How to sell an idea to C-level executives

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

Selling an idea is challenging. I once got feedback from my manager that our CEO appreciated my knowledge of digital marketing, but after the second sentence I uttered he had no idea what I was talking about. Communicating ideas to C-level executives is the most challenging task.  

In my case, the CEO had a limited understanding of the technical details and could not participate in a conversation about the specifics of the project. Remember that C-level executives are often time-constrained and have limited time for new or novel ideas. They might also be more risk averse as they are protecting their own delivery of results and will meet innovative ideas with skepticism. 

Another hurdle you must overcome is the lack of buy-in. Those closest to the C-levels often experience that there are established truths or misunderstandings that block your path to gaining acceptance for a new idea or project. So how do we remove the barriers to success in communicating with a leadership group? 

We need to understand that the CEO, CFO or COO are at pinnacle of the company, and often have a unique perspective on the business. To get the message across, there are two things you must pay special attention to: their priorities and the language they speak. So, you need to craft the message and deliver it with confidence and authority. Here are 10 golden rules to follow: 

  1. Know your audience. We are all different, so tailor your message to the person or group you address 
  1. Make sure that your knowledge of the topic, your industry, and your business is rock solid. 
  1. Anticipate the questions you might get. Write them down and provide the answers before your meeting or pitch. 
  1. Project authority and confidence by using powerful active language and speaking directly to your audience. 
  1. Provide the big picture and show your audience that you think from a CEO’s vantage point 
  1. Always focus on the key benefits and how your proposal aligns with corporate goals and objectives. 
  1. Understand your company’s business and provide solutions in line with the executive vision. 
  1. Acknowledge other contributors, but use ‘I’ as appropriate to show that you are a leader. 
  1. Use every opportunity to build a relationship with the C-levels. Be patient and understand that change also means taking risks at the executive level. 
  1. Practice. Practice. Practice. Always use the mirror, a friend, or your pet to practice your pitch. 

We sell ideas and communicate every day. The same rules apply to your personal relationships and can be used in any setting. Extra tip: Practice your key phrases and use them as placeholders to craft the perfect pitch for your idea.