Selling to the C-Suite: A book review by Bob Morris

Selling to the C-Suite: What Every Executive Wants You to Know About Successfully Selling to the Top
Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz
McGraw-Hill (2010)

Although Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz claim that the approaches they recommend are “simple,” that is certainly not the word I would use to describe the execution of any of them, nor would Read and Bistritz. As I began to read their book, I was reminded of the fact that, years ago, Ram Charan wrote a book (What the CEO Wants You to Know: How Your Company Really Works) in which he explains what a CEO wants everyone to know about the company she or he heads. Charan agrees with Read and Bistritz that CEOs and other C-level executives tend to have a mindset, values, perspectives, and expectations that help to explain why they occupy positions of significant authority as well as responsibility.

Hence the importance of understanding what Read and Bistritz focus on: “identifying the relevant executive, enlisting the support of gatekeepers, getting past the roadblocks, creating interest when landing the first meeting, and continuing to add value” so that credibility as a business resource – what Read and Bistritz characterize as a “Trusted Advisor” – makes it possible to continue to add value.  To gain and then sustain the trust of a C-level executive, it is necessary to speak on the executive’s terms, discuss the same metrics, and add value to the thought process. In other words, think and behave as a valuable (perhaps even indispensable) consultant rather than as a peddler.

Readers will appreciate the inclusion of brief summary that reiterates 2-3 key “messages” at the conclusion of a chapter. Read and Bistritz are also to be commended on modular analyses of key initiatives and/or considerations. Here are the ones that caught my eye:

Four Stages of Sales Proficiency (Pages 14-22)

How to monitor a customer’s changing world (49-52)

How to prepare for initial contact with a C-level executive (94-95)

The four components of a successful initial meeting (125-126)

The three times when to sell one’s value (129-138)

The steps in cultivating client loyalty (146-152)

It would be a mistake to skip ahead to this next one. Its full meaning and value can be derived only after the previous 158 pages have been read (and preferably then re-read) with care.

• The critical steps in creating, maintaining, and leveraging with client executives (159-162)

In the Afterword, Read and Bistritz remind their reader that “your value has three components: the value you bring to the client’s company, the value your company’s resources bring to the client, and the value your solution brings to the client’s company.” That is correct but I presume to add a fourth dimension: What you and your company add to the value your client brings to its own customers. Achieve success in that fourth dimension and you will be – and be perceived to be – a Trusted Advisor.

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