Engaging with a C-Level Executive, Part I - Be Prepared, Be Very Prepared
Everyone’s time is valuable. But a C-Level executive’s time is especially valuable. Back-to-back or double – or triple – booked meetings, often being on the road, answering to senior executive management and the Board, and needing to be especially responsive to any number of stakeholders, including staff and employees, are just a few reasons why a C-Level executive’s time is so precious. If you’ve managed to ‘earn’ a meeting with a C-Suite exec – great job. You must have done something right to have earned the spot. Now the real work begins, namely, best preparing, so the exec you’ll be meeting with considers it time well spent.
You’ll want to over prepare, and over deliver come meeting time, but the goal here is simplicity, simplicity of your understanding of their complex processes, needs and challenges, simplicity in your meeting message and agenda, and simplicity in your presentation material (if you’re to have any material at all; oftentimes with a C-Level it’s best to plan for a dialogue rather than slides). Plan on taking little if any PowerPoint material. It will likely be undesired and will go unread. Instead, do copious research on the strategy of the organization, as an example, read publicly available investment documents and financial information, especially as it relates to the executive that you’ll be meeting with, and of course, if you’ll be meeting with the CEO, all of it will be fair game. Your job with this research will be to understand the business broadly, but you’ll also want to understand their strategic goals and how they’re mapping and performing against those objectives as well as their competition. So, if the company has been struggling to meet sales objectives and has been missing profitability targets, this is good information to have and to know. You’ll also want to read the fine print in the financial material for things the company is doing to remedy their current challenges. Your job, come meeting time, will be to frame how you can help solve these strategic “opportunities”.
More than just internet research, and I believe this will be key to your meeting success, your job will also be to become a client of your prospect. If they’re a retailer, not only shop their stores, but learn everything you can about their store and online environments. Buy something online and try to return it in-store, as an example. If your prospect is a financial services firm, go sign up for their services. Deeply ‘analyze’ your interaction with their staff and employees. Not out of any judgement, but rather to see how they handle their customers and even how happy they appear to be in their job. I even look at the cleanliness and the layout of their spaces, for clients with physical footprints. Whatever the vertical, go experience their brand, first hand. You will never meet a more impressed executive prospect than one that realizes that you spent countless hours not only digesting their corporate material, but experiencing directly what it is like to be a customer of theirs. Take note that few will actually do all this work! This will take lots of time in preparation but it will be time well spent. Next up, Part II - Assembling the Team and Messages