Salespeople often battle feeling intimidated when working with C-level executives. They are, after all, the definition of success by most people’s standards. They’ve achieved more than most, are highly driven, and have strong business acumen. But with the right tools and techniques, you can excel at selling your products and services to chief executives. If you’ve identified C-level executives as a target for your sales pitch, start with these guidelines for a more successful sales effort:

Know your stuff
Be competent and confident in your product or service and your industry. C-level executives are inquisitive people; they may want to discuss the latest happenings within your industry. Be prepared and don’t try to “wing it”. You also definitely want to avoid going into a sales pitch mode. Make it more of a conversation and they’re bound to participate.

  • Read analyst reports, trade association reports, the customer’s 10K, with an eye on identifying the critical factors your C-level executive is dealing with. Conduct a Google news search and make sure you know the latest press releases from your target customer and their top competitors.

Ask lots of pertinent questions and listen
Make sure you ask many on-target questions and listen intently. Don’t just listen to what they’re saying; focus on the essence of what is being said. C-level executives are used to being the boss and telling others what to do. Don’t be intimidated; remember you are the expert when it comes to your product. Your questions can demonstrate your expertise and direct the conversation so you don’t give up all control of the meeting. Remember, you are having a meeting of equals. You are the expert on your product and your industry. They are the expert of theirs.

  • Plan the questions you will ask to reveal the CEO’s greatest concerns and how they relate to your solution. Plan questions that reveal what you’ve learned from working with similar companies to see how the CEO’s situation compares.

Dress the part
The first impression is the most important and your outer appearance can make or break a sale. Make sure you look like you belong in the C-suite. You have to dress to impress. Being a poised, polished and well-groomed professional goes a long way.

  • Plan your wardrobe for the meeting and get an honest opinion from someone who will tell you if this is your most confident look. If you are in need of a manicure or a haircut, seize the moment.

Avoid talking about your financial beliefs
Don’t let your financial beliefs enter into the conversation. This is especially true if you are selling a high-ticket luxury item.

  • Find out through your network what size of contracts the CEO has approved recently. Odds are your proposal is not the biggest of the bunch.

Do not be a walking, talking website
Avoid spouting off features and benefits. If you are only saying things that can be found on your website or on your marketing collateral, then you have not added any value to the conversation. The executive has done their research long before you walked in, therefore, you must add value or else you have wasted their time. These folks take their time management very seriously. Tie the value you have provided to other customers to their financial statements and how specifically your company was able to create that success. Avoid jargon from your own business. Speak the executive’s language instead. If this isn’t natural for you, then consider bringing an ally from your company. You always want to be authentic! The quickest way to lose the trust of an executive is to get caught not being yourself.

  • Prepare intelligence that will capture a top executive’s attention and consider whether you want a partner to assist with part of the discussion that’s outside of your scope of expertise.

The most interesting thing about selling to the C-suite is that they are usually more focused on the seller and buyer relationship versus just the technical capabilities of your product. With these guidelines, you can have a better chance of selling your product or services and establishing good, personal rapport with your executive clients.

Coach Stephanie Chung is an award-winning executive coach, sales mentor, and business advisor backed by more than 25 years of team management, business development, and sales leadership experience. She assists clients with DISC assessments for a more in-depth look at exploring and mastering different behavior styles and communication techniques.