How to Talk to a CEO if You Want Them to Buy

Many people want to speak to CEOs to sell. After reading “How to Talk to a CEO“, I thought there was another POV on the topic. Let’s use the Darden Restaurants news regarding selling off the Red Lobster unit as a real life point of departure for this discussion.

Following the format of the article I offer 6 highlights as a guide to the five minutes granted to speak to a CEO.

  1. Know what problem (s) are facing the CEO.  If you read the Darden Restaurant Strategic Action Plan to Enhance Shareholder Value, there is some insight to be gained into what a CEO needs to think about/understand about running the business, and possibly how to frame any potential discussion within that thought process. If not sure, ask questions. Diagnose the situation, but have some inkling of an idea of the big picture going into the meeting. Be knowledgeable of the company, competitive environment.
  2. Cite specifics about the nature of the problem. The goal for a CEO is to return shareholder value in most cases. What is preventing this? What obstacles present themselves?
  3. Present a solution. Obviously, there are teams already knowledgeable of the problem and potential solutions, so I look for a way to be part of the overall solution – and maybe not THE solution. What is the best solution? What are the risks?
  4. Listen closely for feedback. This might be what one could call the CEO’s “buying strategy.” After hearing the problem and stating a solution you might hear that they have tried that already, or be given some additional information about why a proposed solution may or may not work. In light of additional factors and information, make your offer . “We can do X to help with that problem.”
  5. Ask to be introduced to the team tasked with the area of interest to continue pursuit of the offer. The goal is to become part of the team as a trusted advisor.
  6. Follow-up intelligently and professionally. Naturally, businesses don’t want their problems broadcast all over town as it can have an adverse effect on share price. The prudent course is to gain trust, and appreciate that over time, you may actually do business one day, if not today. Be clear and concise, and maintain contact and follow the course of action suggested by the CEO.

Meeting any CEO may seem daunting but if there is a clear purpose in mind : writing an article about the CEO or the Company, selling your company’s product/service, or selling yourself. Realize that CEO’s are human beings just like you, but they are under enormous time pressure, and delegate to teams of executives whose job it is to find good ideas that have value. Asking a CEO to commit to more than the proper channel to execute what it is that you want, after a first meeting, is a breach of corporate etiquette, and ill-mannered. My experience has come from cold-calling C-Suite Executives, getting past the gatekeeper, scheduling a specific day and time to call/meet,  and getting on the calendar in the first place.

Here is a challenge you might like to try as a thinking exercise. Read the following Darden Restaurants presentation “Strategic Action Plan to Enhance Shareholder Value” and think through how you would present yourself or your Company’s value proposition/product/service to the CEO.

The solution we offered Darden relative to Real Estate a few years back, was to takeover any vacant retail locations that are under a lease, buy out the lease, and return the value of the leases as media buys using their benchmarked rates, to be used how they please. In this example, I am sometimes referred to the CMO or CFO.

I am curious to hear feedback about how others speak to the C- Suite relative to selling. Feel free to use your own example.

Get your feet wet, speak to a CEO today.