Four Surprising Insights For Reaching (And Converting) Executives

What's the secret to getting through to (and converting) C-level executives?

Four Surprising Insights For Reaching (And Converting) Executives

Posted Thursday April 13th, 2017 by in Analysis + Strategy.

I spend most of my time at my company either writing proposals or designing initial communications strategies. Both of these critical processes require a deep understanding of the executive decision maker’s perspective. Admittedly, it took years for me to gain this perspective, and I’m still learning and improving. Recently, however, our success rate has dramatically improved, both in terms of securing new business and designing effective strategies.

When I reflect back on what we’ve learned and changed to produce more successful outcomes for both my business and our clients, here are the four surprising insights I’ve learned in the process of getting through to (and ultimately converting) executives:

  1. Limited time means getting to the point. We used to get into the gritty details of presentations with key decision makers, often taking the time to pull out all the stops in order to secure the deal. Now, we ask ourselves, “What bullet points here are essential to helping the decision maker say yes?” andWhat does the executive need to know, and what can we save for an appendix?” My business partner and our company’s CEO was a proponent of bullet points for years, which to me meant it was a tactic that worked for communicating with CEOs.
  2. A generalist mindset needs broad strokes. We used to create lengthy proposals with every detail listed out to make sure clients understood we knew what we were talking about. As it turned out, they didn’t care about any of those details. What they wanted to know was: “What is the end result I am buying here? At the end of the day, what will I end up with, that I can point to and say, ‘This piece helped move our master plan forward?’” Now, we give clients two-page proposals, and let them ask for more. Typically, executives are jacks-of-all-trades: That means getting too technical from the get-go will end up confusing or alienating most executives — two sentiments that certainly do not lead to favorable decision-making.
  3. Likability beats technicality every time. Try this: Ask a group of executives, “Do you choose vendors based on who you like, or who you think will get the job done?” Just as you might have predicted, they will unequivocally say that they choose the best vendor for the job. Having been out here in the industry for some time, however, I can assure you that this doesn’t always happen in practice. We have seen likability beat technicality so many times, we now make it a point to lead with what’s likable. We start new meetings by creating rapport, highlighting values alignment, and projecting a shared mission. Establishing likeability first and technical prowess second has worked like a charm since we made the switch. For better or worse, choosing a business vendor based on likability is simply human nature. Now, we’re just better at using it to our advantage.
  4. Decisions are made quickly, not earned over time. Similarly to the likability factor, people — even executives — are prone to make snap judgments about others quickly and definitively. Think about it: Executives are highly educated, successful and impatient. They spend time making quick decisions all day long. They can’t help but judge everyone they meet quickly and efficiently — that’s their job! Therefore, we make sure to provide them with a snapshot of our legitimacy so they don’t have to go sniffing us out. In one glance, they can see the results we achieve for clients, the thought leadership we represent with business publications, the validity of our client referrals and the industry expertise we offer. By giving them this overview, we’re helping them check off their own boxes.

With full disclosure, I spent years fighting these insights — and ultimately, I lost. While I wanted to believe that executives take the time to learn about each vendor’s offering, dive into the details and stay objective, that’s simply not the case for most business executives. I realize now that executives wish they had the time to exhibit all of these wonderful traits, but that’s just it: They don’t have the time.

Now that I better understand the executive’s perspective, I’m always searching for new ways to be more succinct, to show more empathy, and to tell my company’s story in such a way that it eliminates any risk they foresee in choosing us as a partner. By being more understanding of these circumstances, you too can better understand the inner workings of the mind of an executive, and make adjustments to your outreach strategy accordingly.


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