As a former management consultant, corporate executive and entrepreneur, I’ve sat in on more meetings with senior executives than I care to remember.

Most went OK. Some were great. And some went horribly wrong.

So what was the difference ? Invariably, I found that a big part of the difference was made by whether or not those selling to the C-suite answered 5 key questions before setting foot in the door.

1. What does this person care about ?

All too often, I see people walk into the room and completely ignore the first step of any conversation: to connect with others on a human level. Yes, senior executives are human too. Yes, they appreciate good manners. And yes, they value being asked about their life outside of the office.

Don’t overdo it. Be sincere. Ask a simple question to get things started. That’s all it takes.

2. How will I start the conversation ?

Much like investor pitches, presentations or the latest episode of your favorite TV-series, how you start predicts (mostly) how you’ll end up.

When I ask clients about their pre-meeting prep process, most will tell me about their company research, how they uncovered 3–4 issues that are likely to be on their prospect’s mind or what they want to accomplish during the meeting.

Few tell me about their strategy to start.

Think about the first thing you will bring up during the meeting when it’s time to talk business. Which question will you ask first ? What issue will you bring up ? What unexpected facts or insights will you deliver ?

3. What value will I bring ?

In this presentation on Slideshare, 10 of today’s sales leaders paint a picture of what sales will look like in 10 years. All make good points.

But one makes a great one. Jill Konrath talks about “sales people will create value in every interaction.”

Value is not just about delivering new insights. It comes in many forms. Financial value. Value exchanged for time. Relationship value. Value in ideas. Value in information.

Before you walk into the meeting, ask three simple questions:

  • What kind(s) of value will I add in this conversation ?
  • How will I personally deliver value to this person ?
  • In what ways can we create shared value together ?

4. What new ideas will I introduce ?

According to RAIN Group’s latest research on “What Sales Winners Do (Differently)”, the #1 factor that buyers cite when asked why they bought from firm A versus firm B was “they educated me with new ideas and perspectives”.

We’re talking NEW ideas here. Not old ones. Not popular ones. Not generally accepted ones.

In others words, prospects buy from those who “tell them something they didn’t already know”. What new ideas can you introduce ? What counterintuitive wisdom can you share ? How can you back up your claims ?

5.How will I end the conversation ?

In “7 Rules For Meetings With Top Executives” on Inc.com, Geoffrey James’ last point is “Close on a next step”. Unless you have a clear idea of how you’d like to end the conversation, one of three things is likely to happen:

  1. Nothing (happens surprisingly often)
  2. They will advance their agenda
  3. You will advance your sale

 

To Geoffrey’s point, when selling to the C-suite it’s often a great idea to ask the executive what they would like to do next. But in my experience, it’s even better to present them with 2–3 scenarios to pick from.

Most likely, they’ll come up with a 4th one that remixes elements from the 3 you mentioned. Great. They’re on board, they’re invested and you know exactly what’s going to happen next.

Personally, I would not dream of entering an executive’s office without answering these 5 questions. Try it out for yourself. You may be amazed at the results you’ll get.