Engaging The CEO (PART 1): What CEOs Really Think Of You!

Hari Krishnan
Hari V Krishnan. CEO at PropertyGuru Group

Here is a message to sellers from a real buyer…


Outbound tactics without strategy are sheer lunacy. We must lead with an insight-driven value narrative (‘hypothesis of value’) or hammering away in blended channels is worthless. It’s not what we use, but how we use it; otherwise, it’s scorched Earth for C-level fish we risk scaring off from still waters. Or put another way

Buyers are deadened to seller outreach. Breaking through demands the right narrative and use of blended channels

This is an example of what not to do. Thanks Claudio Camacho from Tuxera for allowing me to share this. He published a screenshot of this InMail from a salesperson was Mike being creative? Maybe. Was he effective? No. I applaud Mike for ‘having a go’ and seeking to break through with some humor and focusing on value (increasing sales conversion rates) but I think it misses the mark.

Engaging CEO 2

Why are executive buyers so tough?

  1. They are under pressure, drowning in workload and are time poor
  2. They don’t believe the over the top ROI claims from sellers
  3. They are deadened to all the outreach being projected at them
  4. They filter requests based on referrals from a trusted source (people who work for them or peers they respect)

Click here for examples of real emails that secured meetings with a CXO. Thanks Hubspot and the image below is also linked.

Engaging CEO 3

Here is some more real world feedback from a CEO. I delivered a 2-day program for 90 salespeople and as part of the agenda we had Hari Krishnan, CEO at PropertyGuru Group join for a one hour interview. PropertyGuru is the market leader in their industry and prior to this CEO role Hari Krishnan held Board Director positions and was head of LinkedIn in Asia-Pacific and Japan. He is impeccably credentialed to provide the most senior buyer perspective and the insights that follow came from this powerful question…

“On what basis do you as the CEO of a market leader engage directly with sellers?”

Everyone in the room was riveted and the feedback forms for this session rated it as the most valuable over the two days. My paraphrase of this sage CEO’s advice for sellers is below and in italics with my own advice added occasionally in non-italic and within [brackets].

1.    If you want to get to me then it’s only going to happen through a warm introduction from someone I know and trust. Understand the nature of my relationship with the introducer will give you some context into how I am likely to receive your introduction.

2.    Cultivate multiple stakeholders in my organisation and educate them on your solution too. I don’t make unilateral decisions or try to push decisions down the organisation; so you need to build multiple relationships.

3.    Don’t be creepy personal. Stick to business early in the relationship. Don’t stalk on personal social platforms such as Facebook. I’m not seeking a new friend or looking for someone to buy me a meal or host me at an event. [Senior successful people are incredibly busy and would rather invest their time with family or where they have strong personal relationships].

4.    Do your research. Seeking a conversation with me without doing your homework is unprofessional and shows a lack of respect. Don’t drop names of competitors or reference industry trends that are not relevant to my region or business. The examples you use need to be from within my geography and relate to what is happening in my markets. A USA-centric approach does not usually work in other geographies and cultures.

5.    Know my industry. As the market leader I am not chasing disruptors but I am interested in what relevant companies are doing. Know whom I define as my competition (current and emerging) and bring me insights about them, their strategies and initiatives. I am not seeking confidential information or trade secrets, nor should you offer them, but you must bring a perspective that is of value to me. [The VP of Sales doing the interview later commented that sellers should always seek to be a customer of their prospective client, or talk to some of their customers, as part of their own research and take a perspective on how that experience could be improved].

6.    Don’t appear arrogant. Assuming that your brand alone is the reason I should buy from you is a mistake. [If you’re the market leader, don’t tell the customer that you are ‘dominant’. Instead use the term ‘leader’ and earn their interest and trust rather than assume it].

7.    Take the time to understand how I define success. Know what motivates our organisation and how we measure improvement and success. Focus on how you can help me achieve our KPIs and performance measures.

8.    Aspire to be a trusted advisor. Not in a clichéd way but differentiate yourself in the way you engage our organisation by acting in our best interests rather than your own. Resist the urge to push and close when we are not ready. Trusted advisor for a seller is achieved over time through alignment with my personal and organisation’s success.

“Your focus should be on my success as the customer rather than on your sales goal.”

According to Hari Krishnan, the three levels of relationship are:

  1. Trusted Advisor: I collaborate with you, and involve you deeply in my planning process, and there is emotional personal connection and trust
  2. Partner: I regard you as being strategic to my business and I solicit your thoughts in the planning process
  3. Vendor: I transact with you and focus on price as the primary way of defining greater value

And I always thought that the ‘trusted advisor’ phrase was a cliché used by sales people when they decided to get cheesy. There is gold within this advice from Hari.

I think there are some important points to consider when considering Hari’s advice. Don’t use LinkedIn as a spamming platform, instead use it to research and find the best path for a warm introduction. Cold calling and direct marketing strategies rarely work at the CXO level but even with an introduction you’ll need the right combinations of outreach to break-through. Once you’ve secured your path for an introduction, you need the right narrative to ‘set the agenda on insight and value’ to form the basis of a conversation.

Referrals are the fastest way to revenue. This is we we must cultivate our networks and nurture our own brand.

Special thanks Hari and also my client who allowed me to publish this on the basis I do not divulge their identity. Everyone who was in the room two weeks ago will compare this post with their own notes to continue their own journey of becoming the sales person worthy of Trusted Advisor status as they seek to turn every C-level interaction into an opportunity.

For sales people, here are some other articles I’ve written on the topic of engaging senior leadership:

Engaging the CEO Series

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Tony Hughes
Tony Hughes has 35 years of corporate and sales leadership experience having generated record-breaking results as a salesperson, head of sales, and CEO leading the Asia-pacific region for multi-nationals. He is a best-selling author, consultant, trainer and keynote speaker. Tony is Co-founder and Sales Innovation Director at Sales IQ Global. He serves on advisory boards and has been published by The American Management Association. Tony has also taught sales for Sydney University, University of New South Wales, and within the MBA program at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has been ranked #1 sales blogger globally by both Top Sales Magazine and Best Sales Blogger Awards. Tony is ranked a top 3 sales expert and thought leader globally by LinkedIn and the most read person on the topic of B2B selling within their platform. He has more than 500,000 blog followers and has been rated the most influential person in professional selling within Asia-Pacific three years in a row. His first book, The Joshua Principle – Leadership Secrets of Selling, is in its 10th printing and his most recent books, COMBO Prospecting and Tech-Powered Sales are published by HarperCollins Leadership New York. Tony speaks at conferences internationally and his clients are some of the best-known brands in the world including Salesforce, Grant Thornton, SAP, IBM, Flight Centre Travel Group, Adobe, Siemens, Docusign and other market leaders.