The 10 Golden Rules of Selling Like a CEO

The Golden Rules 6-10

6. Look at people when you talk to them. About half the interviews I conducted for my book were done in person. In every case, the CEO always gave me a generous amount of eye contact. Why? Making appropriate (not invasive) eye contact is a necessary ingredient of effective listening. Besides, if you know what to look for, watching someone's eyes can tell you a lot about their feelings of what's being said. Generally speaking, the right kind of eye contact demonstrates a sincere purpose. Let's say that during a conversation with a CEO, they're giving you a consistent amount of eye contact. When you get to your third call objective--do you see any reason that you wouldn't do business with us?--they break their eye contact while answering. This is what I would call "out of integrity." It could very well be that there's something going on (mergers, acquisitions, buy-outs, their personal "bail-out," etc.) that he/she may not be at liberty to discuss with you. And the opposite of this is also true. Watch your eye contact when you give responses to questions. The best way to get your eyes to match your words is to always speak the truth. Remember, eyes don't lie--words do.

7. Get commitment early-on. I don't mean that you should invent meaningless questions or statements designed solely to get buyers bobbing their heads up and down like mindless dashboard dolls. What I am talking about is that a CEO will always get early "buy in" from anyone who is to perform a task or mission for them. It's a way of transferring ownership so responsibility is unquestionably with the other party. Since this is a strong leadership and selling style of a CEO, you can rest assured that when you ask for it, they will understand exactly what you're doing and what part they are to play. It's always good business to balance the responsibility so you as the selling organization don't get too far ahead of the commitments of the buying organization. "Mr. CEO, our organization will be investing over $30,000 of pre-sales expenses working with your evaluation team. If you were in my shoes, would you feel responsible making that decision?" Bold? Yes. Why? Because remember at all times whom you're interacting with.

8. Ask and you shall receive. This rule is closely associated with rule number 7. Whenever you ask a CEO for anything, you will get something in return. It may not be exactly what you asked for, but you will get something. I've built a successful sales career on the simple belief that the more you ask and the sooner you do so, the more and sooner you will sell. Here's a short list of what you should make a habit of asking CEOs for:

  • Ask about opinions and impressions. "What are your thoughts so far?" "If you had to make up your mind right now, what would it be?" "Based on what you've heard/seen/experienced so far, would you become one of our customers?" "If you had to sell your organization my ideas, how would you go about doing it?"
  • Ask about ideas for improvement: "What would you do if you were given the opportunity to make our ideas even better?" "How would you go about making our offering even more inviting to your organization?"
  • Ask about other members of this CEO's team: "Who else needs to take a look at our ideas?" "Who do you trust the most to give this initiative to?" "Who in your organization will have the responsibility for putting our ideas into action?"

9. Redefine the word no. I have an ironclad policy about the word no--I never accept, at face value, any interruption that contains the word! You shouldn't either. Instead, you should ask yourself "Exactly what is this person saying no to?"

Government agencies, school districts, county, state and municipalities and certain nonprofit organizations are governed by strict laws and policies that they must buy the lowest-price provider of any service they are in search of. Of course, there are ways around these requirements, such as being the only provider of a particular service--what's typically called "sole-source" contracts. But generally speaking, if you're not the lowest-price provider you don't make the short list. And if you don't make the short list, you can't make the sale.

CEO: "No, we can't do business with your organization. We've got to adhere to the governing board's policy of buying the lowest-price provider, and your organization is the highest-price proposal we have. Thanks for your efforts, but no thanks."

You: "Ms. CEO, would you please define 'price' for me?"

This is a classic way to change the playing field and get this CEO to look at what the real cost of ownership is. For many years of my sales career, I sold (very successfully I might add) the highest-price computer systems into the "lowest-price wins" world using this response to the word "no."

10. CEOs always issue a call to action, and you should, too. This is the part of the first meeting where the rubber meets the road. Some salespeople take a laid-back approach when it comes to specifying commitments. As you have learned so far, that's not the approach of a CEO. CEOs love the word action. They constantly ask it of their own team, so therefore; you can ask it of them. The action that I am referring to is one that puts everything in the proper order for the CEO--the steps that are necessary for results to happen in this CEO's organization, not what you need to have happened to sell your stuff. Some sample calls to action:

  • "Mr. CEO, typically what are the steps that have to happen in your organization to implement new ideas that have the potential of favorably impacting your take-to-market strategy?"
  • "Ms. CEO, what steps did you take the last time you changed your raw-material supplier for your Phoenix manufacturing facility?"

Don't feel uncomfortable if you're having difficulty creating your call to action. There's plenty of help on the way in my monthly columns!

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches, Sales Success Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit

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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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