Access the C-Suite - 7 Sage Secrets

Tony Hughes

Access the C-Suite - 7 Sage Secrets

I've read the Challenger Sale - now what? I've heard I need to get upstream, past the gatekeeper, before my buyer hits the search engines and starts the reverse aggregation arms race. But how do I get there? I've got my frameworks queued up: TAS, Blue Sheets, Green Sheets, Gold Sheets, Battleplan.... oh my! I want to unleash the holy grail of all sales process, challenge the founders and part the ephemeral waters of the status quo. SPIN baby spin, I need to get in... come-on Tony, show me how! What is the killer insight I need to create and how can I deftly leverage it to reach the CXO, as an account executive? How can I reach the key decision maker as the CEO of a new start-up where I lack the clout to crowbar in via brand recognition alone?

Here are seven proven ways and means that actually work with some caveats and bonus material woven in for good measure. They are born from the pavement, the street, coffee shop, hotel lobby, the field, the airplane, the jetway and the corridor. After thirty years of hard knocks, here they go. The world is your oyster but with great power comes great responsibility. I open-source them for you now knowing that the knowledge is in good hands with my LinkedIn reader-base.

  1. The Friendly Ghost - This one may be controversial. Gain access to your own CEO's social accounts or work with their EA to tee-up a coordinated C to C communique. I can't change the way the world is but sometimes the only way to impinge is a transmission from the top to the top.
  2. The Thrilla from Manila - I touched on this strategy in another post. It may take a bit of investment of time and resources. It requires finesse and care. You'll want to implement the design thinking process to ideate with your manager on exactly the key insight. You'll have a plain Manila envelope delivered to the executive assistant of the CFO, CSO, CTO, CIO or CEO. The key is to lead with the difference you can make to their business and offer genuine insight, supported by a relevant case study, testimonial or reference letter. It must be one page and punchy but factual. Show you've done your homework, catch the imagination and then leverage the hand signed document to land the meeting.
  3. Exclusive Industry Analysis - Take the time to do your own survey of executives, run your own tests, collect your own data in the field or create your own White Paper and then leverage it. Release it at a private CXO dinner where you'll reveal the insights and brief on the data with a celebrity guest [could even be a thought leader in your own company... but no selling!] Exclusivity is a powerful weapon; it's how the stickiest social networks have always thrived - virtual and analog.
  4. A sense of humor, courage and fearlessness - Bransonian: "Screw it, let's do it!" People in power seldom get an email that makes them laugh while still being to the point. I've seen quite a bit of research about sales people that hail mary 10X thinking, audacious e-mails to celebrities that seem unreachable. Many breakthrough via persistence, creativity or passion.
  5. Stealth Aerospace Technology - There are stealth start-ups creating C-Suite access technologies right now that I have seen open business even from existing accounts penetrating divisions previously closed.
  6. TeamLink Referral - Recently I've seen e-mails that reference three connections in common, a shared networking event, content and quotes cited while also mentioning a specific need. This takes time and research but for a key target, they'll be impressed enough to respond.
  7. Pull versus Push - Exactly what I'm doing in here everyday. Build the garden that attracts the butterflies. Instead of building a bigger better faster net, let the key executives land on your compelling content.

Now on the flip side, here are some things that don't work so well:

  1. LinkedIn spam InMail - Generic templates that look personal will get deleted faster than a gaffe in a prerecorded award show speech. Assuming just because you have a connection in common gives you carte blanche and casual access - fail.
  2. Sheer persistence - Yes, 5 to 12 touches will work if there is initial interactivity or latent interest. Feel free to call an uninterested contact with no compelling event all twelve times in a row to prove my point. You can't always knock down the door with sheer will alone. That used to work in a bygone era but you've gotta be smarter than that today.
  3. Templated e-mail blasts and newsletters: We love them, whole industries are built on them. But the metrics just aren't there! 10% open rate doesn't equate to read rate. Most read the title and skip on. That's why blogging inside LinkedIn makes a profound impact. I'm stunned by the level of engagement and how deeply people read, often every word. An acclaimed e-mail template with the same subject line that everyone uses is not going to work for you. I know a President who got that same template from 3 vendors in one week. His unamused direct response? "Nice template."
  4. Shotgunning your business cards at conferences. If you treat people like a number they'll erase your info.
  5. Generic outreach. - Anything plain vanilla is forgotten instantly. Work to stand out as a beacon of enlightenment with humor and insight. The point of this post is to swim upstream against all the status quo methods of business development itself.
  6. Mistakenly believing senior executives will attend conferences at all: A sales person reached out to an SVP, excited to connect with her team and letting them know they had a booth at XYZ Muckety Muck 4.0, and was she going to be there? Her response after speedreading a 3 paragraph thought-to-be-tailored email: "No."

And here are some bonus thoughts:

  • Do you know any other 'nice people' who I could call? This is so shockingly simple. I met a top sales person who set records with this strategy and tried to teach it to his team. Most couldn't fathom how easy it was but a few tried it and racked up enviable sales souvenirs. Here's the entire technique. If you speak to a nice person, genuinely ask in the moment - fully there: "Before I say goodbye, do you know of any other nice people like you that maybe also have a similar problem we could help them with?" This is completely counter-intuitive and defies logic, reason and especially The Challenger Sale. People buy from those they know, like and trust. To be liked, like someone first - genuinely take an interest in them. Nice people do nice things. It's painful to write this down, you'll probably see it as an urban legend. Secretly try it and you'll be stunned.
  • Leverage the principle of Non-Hunger: Prospects smell despair on your lips. Remember the last time you needed to write up a proposal and had no time. In a rush a customer called, tried to buy, you were super urgent and you felt them bite like crazy. The principle of non-hunger was at work. How can you train yourself to listen intently while being interested and disinterested at the same time? Confidence - you don't need the business. Radiate this: Although you'd like their business, you're bringing in a ton of key deals and this customer is not a make or break.
  • Walk up to someone extremely powerful and you've got a ten second virtual elevator: A friend of mine walked up to one of the Sharks from the US Shark Tank program in San Francisco recently, shook his hand, struck up a conversation and talked for awhile. He owned it, was natural and was relevant. He opened with admiration - it was sincere and genuine. Now that's a connection. I have another friend who's never missed an opportunity to meet someone well known. They approach confidently and met with admiration the leaders they actually aspire to be. That same philosophy created a connection with Richard Branson for my friend in the USA.
  • Be involved in good causes: Being passionate about solving world problems is a universal theme. You could join a board of directors and suddenly be on a committee with bank presidents. You're expanding your network. It's not a way to directly connect; it places you among a rare group of people doing something tangible to improve the world, invoking good karma.
  • Put out good energy, smile: Seems simple but I can't tell you how many times I smiled big at a massive conference or networking event and someone wonderful approached. We get back what we put out into this world, it's all reciprocal. The law of reciprocity is very real. Practice random acts of kindness daily, pay it forward and help strangers.
  • Embrace the Ziglar Factor: "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." Zig Ziglar hit the nail on the head with this quote, he passed away a few years ago and was legend. Find leaders and people you admire; don't propitiate but do everything you can to help them reach their dreams. Just doing this selflessly, wholeheartedly, truly wanting that dream more for them than for yourself, opens magical doors.

Notice I didn't mention very much about social selling. There's a cacophony and high roar there. To combat that there's a rising chorus of a return to the phone. What I'm looking to share in this article are some unusual methods for getting into the inner circle of people that can change your stars. Here are a few other things I've seen that deserve honorable mention to get your creative juices flowing: SlideShares or Videos in e-mails. QR codes on cupcakes triggering a custom multimedia message for a prospect. Extremely creative conference swag. Laser printed logos on things or laser cut metal business cards (makes you careful with who you meet as it costs a fortune to give someone your card... LOL). Completely customized white papers created for just one targeted customer. Private boxes at sporting events. Hold your own conferences featuring top rock bands and world leaders. Build conferences with extremely advanced sessions only, rather than anything entry level. Build a CXO council or alliance. Corporate Executive Board has done this very well.

Now it's your turn: How do you reach the unreachable? What unique techniques have you found most helpful in accessing powerful decision makers? Who do you truly admire whom you'd like to connect with that could change your life? Since you know you're worthy of their time, what's holding back? Do you feel like it's impossible? When would be a better time than right now, to lob a B2B e-mail into the interwebs abyss of first name @ company and see what you get back? It should not exceed 5 sentences or contain any links whatsoever, not even in the signature. You can always reach me at tony@rsvpselling and see if I respond, I welcome your candor. OK, I'll always respond - just wanted to see if you're paying close attention here at the end. ?


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Steve Jurvetson


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