Many sellers believe that selling to the C-Suite is like the Holy Grail of sales. The A-Game. The big leagues. The … can’t think of any more sports metaphors.

I’ve written extensively on the topic of selling to the C-suite, covering aspects like which questions to ask, how to have great sales meetings with senior executives and even how to cold call the corner office.

But there is an underlying, deeper question that just begs to be answered: what is it that motivates senior executives in the first place?

Mark Kuta Jr, author of the appropriately named “Think Like A CEO”, mentions that most CEOs are primarily concerned with three things: the metrics that his boss is focused on, what their competitors are doing in the marketplace and what customers want now and in the future.

But that’s still fairly broad – if you’re looking to truly uncover what motivates senior executives, I have found there are five practices that are tremendously powerful when it comes to uncovering the executive agenda.

Find Their Personal Motivators

Look. No matter how rich, powerful or influential they are, everybody still has things they want. And, lo and behold, as it turns out senior executives want pretty much what most of us want: to like what they are doing, to work in a stable environment, to get paid at the end of the day and have a good relationship with their boss and peers.

Everyone is different, but you can safely assume that senior executives are motivated by some of the most common human drivers and ambitions – just like everyone else. As a seller, your job is simply to find which ones matter, and which ones matter most.

Recognise The Value Of Their Time

Senior folks are busy. Probably busier than you are. How would you feel if someone walked into your office, and launched into a lengthy explanation of how they “think” they might be able to help you, or a 60 minute cross examination with questions ?

If you want to be successful in connecting with senior executives, recognize the value of their time – never ask for more time you need (they will give you time if you deliver value), get to the point quickly, show them that you’ve done your homework and follow up fast.

Summarise Up Front

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a management consultant about what motivates senior executives was the value of a good up front summary. By simply highlighting the points you will be covering, why they matter and how you will end the meeting, you’ve laid out a concise roadmap of the meeting – and senior executives (as well as anyone else who is extremely busy in the room) will thank you for it.

If you happen to find yourself in a position where you’re presenting to an executive or committee, keep the following in mind: summarise up front, set expectations, create summary content, give them what they asked for and rehearse.

Ask Better Questions

Before meeting with any senior executive, I highly recommend you ask yourself five simple questions:

  • What does this person care about?
  • How will I start the conversation?
  • What value will I deliver?
  • What new ideas will I introduce?
  • How will I end the conversation?

Asking the questions above will force you to prepare for the meeting and help you accomplish some of the other practices that I’ve outlined in this post. Once you’re in the meeting, I also highly recommend asking these five core questions – irrespective of whether you are speaking to an executive or any other kind of buyer.

Finish Strong

I cannot emphasize this enough: your meeting is only as good as the way you closed it. Unless you set clear next steps, gain commitment for them, answer any remaining questions and close off on a personal note, you are unlikely to leave a lasting and positive impression.

Contrary to popular wisdom, I also would not recommend that you leave closing off the meeting entirely to the executive. You need to be seen as the one who will take the process forward, and take action on their behalf. That doesn’t mean being brash or dominating; it simply means that you recap what was said before, outlines a few scenarios what you think might work, (help them) pick one and agree on some next steps.

If you’re looking to understand what motivates senior executives, start with understanding their personal motivators, be brief and efficient with how you use their time, ask great, insightful and thought-provoking questions and – always – finish on a high note.