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Getting C-Level Executives to Buy--and Refer--You: The Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Bill Lee on September 21, 2010 at 08:55 AM

C-level customer buyers can be exceptionally valuable. In some cases, they can make a business. Such customers tend to have substantial budgets with which to buy, and broad networks of peers they can refer you to for additional business--if you deliver the goods to them. 

Persuading C-level prospects to buy, and once they do, persuading them to be references, are two sides of the same coin. Here are some Do's and Don'ts to keep in mind in attracting them. These are all based, by the way, on real world kudos and complaints about vendors from an actual C-level executive at a Fortune 100 firm. 

To successfully engage and educate prospective C-level buyers: 


- Send a racing car model missing the remote control, and offer to bring it if she'll agree to a meeting (an actual example). 

- Use gimmicks of any kind. You're just demonstrating a lack of imagination. 

- Throw up a white paper on your website about your solutions or offerings and expect her to find and download it. 


- Send or otherwise provide (or "push") information to him about how to solve a compelling problem. For example, instead of a white paper about your latest advances in mobility solutions, provide a case study about how mobility solutions are saving office rent and improving productivity at a company like his. 

- Invest in significant market research. Know your customers, know their issues, know their business. The same for attractive prospects. 

- Learn about your C-level executive's network. Who is she connected to? If you can get a referral, or at least demonstrate you know someone in her network, that's instant credibility. 

To initiate a relationship with a prospective C-level buyer: 


- Walk in to a first meeting saying, "Tell me what your strategy and challenges are." 

- Expect her to spend an hour telling you all about her issues and problems. 

- Feel you have to help her save the world. 


- Walk in having researched her issues, so you can say, "Here's a problem I know you have, and here's how we can help." 

- Start small, such as offering to save her just $50,000, or even just $10,000 or even $5,000—in order to build trust. In tight times like these, even Fortune 100 C-level executives are attracted to such savings. 

For a prospective C-level buyer who's ready to decide: 


- Provide references that aren't a "good match" for her business and her issues. It's a waste of everyone's time. 


- Demonstrate that their investment in your solution will repay itself quickly, in the first year if possible. 

- Build their confidence in you, and not just with your financial performance, but also by showing what outstanding customers you've signed up. 

- Use your own company as a reference—one of the most powerful, and overlooked references you can provide. Are you using the solution you're selling? Let your prospect's implementation people talk to yours. Microsoft, for example, is well known for living this credo, and it makes a powerful impression on corporate buyers. As one CIO put it, "Case studies from your own IT department are absolutely persuasive." 

Once the deal is signed: 


- Ask for a press release right away, a major turnoff to our Fortune 100 CIO.   


- Remember, it's not the contract; it's the creation of significant value that counts, and that won't happen until sometime after implementation. 

As the relationship builds: laying the groundwork for repeat and referral business 


- Drop in just when you have a reference or media request. 

- Have weak CRM (customer relationship management) practices that result in things like your new customer calling in and no one knowing who he is. Or you send letters to his company addressed to his predecessor. 


- Take advantage of the significant opportunity to build relationships in tough times. Doing so can make a lasting impression. As one CIO put it, "What I look for is a partner who'll be with me in bad times as well as good." 

- Remember that your customer DOES want to engage with you, if you go about it the right way. Forget the tricks and gimmicks. 

- Offer a potential marquee customer the full range of opportunities to engage with you--not only to be a reference, but to participate in communities with their peers, or perhaps in an executive advisory board of some sort, and so forth. As our Fortune 100 CIO put it, "Offer me the full range of opportunities to engage with you. Give me the chance to improve your service to me, measure the value you're delivering, develop best practices together, partner with you, engage in marketing with you, and interact with my peers." This opens up a world of additional value she can provide beyond just purchasing--value that many companies entirely overlook. 

- Make referencing by your customers a part of the ongoing discussion--along with implementation performance--between the account manager and your customer.  That's what a strategic reference program does. 

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