Speaking to the C-Suite: Selling Executives on Sales Enablement
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Though enablement is typically focused on supporting reps, sometimes practitioners have to be the sellers to a tough customer: the C-Suite. It can be difficult to gain support for initiatives even if they are eventually expected to generate business outcomes because leaders want to prioritize the right efforts. This means that gaining executive buy-in is a crucial first step in launching enablement initiatives and can help move the needle from planning to action.
Securing enablement’s seat at the table in executive conversations can help secure the support, budget, and resources necessary for its success. Building and maintaining a relationship with executive leadership can help to ensure enablement’s ongoing success and help drive stronger, measurable impacts on the business.
Learning how to influence the C-Suite is critical, even if there isn’t a meeting with executive leadership on the calendar. By sharpening the skills needed to gain executive buy-in, enablement practitioners can boost the function’s ability to increase productivity and initiate ongoing, informal conversations about enablement’s role at the executive level.
Understand the Language of the C-Suite
Executive leadership thrives on concise, direct communication, so it’s important that enablement translates their terminology into language that is quickly understandable and actionable. At its simplest level, a proposed initiative to the C-Suite should address its potential revenue impact, costs (time, money, opportunity costs), risks, and who is responsible for its delivery and execution.
Additionally, translating enablement efforts into high-level metrics helps executives understand enablement’s impacts on the business as a whole and why it’s important for the C-Suite to support them. Choosing the right metrics also depends on who the meeting is with. For example, a CEO may be interested in profitability, return on investment (ROI), and retention, while a CMO may be more interested in metrics like customer acquisition cost (CAC) and pipeline velocity.
“Use data,” said Jen Spencer, chief executive officer at SmartBug Media. “Any time you’re asking for some kind of investment of time or resources, you have to be able to say what the potential ROI is.”
When planning a presentation for the senior executives, enablement KPIs should be translated into the language of the C-Suite. Here are a few examples of translating enablement KPIs to executive speak:
- Example KPI: Implemented a content management system
- Executive Translation: Shortened the sales cycle by 5 days
- Example KPI: Rolled out a new sales methodology
- Executive Translation: Increased the sales pipeline by $50,000 in one quarter
- Example KPI: Delivered 10 training sessions to new hires
- Executive Translation: Cut ramp time by two months
“If you can understand the language of the executive office and respond to it in a way that helps them make a decision, that’s the first step towards getting a seat at the table,” said Bruce Daley, senior research analyst at S&P Global.
When attempting to gain executive buy-in, being prepared is key. Since C-Suite executives are strapped for time, meetings should be direct, and efficient, and answer important top-line questions. To make the process even more effective, send the presentation and agenda to meeting participants in advance, so they know what to expect. This can help give the necessary context to answer high-level questions so that the meeting can stay focused on the details that need decisions and alignment.
Another presentation best practice is to include an executive summary to rapidly acquaint readers with the proposal’s highlights and key points. For example, running a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis can be a great way to look at the proposal from multiple perspectives in order to prepare for questioning.
“You’re going to want to anticipate all the questions that they have in your presentation,” said Daley. “They’re still going to have questions, but if you answer the big ones up front, you’re going to find that the meeting goes much more smoothly.”
An example SWOT analysis might contain the following:
- Strengths: can execute quickly, will impact top-line, have the budget for initiative
- Weaknesses: there are competing proposals, don’t have an unlimited budget
- Opportunities: can shorten the sales cycle by X%
- Threats: inflation
Though the SWOT analysis doesn’t necessarily need to be in the presentation, it can be a good practice to help with translating enablement language into executive speak. The executive translation of enablement KPIs can often fit squarely into the opportunities category.
Accept the Decision
Sometimes even more important than a decision is how a person responds to it. Senior executives are paid to make decisions and they have a perspective into the business that others do not have. C-level executives know the resources the company has, and even at the largest firms, there’s never going to be enough money, enough people, or enough time to do everything that everyone is suggesting to do.
“The decision may not go your way, and if it doesn’t, this is the career-impacting moment,” said Daley. “You need to accept it with grace, and by acting professionally, chances are that you will be invited back into the C-Suite again and given another opportunity to make an impression and build your career.”
At the end of it all, executives want professionals who will point out a potential opportunity or potential problem and put in the work to solve it, and they want you to know that you are a hardworking team player that will accept decisions whichever way they go.
Influence the C-Suite Beyond a Meeting
There are ways to make enablement’s ripple felt throughout the organization even without a meeting on the calendar. Be an advocate of enablement’s efforts and be persistent about sharing progress. For example, send executive stakeholders a weekly or monthly summary of wins or progress in ‘executive language’. If the metrics are impactful, there is a chance they can move up throughout the organization.
“It was very important for me that enablement’s updates were included in our weekly review with executive leadership,” said Vanesssa Metcalf, VP of revenue effectiveness at Docebo. “Make sure you have a seat at the table, because as soon as you have that, you increase the likelihood that your executive sponsor is going to bring up an enablement initiative to other members of the executive leadership team.”
Finally, when choosing the metrics to share, pick data that tells a story and let executive leaders make their own conclusions, which can be much more persuasive than explicitly stating the importance. Try to visualize data in ways that executive leaders think – in terms of revenue and costs. For example, demonstrate how something like decreasing ramp time impacts revenue in a graph or chart.
Landing executive buy-in can lend credibility and resources. Take advantage of it by learning the language of profit that executives speak, preparing engaging presentations, answering questions with precision, and accepting decisions with grace. Beyond a meeting room, following executive best practices can show professionalism, a team mindset, and open the door to more opportunities to influence the C-Suite.