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Think Like a CEO!

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The purchasing agent was on a roll. He hammered that sales rep on price only three minutes into their conversation. Five minutes later, the agent strutted into the CEO’s office like a peacock, proud of having squeezed the sales rep on price. But one month later, the peacock was molting as problems reared their ugly heads. The delivery was off by two days, and the quality check showed the product was sub-par — so now it’s the purchasing agent getting hammered by his boss, all because he was more interested in getting a low price than in getting the best value.

When you're the sales rep in this situation, how do you regain control of the conversation when that purchasing agent is so darn fixated on the price tag? How do you help him foresee the ramifications and risks of holding out for the lowest price, forsaking great opportunities for a better value? Help the agent break out of that tunnel-vision mindset and see the value of your business solution.

The trouble is that, in many customers' minds, value and price are one and the same. How do you make them understand that the words "value" and "price" aren't synonyms, that the lowest price doesn't necessarily equal the highest value for their dollars? Asking the right questions can help you to make your customers look beyond the price tag and see the real value of your products and business solutions.

How to Speak CEO-ese

Does the sweat drip down your face at the very thought of talking with a CEO? Does sparring with stubborn purchasing agents seem like a day at the beach by comparison? You're not alone — many salespeople get nervous when talking to CEOs and company presidents because they're not sure what to talk about. These salespeople put the CEOs on a pedestal, thinking "These people are so busy, and I'm just a schlepper salesperson. What am I doing here?" They keep getting pushed back down, referred to lower-level decision makers, probably because they zeroed in on analysis and feature/benefit selling instead of concentrating on the big picture that interests the CEO. The trick is to think like a CEO, not an analyst!

Questions for Dialogue with the CEO

Every CEO constantly assesses his competition to survive. By the same token, every CEO must keep on top of trends affecting his industry in order to thrive. Your best bet for engaging the top decision makers is to ask questions about these two crucial aspects of business — and if you speak with the quiet confidence of a CEO, you'll impress the purchasing agent enough to get an audience.

You don't need to launch into a spiel about your products and services right off the bat. Tailor your questions to focus on the kind of business results your customer seeks to reach his goals and rise to the challenges his company faces. The following questions will get him focused on the future while critically analyzing his present situation; he'll have to ask himself, "Can I get where I want to go with what I have now?" No matter what the answer is, helping him to face that question will prove valuable to his business and yours as he looks to you as a forward-thinking advisor. Here's what to ask in order to engage the CEO and get into his mindset:
  • "As you reflect back over the past 5 years, what do you feel has been the biggest contributing factor to your (the company's) success?"

  • "In the next three years, what do you think your greatest opportunity will be?"

  • "In the next three years, who do you think will emerge as your biggest threat?"

  • "What do you think truly differentiates your company from all the other choices out there?"

  • "Which of your product's or service's strengths will allow you to continue your success?"

  • "How do you picture the direction of your industry in five years? Ten years?"

  • "What change could cut into your share of the market?"

  • "How does the aging of the baby boomer generation (or any applicable trend) affect your share of the market?"

  • "How does your company measure progress?"

  • "Are you planning on initiating any integration with other companies?"

  • "How does your company see itself today? How has it changed over the last five years? Where would it like to be in the next five years?"

  • "How does your company approach change?"

  • "What pending legislation (or market conditions, competitive threats, demographic trends, organizational changes, etc.) could change the way you do business?"

  • "What are the market forces you're most concerned about?"

  • "How is your company addressing the competitive pressures of the market?"

  • "What issues do you think your company must address or overcome in order to be more successful? What specific steps or actions will you need to take?"

  • "Describe your goals to increase market share. What's working well for you? What isn't?"

A typical salesperson wants to get down to the details and connect with the big decision makers. But their time is at a premium, so you're in danger of disconnecting from a big-picture thinker's wavelength if you try tactical approaches such as qualifying or closing. The way to connect with them and demonstrate your worth is by asking the right questions, zeroing in on what's important to them. Asking big-picture thinkers the big picture questions will tune you into their mindset, with faster and greater results.

About the Author

Sales Leadership Expert Paul Cherry will shake up your sales team and motivate your leaders! By teaching executives to ask the right questions, Paul has helped over 1,200 companies turn their sales team strengths into profit and performance. Now, you can achieve success with his free Sales Motivational Discovery Assessment, guaranteed to help you discover exactly where mediocrity exists in your organization. Take the assessment now at
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