balance in your favor.

To have great conversations with executives—and to avoid getting delegated elsewhere—you have to enter their world and speak to their concerns. Just as in other phases of the buying cycle, the commodity conversation can pose a threat to your dialogue with C-suite buyers—but only if you let it.

In a recent eBook, Corporate Visions highlighted five myths that are limiting your success knowing how to sell to C-level executives. One of the myths we covered was the belief that “no budget means no opportunity.”

The persistence of this myth, according to Eric Beckman, VP of Products at Corporate Visions, is one reason so many C-suite conversations falter. Putting the brakes on the conversation this early in the cycle is always a bad idea, he explained, because it’s during these early phases of the decision-making process—the “what to do” or “should I do something different” stage—that executives are often most engaged.

“Contrary to the fact that executives are most often involved early in the decision-making process, too many sales organizations define an opportunity by whether or not the project is funded,” Beckman says. “The result is they engage way too late and miss the chance to actually create opportunities when executives are forming their vision for a new approach.”

Beckman added: “By the time an initiative has been funded, its requirements have already been defined, and possibly influenced by a competitor to align with their capabilities. You’re already late to the party.” That, he said, positions sellers to compete only on price, leading to discounting and non-differentiated conversations.

So the question of whether or not funding is available is really a distraction from what salespeople should be focusing on with executive conversations: Identifying unconsidered needs, giving buyers a compelling reason to break from the status quo, and then putting that into a meaningful business and financial context.

“Executives are the ones who set and prioritize budgets,” Beckman says. “Money will be found for investments that create measurable financial results for the business—the very results to which executive incentive compensation is often tied.”

Because executives have a personal stake in making decisions that bring positive financial results, they place a premium on good ideas. While Beckman said your idea doesn’t necessarily have to be fully developed, it should meet four key standards.

Great ideas in executive conversations should:

  • Link to an external factor or business initiative important to the executive’s area of direct responsibility
  • Represent new thinking, perhaps even a change in direction to achieve superior results
  • Seem credible, real and well thought-out
  • Not immediately be apparent that it should be delegated

By understanding what defines a powerful idea, and by proposing it early in your executive conversations, your salespeople position themselves as more than salespeople—they become consultants fit to explain the measurable business advantages of leaving the status quo.

Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers. His books, “Customer Message Management”, “Conversations that Win the Complex Sale”, “Three Value Conversations”, and "The Expansion Sale", focus on improving market-ready messages and tools that marketers and salespeople can use to win more deals. As chief strategy and research officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, content and training company.

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