The 10 Golden Rules of Selling Like a CEO

The Golden Rules 1-5

1. CEOs are honest, even when it hurts. This is one of those rules that you should carry into your day-to-day interactions with everyone. Never, ever lie to a CEO or anyone else (including yourself). If you don't believe in what you're selling enough to tell the truth about it at all times, find something else to sell. CEOs can't afford to tell a lie. Why? Because there are too many ears listening to what they are saying. Stockholders, the media, employees, suppliers, customers, etc. CEOs know, and so should you, that problem accounts (like problem relationships) are those that someone over-promised and under-delivered on. CEOs and those of us who sell to them must be totally ready, willing and able to stand behind every word that we write or that comes out of our mouths. If that means "walking" on a short-term opportunity today, so be it. You can always come back tomorrow. And when you do come back, you will be remembered as a person of integrity.

2. CEOs touch people in a special way. CEOs who sell have a "signature" that's all their own. They create a look and feel that others associate with them that's as unique as the logo on their products. Consider Nancy Allen, aka the "cookie" lady. One Friday of each month, Nancy delivers homemade (in her kitchen) chocolate chip cookies to her best customers. Why? Because she wants to show her gratitude in a way that's remembered. If you ever want to see grown-ups fighting over a cookie, follow Nancy on her next Friday's run.

3. Know what you want, and keep it simple and straightforward. CEOs are incredibly simple in their approach. Every single CEO I interviewed was able to quickly and accurately articulate what they want. Can you? Let's do a quick exercise: Write down, in 30 words or less, what you want from the CEO of your largest prospect. For example: "Your opinion on how to use my proven ideas to increase the size of your entry point orders, compress your sales cycle and get add-on business from your existing customers."

4. Show your feelings. How are you today? Oh, I'm fine. No, actually I just got word that my cholesterol level is dangerously high and I must go on a very restrictive diet. How many times do you tell someone how you really feel? How many times when you take that step are your feelings acknowledged by the other person? CEOs who sell show their own feelings and respond to others' feelings, and they are always in the present moment and time. Most of us think that doing this takes too much time. Actually, you'll save a lot of time if you take the lead from the CEO, and here's why. If you take the time to make every interaction you have with everyone on your way to the CEO's office memorable, your return trip will be much easier. Your calls will be accepted, voice-mail messages returned and ideas entertained. In other words, you'll get top-of-mind. Making yourself and your interactions memorable isn't that hard--all you have to do is show your feelings in a sincere way and acknowledge the feelings of others in a sincere way.

Let's look at that conversation again: How are you today? Oh, I'm fine. No, actually I just got word that my cholesterol level is dangerously high and I must go on a very restrictive diet. What types of food must you avoid? Fried food, some dairy products, any types of snacks that have more than 4 percent fat, for starters. Sounds like you'll be eating pretty healthy! Maybe I should look at this diet!

After this conversation, you send the person a recipe book on low-fat cooking and sign it with a message that comes from your heart: "To your health!" or "Here's to healthier eating!" or "Put this to the taste test!"

5. Say you're sorry when you mess up. Too many salespeople (heck, too many people) seem to assume it's bad etiquette to admit you've made a mistake. Nothing could be further from the truth! CEOs know the importance of taking personal responsibility, and so should you. That means saying and meaning those dreaded words "I'm sorry" when something goes wrong or is about to go wrong. You, not anyone else, should be the person to deliver this message, and here's why: Someone else may have a different agenda than you.

For example, let's say you've been doing business with a company for two years but you've never met the CEO, and one day your product causes a production delay or some other big problem. If you allow someone else to get the word to the CEO, it may not be as accurate as you want it to be. It may be burdened with other "baggage" that's been plaguing the production line. What the heck, nothing wrong with finding a scapegoat once and a while. There are two other reasons that you want to be the person to deliver the "we messed up" message to the CEO:

  • A CEO is the most forgiving person in the organization. They know they aren't perfect, and they know they've walked in your shoes before. Therefore, you'll best serve the CEO, your cause and your company by meeting with the CEO and asking for their advice: "Ms. CEO, if your organization were to make a mistake similar to this one, how would you make it right with your best customer?" After you say that, sit very quietly and listen intently to what the CEO tells you. Then simply do it!
  • You'll strengthen your business relationship with the CEO, because problems, when promptly corrected, will always show your organization's better side and commitment to their customers, marketplace and integrity.

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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