Cold Calling the C-Suite: 6 Powerful Rules to Follow

Time to rip into one of my all-time favorite sales myths. You know those sales trainers telling you to “Call high up! As high as you can !”? Think before you act. Calling the C-suite unprepared can mean an early death sentence for your sales efforts.

Senior executives are busy. Really busy. I mean, my-schedule-is-booked-three-months-in-advance kind of busy.

They also live in a world of their own. Unfortunately, it’s not the wall-to-wall carpet, chauffeur-driven, corner-office-with-a-view paradise you might imagine.

It’s way, way tougher than that.

Back when I used to be a divisional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at a Fortune-50 financial services firm, I got a steady stream of calls that went something like this.

“Hello ? Is this Ago Cluytens ?”
“Yes. May I ask who is speaking ?”
“Oh. Hi. It’s Mr./Mrs. such-and-such from ACME Corporation. Do you have a minute ?”
“Possibly. Can I ask what this is about ?”
<Insert here> Five minute pitch on their product/service, client list, recent projects ending with (my favorite) the fact that “they just happened to be in town next week, and were wondering if I’d like to sit down (insert gasp for breath here) ?”.

Guess what didn’t happen next ?

Now compare that with the (unfortunately, minority) of calls I got where the person on the other end of of the line:

#1. Spoke my language.

They did not talk about “using their tried-and-tested methodology to generate shareholder value through optimization of peripheral support processes”. Instead, they talked in plain terms about what they offered, why it mattered and why I they thought might be interested.

#2. Made their point.

There was a reason for their call, and they made clear what it was. Maybe they’d just done a piece of research, or they were organizing an invitation-only event or they’d been able to resolve an issue I was struggling with for a client.

Whatever it was, they had a point, and made it. Seconds into the conversation. So they didn’t waste my time.

#3. Demonstrated immediate value.

Once they’d made their point, they went on to explain why it mattered and asked whether it was relevant to me. If it was (and only if it was), they asked clarifying questions and started *giving me valuable advice and insights that I could use* right then and there.

#4. Created a conversation.

Soon enough, the call turned into a conversation. Pretty balanced too, with both sides asking questions and offering observations. Trading information and offering peer-to-peer advice.

Most importantly, two things did not happen. An incoherent, unstructured ramble that left me thinking “why is this person calling me ?”. Or a structured “product pitch” including the oh-so important features and benefits statement.

#5. Gave me an “out”.

Even after we talked (sometimes at length) about my situation, they said things like “I don’t know if it makes sense, but would you like to schedule some time together to discuss this in more detail ?”.

They never assumed, and certainly did not ask me questions like “So would you prefer to sit down on tuesday or thursday of next week ? 9.00 AM or 11.00 ?”

#6. Closed professionally.

At the end of the conversation, they confirmed the time and date of our next call/meeting and went over the points/items we’d discuss. They mentioned what they would send me/do next, and invited me to get in touch if I had questions. And asked me if there was anything else I wanted to discuss.

And then they thanked me for my time.

Time? Five minutes, sometimes more. Probability of me sitting down with them ? 9/10 (if I had a need). Amount of selling that went on ? Zero.

Calling the C-suite is all about being prepared to have a conversation between two professionals of equal stature, giving and exchanging value and determining **together** if it makes sense to take a next step – and what that could look like.

Do that, and believe me – doors will start opening faster than you think.