Myth of “C-Level Selling”

I’m a little puzzled by the fascination/obsession with C-Level targeting and selling.  It feels like a relic of a different era.

It might make intuitive sense that a CFO would be a target for a new accounting package or a CIO for a new storage platform. But, my experience suggests that most decisions are made much lower in the hierarchy.

I would even argue that forcing a C-level executive INTO a decision process could reduce the likelihood of buying your product (or maybe buying any product).

I’ve met C-level executives who take pride in taking NO vendor meetings in a given month or year.   Most people who get to the top of an organization know how to delegate – not just tasks, but authority (i.e. decision making).  And, most mid-level managers relish the authority they’ve been given and take it very seriously.  Bringing in their boss (or boss’ boss) usually works against you.

My experience suggests that most decisions are made in the middle of org structures (managers of users) and most actual sales relationships are closer to the bottom of the hierarchies (users).   This isn’t bad.  In fact, embracing this can make marketing and sales efforts more productive.

The implications?

  • Marketing often spends a fortune to get C-Level contacts (at the expense of mid-level managers)
  • Sales training (very expensive – via direct cost and cost of taking sales people out of the field) is often focused on the wrong thing
  • Sales people and managers waste lots of energy aiming too high (big opportunity cost)

Some ideas about alternatives:

  • Invest in understanding your users and their direct managers – what matters to them
  • Hire salespeople who relate to the users/user managers, not expensive “board room, golf course” salespeople
  • Spend marketing money targeting the personas of your users and their immediate managers


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