Imagine a large boardroom meeting. High powered executives, high stress, high reward. The winner takes the corner office. It’s the classic Hollywood trope seen in many movies and television shows. For most of us, this scenario is foreign. For a new sales rep, it can be a glimpse into the future. A young rep should ask themselves how to best prepare for selling to the C-Suite.
Selling to the C-Suite: Improving Executive Presence in New Sales Reps
For every rookie rep, the day will come when they’re responsible for presenting in front of a room full of executives. The situation can be tense and stressful. However, young reps can ready themselves and come across as confident and knowledgeable.
As my old baseball coach used to say, “Success is the intersection where preparation and practice meet.”
Executive presence is difficult to define. It ultimately boils down to the ability to project confidence and maturity in a professional setting. Executive presence is an essential trait for a leader to possess. A survey of CIO’s ranked it 2nd out of the top 20 most important leadership traits.
It’s easy to feel intimidated when presenting to seasoned professionals. Youthful reps shouldn’t view age as a disadvantage. Executive presence relies on confidence to project a message and influence outcomes. Confidence delivers impact.
No specific personality type exhibits executive presence the most. What’s important is leveraging personal strengths to one’s advantage. For instance, a naturally shy person could practice their timing in conversations so when they speak the words carry more weight. Pretending to be outgoing when you’re not can appear awkward and forced. Providing insightful feedback and practicing listening skills help one to appear knowledgeable.
Get to the Point Early
Time is a luxury that most C-Level executives aren’t afforded. Sales reps should respect executives’ valuable time and provide the essential information up front.
Young reps should ask themselves, “What is my message in 10 words or less?” Be able to communicate it to state that immediately and unequivocally. Understanding the message will help set expectations and provide a purpose early on.
It’s not uncommon for interruptions to pull executives out of a meeting. If a rep saves the big reveal for the end, they risk losing their most critical audience member. Summarizing the crucial points at the beginning means disruptions won’t impact the overall message.
Inserting summaries throughout the presentation is also an effective way to keep the room’s attention. When information overload occurs, essential items get overlooked. Brief reviews placed throughout the presentation make it easy for the audience to retain the vital points.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. A young rep needs to project confidence and appear as an expert in their field. Rehearsing is the best way to accomplish this. The main focus should be on two areas: body language and a deep understanding of the material.
Body language is on display the instant someone walks into a room. Insecurities manifest as fidgeting, placing hands in pockets, and chewing fingernails, for example. These actions detract from the overall message. The audience focuses too much on the presenter, rather than the presentation. By practicing in front of a mirror, young reps can identify and eliminate the distracting behavior.
Ways to improve body language include:
- Stand up straight and maintain good posture
- Know what your hands are doing and keep from fidgeting
- Maintain eye contact with the room
- Communicate clearly and speak slowly
It’s unprofessional to sound like a character from Clueless – not to mention distracting. Recording practice sessions will help identify unnecessary filler words. Eliminating words such as “um,” “like,” and “sort of” helps to project authority.
Rehearsing in front of peers is another way to improve. Peers can provide constructive feedback and unbiased suggestions. It’s important that the input be honest and insightful into areas for improvement.
Anticipate Difficult Questions
C-level executives often ask challenging questions. Anticipating points for clarification and preparing answers in advance prevents reps from becoming flustered. Preparation reflects expertise and helps green reps maintain composure.
Exploring a question develops a deeper understanding of a problem. For example, if the question relates to why sales automation is necessary, work backward from the conclusion. Each benefit should factor into the outcome. In this case, sales automation decreases administrative tasks, which creates more time for prospecting.
Honesty about not knowing an answer is critical. It only hurts credibility when the answer is a fabrication. “That’s a great question, and I’m not 100% sure. I’m going to look into it and get back to you with an answer” is an appropriate response. In doing this, a rep demonstrates transparency and a willingness to dig deeper to find the solution.
Additionally, pausing to reflect on a question doesn’t demonstrate weakness. It conveys careful consideration and patience. Pausing provides time to construct answers and communicate ideas effectively. Being clear and precise prevents miscommunication and moves the meeting forward.
Presenting to a C-suite audience is an exciting opportunity for a new rep. It can also be a daunting one. Exuding confidence through executive presence sets a rep up for success. Having a well-structured presentation, rehearsing in advance, and possessing a deep understanding of their solution helps a young rep win over a C-level audience.
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