Selling to the C-Suite Author Stephen Bistritz Shares Exec Viewpoint

Published: October 20, 2009

Co-Author Stephen Bistritz, Ed. D. shared some of the key findings with DemandGen Report, including how salespeople can gain credibility among their target prospects and the nature of the executive buying process.

Picture_2DemandGen Report: What are some of the ultimate takeaways from “Selling to the C-Suite,” and how is the book different from other literature on selling?

Stephen Bistritz:
Most – if not all – of the books on the market today were written by salespeople from an anecdotal perspective. The content is mainly about how the salesperson was able to sell effectively in a particular environment. To our knowledge, none of the books currently available on this topic were developed mainly from the executive’s perspective. This book is based on a number of research projects, conducted by the authors over an extended period of time, where CXO-level executives were asked about their relationships with salespeople. One of the research projects was in the US, while the other was in Asia Pacific.

DGR: The book is a result of extensive research on the behavior of executives. What were some of the questions you asked CXO-level executives in your research?

Bistritz: Some of the specific questions posed to those executives include:

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  • When and why do senior executives get involved in the decision-making process for major purchases?
  • What is the most effective method for salespeople to use to gain
    access to executives?
  • How do executives screen or test salespeople?
  • What has to happen in meetings with salespeople for the executive to feel it was effective?
  • How do salespeople establish trust and credibility with executives, thereby gaining return access?

What were some of the key findings from those questions and what surprised you the most about the responses?

Bistritz: First, executives said they were not opposed to receiving sales pitches or presentations, as long as salespeople listened and understood their major concerns and business issues before proposing a solution. From the executive’s perspective, salespeople often came to their office with a solution looking for a problem and that was a significant turn-off for the executives.

Second, that executives said they wanted a single point of contact to help them resolve problems that arose during the implementation of a solution. Executives understand that complex solutions may often involve multiple business partners, but executives wanted a single point of contact and accountability.

Third, it was interesting how executives still value responsiveness and value that characteristic.   

Fourth, their description of when they get involved in the buying process for major purchases was interesting and insightful. It also indicated to us that they want to meet with salespeople at specific times in the buying process and may also avoid meetings with salespeople at other times in that process.

DGR: From an anecdotal perspective, what response did you receive about some of those issues that most impressed you?

Bistritz: When we did the initial interviews with CXO-level executives, we practiced our interviewing techniques using executives from one of our sponsors (Hewlett Packard). We were sitting in the CIO’s conference room after the interview and I asked him: Why would an executive at your level ever agree to meet with a professional salesperson. And I’ll never forget his answer!  He said to me: “Steve, I like to meet with professional salespeople because often they can offer me solutions to my problems that even people within my own organization can’t solve. And that’s because they have encountered and solved those problems in other organizations – and I want the benefit of their experience.” That clearly showed me the value of being a professional salesperson!

DGR: What are some of the critical factors in the book that salespeople would be most interested in?

Bistritz: The book provides many insights about selling to executives—primarily from the executive’s perspective. For example, as indicated earlier, we learned that there are specific times in the customer’s buying process for major purchases when senior-level executives get involved and engaged. At other times in the buying cycle, senior executives tend to delegate responsibilities down to lower-level executives or managers in their organization. Understanding when to engage with senior-level executives during the buying process is a key point.

In addition, salespeople will learn what executives feel has to happen in meetings for the executive to sense that the meeting was effective. Further, salespeople will find out how to become perceived as a trusted advisor by executives, thereby getting return access to them.

DGR: What are some of the key factors for salespeople to employ to establish credibility?

Bistritz: Salespeople must demonstrate both capability (by solving business problems) and integrity (by being reliable and consistent) over the long term in order to be deemed as credible by senior client executives.

When salespeople demonstrate both capability and integrity over the long term they start to operate in what has been described as the Client Value Zone – and it is here that the salesperson can become perceived as the trusted advisor by the executive.  In addition, when salespeople operate in the Client Value Zone (and become the trusted advisor to the executive) the relationship begins to become collaborative.

DGR: Can you speak to the nature of the C-Level buying process?  How can salespeople nurture this?

Bistritz: When we asked CXO-level executives when and why they got involved in the buying process for major purchases, we received some interesting responses.  Those executives told us that they got involved early in the buying process to:(1) establish the objectives for the project and (2) set the strategy for the project.

They also told us that they got involved at the end of the buying process to (1) review the implementation plans and (2) measure the results.

They said that they tend to delegate to others (in their organization) the aspects of the buying process associated with exploring solution options and vendor selection.

Therefore, salespeople need to get involved at the beginning of the buying process to help establish the objectives for the project and also at the end of the buying process to make certain they communicate the results of their solution – in terms of the business value delivered – because executives want to understand the value that their investment (in the vendor’s solution) delivered to the organization.  Obviously, enhancing relationships with senior client executives when not involved in a buying process helps ensure access to those same executives at any time during the next buying process!

DGR: The book mentions the term “relevant executive.” What are the facets of this term and how does it relate to the salesperson?

Bistritz: In the book, we talk about the need to get access to the relevant executive for the sales opportunity. This executive is often overlooked—even by the most experienced salespeople.

We make the point in the book that you may not always need to get to the CEO of the client organization to sell your solutions. In fact, in many cases, salespeople are better served by not getting to that level to try to close deals involving their solutions. You need to find the executive with the highest rank and greatest influence for the specific sales opportunity. We identify that executive as the relevant executive—we also point out that the relevant executive could also be defined as the executive who stands to gain the most or lose the most as a result of the application or project associated with the sales opportunity. If you can align with that executive you will find that s/he will be able to exert an element of informal power as it relates to the buying decision.

Dr. Steve Bistritz has more than 40 years of high-tech sales, sales management and training management experience. He is a published author and lecturer in the field of sales, sales management and selling to executives.  Steve spent more than 27 years with IBM in sales and training-related positions. He then worked for a sales training company where he led the development of sales training programs which were delivered to tens of thousands of salespeople worldwide.Visit his website at

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