Buying preferences of your C-Suite buyers is revolutionizing the marketing world

Written by Justin

On Sep 26, 2019

A dramatic shift in buying preferences of your C-Suite buyers is revolutionizing the marketing world. Savvy marketers are breaking through the noise, getting attention and building credibility that attracts buyers, by pushing out high value content and thought leadership. However, there’s ample evidence that sales is lagging significantly behind this trend. Marketing gets them in the door, and they are blowing it by not preparing to engage as peers and experts with sophisticated C-Suite buyers.

  1. trend is prevalent not only in small and mid-size firms but also large, global companies that have been well-trained in traditional sales processes. They know how to ask a series of questions that lead prospects through a sales process and guide them to close. The trouble is, it isn’t working the way it used to as buyers change the way they buy. Sales professionals should change with the times and be adept and confident in conversations with strategic buyers. They must know more than their products – they must understand their C-suite clients’ businesses, provide insight, and earn their places as trusted advisors.

A global sales team corrects it’s course

  1. global sales team in the technology industry was losing market share to a formidable competitor in their space. It was not a marketing problem. It was a sales problem. Marketing had well established the company as a trusted brand. The sales team was losing far more head to head competitions than they were winning.

They consulted with us to evaluate how the sales team was handling three key phases of their sales process and to help them address the issues. Through facilitated discussion they concluded they were falling back on outdated methods that failed to engage C-Suite buyers.

Three specific indications that things weren’t right:

  • Who – More times than not the executive sponsor – and economic buyer – was not engaged. They had no relationship with that key person.
  • What – When they did engage with the executive, the content of the conversation was inappropriate for their level. They were price-oriented, tactical conversations. They were not peer to peer discussions that focused on business issues and strategic needs.
  • When – Timing was a factor. The executive sponsors were engaged too late, sometimes not until close, when the only decision that individual could make was yes or no, and in the absence of context and connection to value, it was too often no.
  1. big aha came when they admitted they’d been blaming their failures on technical deficiencies with the product. Through the course of the discussion, they now agreed they owned it. This was a big breakthrough – the first step in making radical change. They became motivated to prepare differently and behave differently in the meetings. The goal was to get in front of more executive buyers and be successful conducting peer-to-peer dialogue.

Sales professional, or a subject matter expert?

Forbes Magazine recently reports this year that a top trend in business-to-business sales is the subject matter expert as the new rainmaker. They cite three types of people: a) order taker b) sales professional, and c) subject matter expert. As Ian Altman asked rhetorically, “Of the remaining two personas, which one would you want to encounter as a customer? Would you want the person with a mission to sell something to you, or the expert who you might be willing to pay to meet with because of their deep expertise?”

Through our work with sales professionals on C-Suite interactions, we’ve seen that common behaviors can damage perceptions and prevent smart sales people from demonstrating their practical wisdom to executive level prospects.

Here are some new ways of thinking about meetings with the C-Suite so you can overcome these common challenges and show up as an expert and trusted advisor.

  • Prepare for C-Suite Meetings by doing an Audience Agenda. Leave at home that PPT or book that highlights your company’s capabilities. Go in prepared with questions on strategic issues by leveraging what you’ve learned from media and trade publications. Make it your goal to engage in a strategic dialogue within the first 5 minutes.
  • Prime the pump by sending clients thought leadership relevant to their issues. Look at your role as providing C-Suite buyers with high value insights. Tell them something they don’t know – to get them engaged. Demonstrate you’ll have more to offer in a conversation than your competitors.
  • Share your practical wisdom through success stories. Have at the ready examples of how you’ve solved similar client challenges and make the connection to the benefit your executive prospect can expect. Practice telling stories so they don’t come across as sales tools, but rather, practical wisdom.
  • Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. Sophisticated C-suite buyers will see right through typical sales questions. Focus on getting to a better understanding – create simplicity on the other side of complexity. Be prepared to go deeper when you hit on issues that are highly important and relevant to the individual’s situation.
  • Bring SME’s to the first meeting. Buyers need proof early on they should engage with your firm. However, don’t be a glad-hander who simply introduces your expert; think of yourself a partnering to engage. Even if you are not deep on a topic you must do your homework, be thoughtful and impress the buyer with the way you think. They will engage when they believe you have a strategic mindset. That’s when you get invited back to create a proposal

Early in my career as an HR professional, I had someone take an interest in me. For whatever reason, she saw something in me that I wasn’t paying attention to, never mind saw in myself. She took me under her wing and gave me guidance on who to meet with, what to ask, how to conduct myself – it all felt seamless.   Our relationship was informal – coffee or lunch once or twice a quarter.  Our dialogue centered on the work I was doing and what I might have needed her insight on.  I didn’t realize at the time just how important this relationship was until I suddenly found my career growing in ways I hadn’t previously imagined.

I’m a big believer in the “pass it on” principle. Later in my career, I went on to become a formal mentor. I joined an external leadership program for women where I was aligned with a cohort of 5-6 women leaders over an extended period. I also, rather naturally, became an informal mentor to work colleagues and young adults and friends who were just starting out in their career. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it came naturally to me because I’d experienced it – because of the woman who had taken an interest, and believed in me, early in my career.

Mentorship and Connection Through Storytelling

In my HR role, and beyond, I have had people ask me about the secret to mentoring others. It is not something that always comes naturally; nor is it always taught as an important leadership skill or tool for engaging.  One proven way that I have found to explore your values, share your vision, and appear more authentic and approachable to the leaders of tomorrow, is to share your experiences through stories. This is how “pass it on” comes to life, and how you demonstrate to others that you believe in them and why.

3 Reasons Leaders Need to Tell Stories to Engage Millennials and The Leaders of Tomorrow:

Sharing your story (experiences) encourages them to think about possibilities (not solutions)

It’s about relating to the audience – inspiring them – not telling them. Millennials – and others — want to learn things themselves. By sharing a relatable message, you give your audience the power to understand the lesson on their own.

It allows you to welcome the ‘why’ (‘Generation Why…not just Generation Y’). Millennials want to understand why (what actions, skills, or behaviors were evident in the story telling) something worked

Story telling does not need to be daunting, nor done by alone or in a vacuum.  I remember fondly times I used to sit around the campfire with good friends or family. It seemed like there was always someone who’d start a story, a game of sorts, and have someone else pick up where they left off. This continued with the others until you’d have to stop from laughing because the story had become so ridiculous. Kind of like a more transparent game of telephone where each person feels personally challenged to out-do the next on the ridiculousness scale.

As leaders and mentors, it’s our job to keep the story rolling. While we might not always be aiming for belly laughs, engaging others with inspiring messages, and allowing them to participate in the “next” part of the story, just as we did around the campfires, makes them feel like they are a part of something. What would happen if you used this spirit with your team or colleagues and instead of chuckles, you moved people; if the reaction at the ‘end’ of the story had your team members taking pause and asking, ‘what if’?

The magical part is, that sometimes people just need someone to start the story – that’s where your leadership comes in. If you can paint them a beginning and mentor them through to their next step, there’s no telling how wonderful the end, or the “happily ever after” will be.

“You’re entitled to have an opinion. I am just letting you know that it is stupid.”

  1. all wonder what to do when we get well-intended, but unsolicited feedback. It rarely feels good and sometimes can sting. I recall a woman once approached me after a speech to suggest that my black dress wasn’t my “best color”. She offered to help, as she was a wardrobe consultant. She was dressed in a flowing pink and orange dress and a hat. Some people are easy to ignore. It’s usually about them, and their personal agenda.
  2. the same time, you ignore feedback in leadership at your peril. As you move to the top you get less and less of it, and most of that is sanitized to make you feel good. We have to work at getting feedback and insist on candor. As someone once said, “History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.” We are doomed to repeat our own mistakes if we don’t get guidance.

One reason we developed a leadership assessment on executive presence is because we knew that leaders wanted feedback on how they were showing up to their organizations. In coaching, we always work with leaders to help them take in and process the data they receive, and go back to the people who have participated in the surveys, to thank them and learn more from them. This really is one of the secrets I talk about in All the Leader You Can Be, that separates good leaders from great ones.

But how do you handle the emotions you feel when you get negative feedback? No matter how seasoned and wise we are, it can hurt. But you can turn the lemons into lemonade! Here’s some advice I give my clients:

  1. Consider it a gift. Most people get little if any meaningful feedback, especially on behaviors that enhance or detract from their leadership. This holds them back from becoming the best they can be.

2. As painful as it may be, not knowing is far worse than knowing. You can’t do anything to correct others’ perceptions if you are in the dark, or harbor blind spots about how others view you.

3. One person is an outlier, but if several people in a position to notice agree, then there’s a pattern that you need to pay attention to and act on. You may realize that there were simply unintended consequences to things you said, actions you took or decisions you made. They were interpreted differently than you intended.

  1. The best leaders we’ve ever worked accept feedback with a combination of confidence and humility. They are confident enough go out of their way to solicit feedback, even before it is offered. They are humble enough to listen and act on it. This is how they get to the top. They make it a point to be clear in delivering feedback, too. They “tap out a message” so you know what you’re doing well and what you need to work on.
    5. There’s a big difference between bullying, hurtful feedback, and negative feedback delivered with respect and good intention. If you’re being bullied, ignore it. If the feedback is accurate and if the spirit is respectful, accept it graciously.
    6. Surround yourself with people who tell you the truth and have an interest in helping you develop. Cultivate those relationships so that when you receive feedback you can talk with them, ask them to tell you what they have observed, get their advice, and consider a smart course of action.
    7. Wait until you have your emotions under control before you go back to those who may have been effected by your words, actions or behaviors. Prepare yourself to have a thoughtful conversation with them. Let them know you are interested in developing yourself as a leader or professional, and that you’re curious to get their opinion. Listen and don’t be defensive. Thank them and let them know what you intend to do about it.


A brand president was referred to us for coaching when his organization was acquired by another corporation. Very quickly, this leader became viewed as true rising talent within the merged company, with the potential to run a larger, more significant brand or an executive management role. He was seen as smart and driven, with a remarkable ability to quickly grasp complex issues, weigh multiple potential solutions, and take decisive action.

However, there was a lingering note of concern about him. More senior business leaders, as well as the top HR leaders in the company, sensed a disconnect in his leadership style. While his leadership was generating growth and hitting performance targets, there was a sense that he wasn’t creating the type of teamwork and collaboration needed. They also weren’t sure if he was adequately developing and nurturing the talent underneath him to be the future leaders of the brand.

As we began coaching the leader, we heard from others that he was fully engaged, deeply committed to the business and the success of the brand, concerned about people, invested in their development, and open to new ideas. Some remarked that he was the best listener they had ever had as a boss. So where was this sense of disconnect arising?

Assessing Executive Presence

We deployed the Bates ExPI assessment to get a more robust appraisal of stakeholder perceptions within the various facets of his Character, Substance, and Style. The tool was illuminating in giving us a clearer picture of his leadership brand and providing an actionable path forward for addressing his developmental needs.

Notably, the assessment revealed lower ratings within the facets of Integrity, Humility, Inclusiveness, and Interactivity. This was a shock to the leader, since he believed these characteristics to be among his strongest attributes. It was clear that in certain areas of these facets, he did score high. However, upon closer evaluation, we saw that in other “sub-facets” or specific items, his scores revealed contradictions:

  • Raters saw him as having a strong moral and ethical core, but conveyed that he didn’t always walk the talk.
  • Feedback demonstrated that while he encouraged input from others in planning and decision making, they weren’t sure their voices were actually being heard.
  • Raters conveyed that he appeared to let others take the lead, but those same people didn’t truly feel empowered.
  • While he was self-deprecating and willing to give others credit for successes, others sometimes felt that their ideas and opinions were never quite good enough or were acknowledged but not fully embraced.

The leader needed to hear what behaviors were leading to these perceptions about his leadership. Through our work together, what came to light was that there was, in fact, a critical issue around listening. Yes, he had been complimented by his direct reports as being a great listener, but the reality was that it was perhaps more for his benefit than for the benefit of those to whom he was listening.

In private conversations or small group sessions, he would listen very actively, respectfully, and attentively…. up until the moment he had the information he felt he needed. For example, if six people were asked to weigh in on a topic, he might tune out after the fourth person spoke, leaving the other two to feel that their input was of little or no value. In private sessions, he would do the same, already mentally moving to strategy and execution while those across from him were still speaking, sharing their thoughts, opinions, and wisdom. If those ideas and opinions were aligned with his own thinking, or if he felt he was equipped with sufficient knowledge and input to make a decision, he would ‘unplug’ from the conversation or discussion in ways that were obvious to those around him.

This habit or trait was undermining his leadership. Despite good intentions, he wasn’t exercising real inclusiveness and interactivity, merely paying it lip service. And this in turn, was calling his integrity into question.

Connecting the Dots

For the leader, this was a “light bulb” moment. He immediately recognized the pattern and owned the behavior and its consequence. Almost immediately, he started showing more patience in conversations and group discussions, genuinely hearing people out, taking just a few moments longer to ensure his direct reports and others feel that their input is valuable.

The change was dramatic. The coach began to hear that the leader’s SLT meetings were “the best ever” and that individuals were suddenly feeling more empowered, and, as a result, working with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.

Identifying and understanding the interconnectivity of these facets of the ExPI and the role they play in the projection of leadership led to simple, yet clear and impactful change that is enhancing this leader’s effectiveness and continues to help drive the business forward.

“An exciting read, you won’t want to put Motivate Like a CEO down until you’ve mastered all of its secrets!”
Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times bestselling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Motivated leaders are rare, yet everyone seeks to become one. The greatness of this book is that it breaks down the process by giving you the ideas and the tools to motivate and inspire yourself first, and then others second. If you’re in a leadership position or hoping to get to the next level, make the decision to buy this book, study this book, and put it into practice.”
-Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Little Red Book of Selling

The most successful leaders seem to possess a remarkable gift for inspiring and motivating people. They are not only hard workers who possess great business minds; they rally others to drive forward with a powerful, common vision. Motivate Like a CEO demonstrates how leaders at every level can develop this skill and use it to bring their teams together around a common purpose.

In this follow-up to her bestselling Speak Like a CEO, Suzanne Bates explains how you can become a powerful force of influence within your organization and position your company for greatness. You’ll learn how to translate simple, effective concepts into brilliant execution; get people working together on the highest priorities; and align warring factions to channel energy into the efforts that make your company profitable.

Inside, you’ll discover secrets to generate excitement all the way down the line to achieve superior results. Real-world stories of leaders who have transformed their organizations will inspire you to move your own organization to a position of strength. And, you’ll find helpful, easy-to-follow advice on how to communicate in a way that inspires people to act.

Motivate Like a CEO teaches you how to:

  • Inspire people to embrace and share your vision
  • Speak with energy and confidence in tough situations
  • Turn challenges into opportunities
  • Get your team engaged, in the loop, and tracking real results
  • Make time in your schedule for sharing your message of motivation throughout your company

Even a well-positioned, strategically sound company will fail if its messages and focus are not clear. Successful leaders must be able to move the strategic plan from words on paper into the hearts and minds of the people who make it happen.

Motivate Like a CEO can help you significantly improve bottom line results, create a happier, more unified team of people, and allow you to leave a legacy of leadership

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