5 Tips on How to Use a C-Level Executive in a Sales Meeting

CEO - Leading

Turbocharger. Hear the word and you probably think “robust power source.” Competitive drivers and car manufacturers have used turbochargers for decades to boost engine power and race performance. In the hands of a skilled driver, this extra power can offer a competitive advantage. Putting that power, however, in the hands of someone less skilled or at the wrong time, can be fatal.

In the competitive world of selling, it is natural to seek a turbocharger equivalent to boost your performance in a sales meeting. At times this means asking a C-level executive — i.e., CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. — to join a sales meeting or presentation. And why not? A C-level executive may be able to help advance a sale or retain a relationship, and in the process build your credibility with a client and even your colleagues.

However, it would be a mistake to take this step lightly or impulsively, even with the most receptive and charismatic C-level executive. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — may prove to be an asset or liability. Here are some of the more common mistakes I have made or seen during my time at Richardson Sales Training and Effectiveness Solutions as it relates to including a senior-level executive in a sales pitch or client meeting:

  • Believing that a C-level executive’s title, presence, and personality can magically transform a poorly qualified opportunity or a poorly prepared team.
  • Treating him or her as untouchable, beyond coaching or preparation.
  • Banking on the fact that they know “what to do.”
  • Assuming that your deal carries the same importance to them as it does to you.
  • Not bringing your own A-game.

Without guidance, a leader is likely to do what they do: lead. They may grab control of the meeting, taking you away from an otherwise winning game plan and hurting your credibility with the client. A senior leader playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your C-level executive? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?

C-level executives, when coached skillfully, can be a great asset and turbocharge a sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging a C-level executive in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.

1) Ask them.

Obvious, yes? Less obvious is what it takes to prepare for that ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes.” Convey to the executive why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.

2) Define and communicate your expectations.

This should include:

  • His role in the meeting
  • Who is the team leader
  • Your expectations for his participation in preparing for and de-briefing the meeting with you
  • Letting him define how, when, and where he would like to give and get feedback

3) Prepare together.

Invite your C-level executive to your prep sessions, understanding the realities of her schedule. When she is able to be there, be sure to:

  • Transfer essential knowledge given her role in the sales meeting
  • Run through the opening, including her welcome message and introduction
  • Preview whatever additional topics, such as a company overview, she will address in the meeting
  • Be clear on your role as team leader, including who will close and how that will be done

Have you ever heard a senior-level executive introduce themselves and refer to their role as “overhead?” What can be funny in an internal meeting can be disastrous in a sales meeting. Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.

4) Set ground rules.

Make sure your C-level executive takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with the senior-most decision maker(s) representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. Pivoting from internal meetings where she is in charge, to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is being set by others can be tough for a C-level executive, especially those with no direct sales experience.

5) De-brief together.

Consider drafting for your C-level executive’s signature a thank you note on the team’s behalf. He can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Individual feedback should be handled carefully. His feedback to you and team members take on extra gravity. Receiving feedback from you, done well, can strengthen future meetings and pitches. C-level executives tend to get very little objective feedback, which is a shame since they play such an important role in high-stakes meetings. Consider collecting and distilling the team’s feedback — both pluses and minuses — and deliver the key points in a one-on-one. Also, be sure to acknowledge his time in preparing for and taking the meeting, his contributions, and ask how he would like to stay apprised of future developments.

Including a C-level executive in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. In the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.

Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your C-level executive, properly positioned, can turbocharge your sales efforts and give you the extra boost needed to push you into the winner’s circle.