How to sell to C-level in B2B: Best tactics and approaches

Precious Oboidhe
Precious Oboidhe
Reading time:12 m

If you’re a salesperson who sells high-ticket products, reaching out to a C-level executive may be your best shot for getting quick deals. C-level executives control budgets, make buying decisions, and initiate purchases with a high annual contract value. Contacting them may also cause shorter sales cycles and make you hit your quota quickly.

But the thing is, before you sell to an executive, you need to pitch to them and set up an appointment. This takes a lot of time and effort. We know this because, at Belkins, we’ve scheduled over 10,000 appointments with C-level executives since 2017. And no, it wasn’t easy! We achieved this through trial and error, research, and dialogue.

In this guide, we’ll share our experiences with generating thousands of appointments with C-level executives.

You’ll learn about the pain points of C-suite, how to prepare before pitching to them, how to win an executive’s attention, and more.

Who are C-level executives?

C-level executives — or members of the C-suite — are influential and senior managers of an organization. The “C” in C-level means “chief,” and this includes titles like:

  • CEO: Chief executive officer
  • CTO: Chief technology officer
  • CFO: Chief financial officer
  • CMO: Chief marketing officer
  • CIO: Chief information officer
  • CDO: Chief data officer
  • COO: Chief operations officer
  • CSO: Chief strategy officer

These executives don’t wake up each morning and hope to buy a new shiny product. It’s not in their plan.

So when you pitch to them, you need to ensure it catches their attention. Every generic email says hello to the junk folder or gets a quick “delete.” To prevent this from being your lot, your messages need to align with the key value drivers of C-level executives.

Key value drivers of C-level decision-makers

What motivates C-level executives is often different from what drives their subordinates. If you can hone these, your chances of winning over your target C-level executive go up a notch.

1. Product adoption

In a JumpCloud survey of 400+ IT professionals, 89% of CTOs said they value the impact on employee experience when making IT purchasing decisions.

Whether it’s a CTO, CEO, or other members of the C-suite, no one wants to buy a product that their team shuns. C-level executives want products their team can adopt and that are easy to use.

2. Pipeline

C-level executives care about their pipeline. If your product will help them extract more dollars from their leads, state it. This is even more important when the company already uses a competitor’s product. In such cases, show that what you’re offering is, at least, a little better than what the C-level executive uses.

3. Revenue

Closing a deal with a C-level executive drives you closer to your quota and makes your company meet its revenue goals. Guess what? Who you’re selling to wants the same thing. 

Show that your product or service can help generate more revenue, and you’ll likely win the attention of any C-level executive. 

4. Better margins

Expensive products can be more effective and deliver better results. If you sell a product like that, your lead may incur more expenses but have a better profit margin. Make this clear in your message when communicating.

Now it’s clear that financial impact is central to the needs of the C-suite. So before pitching to a C-level executive, know how your product impacts a company’s financial growth. Once you understand this, your odds of creating effective sales pitches will increase.

What makes an effective sales pitch to a C-level executive?

Salespeople tirelessly compete for the attention of the C-suite. Jonathan Brodsky, founder of Hospara, says:

“I get about 70 emails per day on average. If I only look at weekdays, we’re talking about 100 per day.”

Executives like Jonathan cannot reply to all emails, yet he certainly responds to some. Why? What makes one sales pitch so effective when others are falling flat?

1. Effective sales pitches show you did research

Conducting thorough research is hard, but it improves your chance of getting responses. For instance, the snippet in the email below shows we know the prospect’s problem.  

Pitch to a C-suite showing quality research

This level of personalization can make the C-level executive interested in hearing you out.

2. Effective sales pitches show the strategic value of a product

Every pitch needs to state what’s in it for the C-level executive. How do they benefit by giving you an ear?

  • Reduced cost
  • Better profit margins
  • Growth in market share 
  • Adoption of an easy-to-use software

Be clear about these outcomes and resist focusing on features. See how we showed this in the previous example.

Pitch to a C-suite showing strategic value

3. Effective sales pitches include social proof

A C-level executive may take you more seriously if they see social proof. If you have excellent G2 reviews, use them. Got Gartner recognition? State it. Have case studies? Summarize and paste them in your pitch.

Social proof in a pitch to a C-suite

10 pitching best practices for selling to the C-suite

Selling to the C-suite can be challenging because executives are usually busy and they carefully guard their time. To get conversations going with them, here are some best practices we use:

1. Identify the right decision-maker

Before starting any outreach efforts, you need to determine your ICP. And that’s not always the CEO. Yes, in some companies with under 100 employees, CEOs may be the primary decision-makers.

However, if you’re targeting companies of 200+ people, it’s better to contact the C-level executive who’s directly responsible for the product you’re selling. They can often be your key to entering a more extensive conversation. Plus, since they have more to lose or gain from your product, they are more likely to hear you out.

After finding the right executive, it’s best practice to contact your company and industry network to inquire if anyone knows the person. If someone does, that reference could give you credibility, help you gain the executive’s trust, and get you a meeting with the C-suite.

2. Start at the bottom

C-level executives often have the last say in buying decisions. However, their employees’ thoughts about the offer affect their opinion most times — after all, good leaders listen to their teammates before making a decision.

Therefore, before engaging the C-suite, connect with other titles in the company and see how the benefits of your product or service apply to their needs.

Sometimes, we reach out to lower-level titles or managers like VPs, heads, directors, and managers of our target department. Why? They have a much better response rate, as they are often less occupied and distracted. That said, mid-level managers may not always connect you to their higher-ups, but they may help you get the scoop about what’s happening in the company. This info helps when you finally connect with a C-level executive.

3. Cc the assistant

C-level executives aren’t strangers to getting sales emails from vendors. Since time is of the essence, they view these emails as an intrusion. To avoid this intrusion, they often have gatekeepers or assistants who police their emails and schedule.

This implies that if your email doesn’t get the gatekeeper’s green light, the C-level executive may never see it.

So what do you do? Show respect to the gatekeeper.

When introducing yourself, meet and cc your prospects’ assistants first. Make them your friends by engaging with them on a professional network like LinkedIn. This prevents you from being a stranger when your messages land in their inboxes.

4. Keep your pitch brief

Your sales pitch needs to be straight to the point. An executive who has a lot lined up won’t ditch what’s on the calendar to read a lengthy pitch. As usual, you would want to create a personalized pitch for every executive.

Do this by checking out their website, digging into their social media feeds, understanding what they do, and learning what they like and dislike. Go further to learn about trends and advancements in the executive’s industry. This info helps you become an expert on the executive and create a pitch that aligns with their objectives and priorities.

5. Forget features, talk outcomes

This best practice is worth emphasizing. C-level executives don’t care about features. They care about outcomes. So refine your pitch and ensure it convincingly explains the outcome of using your product.

Have examples of popular companies who have used your product? Such information strikes a chord with C-level executives, so include it in your offer. Whatever outcome that would make an executive desire to speak with you, include it in your pitch.

6. Be prepared for a negative response

C-level executives are champions at sales objections — and for a good reason. Since they take responsibility for all the good and bad things that happen to the company, they have to be very careful and say “no” more often than “yes.” Your goal here is not to back down, not to push, but to provide a logical rebuttal that would address their concerns and appeal to their business goals.

When it comes to closing, usually highlighting the cost of doing nothing is a good tactic to help get decision-makers over the line.

Brian Hicks, VP of Sales at Belkins

7. Persevere

Setting sales appointments with a member of the C-suite requires perseverance. So when reaching out, be ready to send at least 6 messages.

In our experience, one element that determines how soon an executive responds depends on their level of interest in your offer. Our SDRs have reached instant booking with C-levels after sending just 1 email. Why? The client had an excellent and interesting value proposition.

With other C-level executives, it can last 2 to 3 weeks. You should typically expect results from your second or third email. That’s something we get here at Belkins.

8. Create a follow-up strategy

Having a desire to follow up is not enough. What do you do if a C-level executive reads your email but doesn’t respond?

At Belkins, our follow-up strategy is to first send a few reminders that help us get a status update from the C-level. If there’s no response, we look for more contacts to reach out to, and we also create a unique value proposition in relation to each contact. 

We also reach out to assistants who could help us get to the C-level. However, our preference is to focus on decision-making titles and shorten the number of steps before the desired sales call.

9. Try social selling to the C-suite

If emails fail and you’re sure a C-level executive is still worth the shot, consider social selling on platforms like LinkedIn. 

Hit the notification bell in the executive’s profile so you can see and comment on their content. It doesn’t end there. Go into the DMs of the C-suite and create a relationship with them. While you’re at it, know that traditional sales practices may not work with them. See how Ash Bhoopathy puts it:

Another element to include in your social selling arsenal is thought leadership content. 

According to research by Edelman and LinkedIn, 88% of C-level executives agree that thought leadership enhances their perceptions of an organization. That means publishing great content could help you get the attention of C-level executives on LinkedIn.

In fact, in the same research, 47% of C-suite executives say they shared their contact information after reading thought leadership. Plus, 61% are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has articulated a clear vision.

10. Hire an appointment setting agency

Outsourcing appointment setting with the C-suite is ideal if you have these challenges:

  • You don’t have enough salespeople
  • You lack enough time to focus on closing deals
  • Your sales team lacks experience with contacting the C-suite
  • You tried contacting the C-suite via email and social media without success

When outsourcing to an appointment setting company, you need to consider several factors:

  • Is the company specialized in appointment setting?
  • Is the company transparent in their operations?
  • Do they have irrefutable social proof?
  • Do they have industry expertise?
  • Do they have a clear process?

Answering these questions will help you avoid pitfalls and score deals.

5 sales techniques for selling to the C-suite

You’ve researched, pitched, followed up, and finally, you have the C-suite on a call. Sealing the deal is crucial at this point. Below are 5 sales techniques to help you out:

1. Get insights from your team

An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” What this proverb suggests is clear.

As a superstar rep, you may know everything about the C-suite. Beyond that, you’ll want to hear from your team before jumping on the call, especially when you are working on enterprise deals.

  • Can your engineers provide some insights if you’re selling to a CTO?
  • How about your finance team? Can they do a role play so you expect and prepare for objections from a CFO?
  • Can your CEO refine your process for taking on the call? Have you been straightforward with your points, or are you talking in circles?

Treat these insights like an author.

An author may write the best book, but they won’t edit it. Why? The closeness to their work makes them blind to errors. This leads them to outsource the editing process to an editor who examines their work with fresh eyes. Let your team be your editor. They could help you identify missteps that could cost you the deal.

2. Reintroduce yourself

Sometimes, the C-suite might forget about you, your company, and why they want to chat with you. That’s because they have a lot on their plate. Instead of taking this personally, briefly remind them of who you are, your company, and the purpose of the meeting. This simple script will do:

“Hi, {{C-suite’s name}}. I’m {{Your name}} from {{Your company}}. I’m {{Calling/here}} to discuss {{The purpose of the meeting}}.”

Be sure to include the strategic goals of the company in your reintroduction. Here’s an example:

“Hi, Pete. I’m Mike from {{Company name}}. I’m here to discuss how {{C-suite’s company}} can streamline its sales processes and maximize team productivity using {{your product/service}}.”

3. Give the executive a chance to talk

Whether your C-level appointment is virtual or in person, it’s important to listen and hear them out.

Try not to interrupt them. Interrupting a conversation is rude, especially when the goal is about you, your ideas, and your needs. Allowing the C-suite to speak shows respect and professionalism. More than that, it lets you identify further objections so you can plan a sniper-style response.

4. Communicate in the C-suite’s language

When selling to C-level executives, ditch all forms of cheap talk. The C-suite is smart and knows about many sales gimmicks, which they don’t fall for. What the C-suite respects is a chat where you anticipate their needs before they ask. Plus, make sure you’re:

  • Time-conscious
  • Not manipulative 
  • Asking questions that only they can answer
  • Not playing on their intelligence
  • Authentic
  • Honest

5. Allow the executive’s team to make a case for your product

This technique works when you’re having a meeting with the C-suite and their managers. If you’ve built a relationship with these managers, you can ask questions that let you make a case for your product.

Let’s say you’re having a meeting with 2 marketing managers, a head of marketing, a director, and a C-level. You could start with the marketing managers and ask that they share the challenges they mentioned during your conversations with them.

This way, you build on what each manager says until you reach the director. It’s like the C-suite hearing from the mouth of several horses. Once this happens, you have the C-suite’s attention, and your ultimate job is to address any other objections and hit hard on the outcomes of using your product.

Generating a C-suite outreach plan

Every approach we’ve outlined works when you’re selling to the C-suite. However, without a solid outreach plan for finding these executives, it’ll be difficult to execute what we’ve shared.

This is where Belkins comes in. Do you have a small team? Lack several sales resources? Or are you time-strapped? Our team can help you with the heavy lifting of conducting research and setting up appointments with your ideal executives. We’ve done this for 1,000+ companies and have many case studies and testimonials on third-party sites like G2, Clutch, and TrustRadius.

If you’re looking to outsource appointment setting for the C-level, a proven company like Belkins is your best bet. Contact Belkins today to build a pipeline of executives who are ideal for your product.

FAQ about selling to the C-level

How many B2B emails should I send when contacting the C-suite?

In our experience, 6 is the magic number. However, if you exhaust these emails with no response, consider emailing the assistant of the C-suite. You can also build a relationship with mid-managers within the organization. These relationships will help you understand the priorities of the organization and let you tailor your pitch better.

What’s the best way to engage with the C-suite via social selling?

First, create top-notch content. You should also learn to write quality and in-depth comments on the posts of the C-suite and those in their network. When you publish a comment, always ask yourself, “Can someone respond to this comment?” Such comments will get you noticed if you’re consistent.

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Precious Oboidhe
Precious Oboidhe
B2B Content Strategist & Writer
Precious develops content marketing strategies and frequently blogs for the well-known B2B players. HubSpot, CoSchedule, EngageBay, and Foundation Inc. — this is only a small part of the MarTech brands Precious collaborated with.