You have finally reached the senior levels of a key prospective account and you’ve secured a meeting with the CEO. Now what? Never fear, let’s get you prepared to handle this meeting like a professional who has done it many times.
Start with Common Interests
First, relax and remember they are people too. Be sure you know something about them personally. Try to find something you both might have in common. It could be sports, college fraternities, cycling, etc. My guess is their LinkedIn profile or Facebook page will tell you quite a bit about them. Then, start the meeting with this topic. Don’t dwell on it too long, but the fact you took the time to do some research will be noticeable.
Once I had a meeting with a CEO who had degrees from both the University of Alabama and Auburn University. If you know anything about college football, these two schools play their final game of the year against each other. It’s called the “Iron Bowl” and has a long and storied history. It also is an extremely passionate rivalry to say the least, often dividing the state during game week. I opened the meeting that day by asking, “So, John, who exactly do you cheer for during the Iron Bowl?” We had a lot of fun with that one, and went on to a great meeting.
The 5 Business Topics You Must Address
Once the conversation turns to business, here is a five item checklist you absolutely must accomplish during your conversation.
- Do your homework: Please, do not get to this level of executive and ask, “so, what keeps you up at night?” This question tells me you are unprepared and have done absolutely no homework prior to the meeting. Whether you intend that or not, that’s the message. Hopefully, you’ve had previous meetings with other key leaders in the organization and have gathered first-hand information regarding the topic you’re addressing. Having done your research will pay huge dividends.
- Focus on solutions and value creation: Many times, we tend to dwell on the pain or issues the organization is experiencing. My guess is the CEO is well aware of the issues, but what he really needs are credible solutions. Yes, acknowledge the pain and its implications, but be sure you bring credible solutions. In fact, if you’re not bringing a great solution, why exactly are you there? Why does your solution fit his need? And most importantly, what value will your solution create that others cannot? Executives care about solving issues, but they care more about creating value for their shareholders, their employees and their customers. Any dollars spent should have a return on them. Directly address the value created from your solution.
- Briefly highlight your credentials: To recap, you know the CEO’s issue/pain in detail because of your research. You know you have a great solution. Now, prove to him why he should believe you. Have you published a book/paper on the subject? Have you implemented this solution for years? If so, give brief examples of your work. Help him decide you are the best person to solve his problem by providing credible and convincing proof of you and your firm’s abilities. Give him access to the resources that can validate your work. The more convincingly you do this, the better you will differentiate from your competition.
- Clearly define the next steps: You may do this by presenting the CEO with a couple of options for next steps. Get him involved and let him decide how he wants to proceed. Let him be a part of the solution process and genuinely ask his advice for the best next steps. But be sure you have clearly thought out the options prior to presenting them.
- Follow up relentlessly: The CEO is a busy person with a lot of responsibilities. You may need to be extremely persistent and learn how to creatively work with him to keep things moving. Do they have a trusted, right-hand person that gets things done? Have you been introduced to this person? Maybe you will need to meet this person and develop rapport to help you. If you want this deal, you may need to leave no stone unturned in your attempt to secure the deal.
Finally, when you are asked for something, be sure to follow up quickly and over-deliver. By doing this you will set the tone for how your organization will do business with the CEO and you will differentiate from the competition.