We hear the question time and time again, “How do you sell to CEOs?”. The answer is, you don’t. 

CEO’s wear many hats and hate wasting time in their hectic schedules. When it comes down to it their main priorities are their relationships with their investors, their customers, and their potential customers. 

During the webinar, How to Sell to CEOs with Olof Mathé, Co-Founder and CEO of Mixmax, Eric Spett, CEO of Terminus, and Roy Raanani, Co-Founder and CEO of Chorus, the host asked all three if they had ever purchased something that started with a cold email to them, and their answers were no

They have hired trusted decision makers for different areas in their company for a reason, they are not experts in every area. One thing all three agreed on is they are more than happy to get the rep in front of the right person, if they approach them the right way. 

CEOs are people like you and me. They have families, they binge watch their favorite TV shows. Connect with them, get personal, and build a friendship. The way you go about doing this is slightly different than you would to, say a sales manager, since they have a lot more on their plates.

Four things you must do when reaching out to CEOs:

  1. Understand their method of communication
  2. Build a Relationship 
  3. Know their Priorities and Provide Value
  4. Ask a question

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Know their Method of Communication: Cold Email vs Cold Calling

All three CEOs on the webinar admitted they do not have desk phones. Desk phones may officially be dead. They also admitted a lot of the time they won’t even answer their cell phones to unknown numbers. If you catch them on their way to the office they might answer and entertain the call, but you want them to actually be engaged with you. 

What about voicemails? “I delete them right away” “I don’t even have my voicemail set up”  Two direct quotes from the webinar. 

14 Cold Calling Tips from Expert Sales Gurus-1

Email is your best approach. It’s important to keep in mind that these are high level individuals, their inboxes are constantly getting flooded. They are getting emails to try products or services, emails from investors, emails from customers, emails from their employees, and the list goes on. 

Email Filtering

Keep in mind that with an inbox this busy, they will most likely have a software that will filter their inbox. And you do not want to get sent to spam… so how do you stand out? Two concepts, personalization and building a relationship. 

Build a Relationship 

When you’re reaching out to CEOs, some degree of flattery works. You’re putting them in a good frame of mind, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like hearing how awesome they are? But usually when you’re doing this, you are personalizing which shows that you have done your research.



Eric, CEO of Terminus shares, ““If someone has put a lot of time into personalizing and has made it really relevant, I at least will read the email. Most of the time, I will forward it to someone who would resonate with it or forward it to our SDR manager/sales team and say "this one caught my attention and here’s why”".



The Personal Story

A major component of getting a response is by providing a personal story on how their product/company has impacted your life in some way. A lot of times this is a more powerful way to get the attention of a CEO than having a mutual connection. You are showing how you have had interactions with the product/company and are now putting in effort to building a relationship with this individual. 

More often than not CEOs have gatekeepers in the form of their Executive Assistant, don’t dismiss building a relationship with them. The Executive Assistant relationship can be the key to developing a relationship with the CEO you’re trying to get in contact with. 

By developing a relationship with the Executive Assistant, they can do things like pull strings to get you on a call with the CEO or push them for a meeting with you they would otherwise have never taken. 

Know their Priorities and Provide Value

Maturity of the company depends on priorities. Companies change constantly, therefore, CEOs' priorities for their company are constantly changing as well. 

As a sales rep, keeping up with the organization and knowing where their current state of business is will help you discover the CEOs priorities before you reach out to them and therefore you can show how you can provide value for them. Don’t waste their time. 

Even if you are not showcasing what they may need right now, you may be exactly what they’re looking for in 8 months. And by constantly building a relationship with them, you’ll always be in the back of their mind when the time makes sense to have that discussion. 

If all else fails, a general theme is that CEOs care about their relationships with their investors, their customers and their potential customers. They want an amazing customer experience, so relate back on how your product/service to how you can contribute to a great customer experience, and you’ll probably attract their attention. 

Before you send that email, ask yourself “have I proven how I can provide value to their priorities? Why would they respond to this email?”. 

Ask a Question

Never ask a CEO to hop on a call with you or if you can schedule a time for a meeting. They will never take you up on that offer. Like I said, these people are busy and hate wasting time. Why would they spend time taking a meeting with someone they barely know? 

Roy, CEO of Chorus said, “If you ask for money you’ll get advice, if you ask for advice you’ll get money.” If you are cold emailing a CEO and directly asking them to hop on a call, they’re going to reply (if they even take the time to) with feedback on what you should have said, to save you the time and effort for the next person. 

The best approach is asking a simple question that will take them minimal effort to respond, but is worth responding to. Roy shares a story of a cold call gone wrong, and his feedback for the rep was, “If you had asked me a single question, ‘Do you know what percentage of emails your sales team is sending that are highly personalized and end up bouncing? This will impact and help you grow’, I would think ‘no, I don’t know this number” and then I would meet with my VP of Sales and ask him this question, and then when you follow up with me we can then discuss the opportunity and value you provided me.”  

Adjust your messaging, resonate with the prospect more. Put yourself in their shoes and know what their day is like and what their priorities are. 

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When Ryan O’Hara asked all three CEOs if they had ever purchased something that started with a cold email, and their answers were no. They were never the person at the end of the day, because they have always passed them off to those in charge of the particular concern, and have had trust that they would make the right decision. 

They may have been the final signature, but at the end of the day their trust is in their decision makers and department leaders. Instead of looking at CEOs as the ones with the wallets, focus on building a relationship with them and they can open those doors for you. 

You approach CEOs by understanding their method of communication, building a relationship over time, knowing their priorities and providing value to them, and leaving them with simple questions that prove you can help them. Don’t pitch, don’t push for a meeting. 

Remember, CEOs are people like you and me. 

“CEOs are human beings, and therefore are, in a way, just like you — they’ve just had a difference set of experiences in their careers.”  -What You Can Do to Successfully Sell to the C-suite

Watch the webinar, How to Sell to CEOs with Olof Mathé, Co-Founder and CEO of Mixmax, Eric Spett, CEO of Terminus, and Roy Raanani, Co-Founder and CEO of Chorus below. 


Posted by Sabrina Jowders
Sabrina Jowders
Sabrina Jowders is a Marketing Coordinator at LeadIQ. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019 with a B.S. in Business Administration: Marketing and a minor in Sales. She specializes in SEO.

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