12 Tips for Selling to the C-Suite: What Top Sellers and Execs Say

C-suite executives have the power to close deals, drive revenue, and alter the trajectories of entire businesses. Connecting with these leaders and winning their trust is your most valuable skill as a seller — but today’s economic conditions mean it’s also harder than ever.

So how should frontline sales professionals approach selling to the C-suite in 2024? We called on ZoomInfo’s top salespeople — including our founder and CEO — to bring you the definitive guide for selling to the C-suite. 

We’ll cover a range of actionable strategies you can adopt right away, as well as key considerations facing today’s frontline salespeople and executive buying committees, all backed up with proven insights and experience.

Tip #1: Make Your CTA Easy for Executives

Want 30 minutes of a CEO’s time to pitch or demo your product? There isn’t a seller alive who would turn that down. 

However, according to ZoomInfo founder and CEO Henry Schuck, salespeople should be careful what they wish for.

“You actually don’t want a meeting with me right away,” Schuck says. “You want me to connect you with someone in the business who’s going to take that meeting — and they will absolutely take that meeting. That’s the game you’re running when you reach out to me.”

Rather than going in cold with a hard pitch for a demo, salespeople should instead focus on demonstrating a keen understanding of the problems facing that business. Sellers should make it immediately clear how they can help, and make it as easy as possible for CEOs to refer them to the correct senior executive.

“Your call to action should be, ‘Henry, if I compelled you that we can solve this problem you care a lot about, can you connect me with the right person at ZoomInfo to take that conversation forward?’” Schuck says. “And if you’ve done a good job of personalizing your message, I’m always going to be open to do that.”

Tip #2: Adapt Your Pitch for Your Audience

Despite similarities in seniority and title, not all executive roles or executive teams are created equally. 

What works well in one sector or vertical may not work at all in another. Sellers should understand that different types of executives have vastly different needs, and tailor their approach accordingly. 

This is something Schuck has had to do himself on many occasions — and it isn’t always easy.

“When I take a call with a founder-CEO, those are my favorite calls — I know that person,” he says. “I’ve sat in their shoes, I’ve felt the emotions, the ups and downs.” 

Most of the time, of course, you’re not going to have a clean personal window into the C-suite buyer’s life. That’s when sellers have to do their homework, and put themselves in the buyer’s shoes to understand how to tailor their pitch.

“When I go in front of a family owned business, I don’t have the experience to draw from in the same way,” Schuck says. “But I am starting to think about what’s important to this person. What are they trying to achieve? How would I feel if I was running my dad’s company?”

Tip #3: Know When to Swing Big

ZoomInfo Sales makes it easier than ever for frontline sales professionals to identify senior executives when prospecting. However, with great power comes great responsibility – namely, knowing when to take the big swing by reaching out to a C-suite executive, instead of methodically establishing a groundswell with junior stakeholders.

James Roth, ZoomInfo’s Chief Revenue Officer, has been on both sides of the desk during his 20-year career in sales. According to Roth, if you’re going to shoot your shot with the C-suite, you better not miss.

“There is never a bad time to build executive-level relationships,” Roth says. “However, if you don’t have a compelling reason or value proposition or thoughtful point of view, you don’t want to take that swing at executive alignment before you have it.” 

One of the most effective ways to hone those core value propositions, according to Roth, is deep research into the public record, especially 10-K filings and earnings call transcripts of public companies, to gain greater insights into the challenges the company is facing.

In many cases, demonstrating a keen understanding of the prospect’s situation can still lead to promising conversations, even if an executive chooses not to take a particular call themselves. 

“I won’t always take a meeting with them personally, but I’ll say, ‘Hey, if they have something interesting, I’ll pass it to the right person and see if there’s something there,’” Roth says.

Tip #4: Recognize Genuine Objections

There will be times when prospects confront you with real, immovable objections that are beyond your control. It’s important, however, to learn how to recognize such objections, because they’re not as common as some salespeople might believe.

“Salespeople are very accustomed to objection handling, but one of the keys to that is the empathy statement needs to be real,” Roth says. “In the current macroeconomic environment, there are real objections. The best salespeople know how and when to shift from objection-handling salesperson to partner of your champions.”

As difficult as immovable objections can be, most salespeople would agree they’re preferable to cold, stony silences. Shuck has had to navigate many such difficult calls during the course of his career, including a recent conversation that was particularly challenging.

“I was brought into a call with a Fortune 100 company and was meeting with their chief commercial officer,” Schuck says. “You can see from his body language, from the way that he’s looking at me, from his interactions upfront, that he does not want to be there. So I went straight into the three insights I thought he would say were a priority for his organization right now. And he immediately turned on. He was like, ‘OK, that’s interesting, we should be doing that.”

The lesson? Disengagement is a death knell with the C-suite. If they’re tuning out, you need to go hard at the biggest value you provide, and get their attention with your knowledge of their business.

Tip #5: Engage Your Champions Tactically

Selling to senior executives is significantly easier with outspoken allies on the inside, and identifying your brand champions is a vital step in establishing initial rapport.

Brand champions are already engaging with your brand. They’re reading your content, following you on social media, and subscribing to your newsletter. They want what you’ve got — and they’re ready to tell their manager.

Roth recalls a recent deal in which a senior executive of a major global IT company was instrumental in closing a multimillion-dollar, multi-year contract.

“He was helping us craft our narrative to the global CFO. How will this hit expense? How will this be budgeted? When are they going to actually pay?” Roth says. “If we had just gone to the CFO and said, ‘Hey here’s some options,’ we probably wouldn’t have landed the deal that quarter.”

Multi-threading your sales approach up and down the org chart — and getting face-to-face with them when necessary — is key to finding those internal champions, ZoomInfo senior account manager Jessica Hipskind says.

“Understanding what’s important to your customer from all angles doesn’t just demonstrate that you understand their challenges and goals. You’ll also build allies along the way who can advocate for you,” she says. “Learn who middle management is. See which of your leaders are in the area, and facilitate an in-person meeting. In-person conversations build relationships quicker than Zoom.”

Tip #6: Speak Their Language

Above all else, you have to do your homework before reaching out to executive buyers and develop a deep understanding of their business and the challenges they’re currently facing. 

“The foundational thing I see so many salespeople miss is that you need to know exactly what they do, who’s in their vertical, who’s in their sub-vertical,” Roth says. “You have to speak their language. If it’s commercial real estate, you have to know the difference between a tenant rep and a leasing agent and a broker. If it’s financial services, you need to know the difference between capital markets and investment banking.”

It’s also crucial to understand the individual motivations and preferences of each member of the buying committee. 

Obviously, this kind of prospecting takes additional time, which is why it’s vital for frontline GTM professionals to maximize their productivity by automating routine administrative tasks whenever possible. 

As detailed in our 2024 Customer Impact Report, ZoomInfo users were 64% more productive thanks to our platform, saving more than 13 hours of prospecting time every week — time that could be better spent learning more about executive buying committees, for example.

Tip #7: Be Brief, Be Right, Be Gone

Once you’ve decided to shoot your shot and make that executive connection, get to the point as quickly as possible. 

“If I see an email with more than one paragraph, I’m not reading it. I literally will scroll down to the bottom and say, ‘Is this an internal ZoomInfo person where I actually have to read this?’” Roth says. 

But being concise isn’t just about respecting executives’ limited time — it’s an opportunity to take control of the conversation.

“C-suite executives appreciate when someone can efficiently manage the discussion and make the most of their limited time,” says Alex Lazerowich, an associate vice president of enterprise sales and account management at ZoomInfo. “Executives are used to having to ‘run the meeting.’ Having someone else take control is a welcome change in their day.”

One effective way to get executives’ attention quickly: Connect the information you’ve sourced from prospects’ 10-K filings and other research to problems you’ve already solved for similar clients.

This approach proved particularly effective for Lazerowich in a recent meeting with the senior leadership team of a global investment bank.

“All four leaders of their investment banking practice took the time out of their day to join the meeting,” he says. “The first slide we showed them was of their recent earnings call. They loved that slide; it instantly gave us credibility that the problem we were solving was directly associated with their top problems.”

Tip #8: Pitch Your Ancillary Value Proposition

Ask yourself: What’s the lesser-known value that differentiates you from the competition?

To gain an edge with C-level stakeholders, it’s vital to understand and highlight everything you bring to the table. What are the second, third, and fourth things that set your offering apart? How can your solution help this C-suite executive solve not only their problems, but those of their peers around the business?

“There’s the ROI that your tool delivers, and that should always be top of mind. But thinking about the conversations that I have with executives, there’s typically an ancillary value proposition that helps us stand apart,” Roth says. 

Understanding these ancillary value propositions also allows you to tailor executive pitches based on the challenges facing individuals in specific leadership roles. The needs and priorities of a chief revenue officer, for example, are different from those of a chief operations officer, despite the fact that their concerns share a good deal of overlap.

“Every executive is different,” Roth says. “Some are very operational. Some are the traditional sales leader. You have to speak their language and appeal to their unique background and expertise.” 

Tip #9: Know When & How to Focus on ROI

Many of today’s sellers came of age in the fast-growth years of near-zero interest rates, when departmental budgets flourished. 

So much for all of that. Today’s C-suite buyers don’t want to hear about hypothetical, projected ROI. Show them real, tangible benefits — or don’t bother. 

“The world of ‘Hey, look what the ROI could be?’ I don’t know how much that lands,” Roth says. “If you talk to anybody in senior leadership, they’re getting 30 of those emails every day.”

Laying the groundwork with a strong internal test of your solution is the key to making those arguments stick with the C-suite, he says. So make it a test that you can pass: create a motion for surging resources to test users at key accounts, with specific, concrete measurables as the goal.

“If you’re late-stage and you’ve already got the pilot run, you’ve already got a bunch of first-party quotes from their people, then sure — go ROI all day,” he says. “We closed an $8 million deal with a global payroll provider by doing just that.”

Tip #10: Leverage the Power of Networks

For all the technological advancements of the past 20 years, much of sales still comes down to good old-fashioned networking. The existing connections of your executive leadership team are huge levers when trying to make inroads with prospective clients or move stalled deals forward.

“Go into meetings with some type of connection if possible, ideally someone from your executive team,” says Katelyn Boutelle, an enterprise account manager at ZoomInfo. “Once a meeting is secured, have a person from your side reach out prior to or just after the meeting to show support.” 

Continual check-ins from executive connections throughout the cycle, or even offers to meet in person if an executive is traveling in their area, are great additional ways to maintain those connections, Boutelle says.

Tip #11: Use Your C-Suite for Strategic Support

Even if your executives’ personal networks don’t yield any possible inroads when trying to close a deal, you can still enlist the senior leadership team when reaching out to prospects. For example, if you’re selling to the chief technology officer at a company, ask your own CTO to reach out and share how they use your product internally. 

However, Schuck says, it’s important that salespeople understand how and when to ask their executive team for help — and to be realistic about how that help might move a deal forward.

“What I can do is make sure that your buyer knows that I know about their company, that I’ve understood their use case, and that I’m involved to help make sure the process is really seamless,” Schuck says. “But I am not selling for you — I am giving support to the deal.” 

It’s important to consider the skills, experience, and expertise of each executive on a call, as well as what they can bring to the table. Even executives with the same seniority and title may have very different ways of working and problems to be solved.

“Everybody has different skills, so you want to identify whether your executives are assets. You don’t want to put two opposite personalities on a call together,” Schuck says. 

Tip #12: Use AI to Drive Efficiency

For frontline salespeople and seasoned executives alike, generative AI is already transforming the day-to-day work of go-to-market teams.

Today’s GTM teams are under more intense pressure than ever, which makes it vital for salespeople and marketers to automate administrative work and focus on building relationships with prospects and demonstrating value.

“What I’m most excited about as it relates to our new AI platform, ZoomInfo Copilot, is that all of the work that I used to have to do manually when I sit down with an account executive — what do you know about this account? What did they say their pain points were? Who are our buyers? — I can easily get all of those answers really clearly, really quickly,” Schuck says. 

“What would have taken a seller two hours to prepare and me 30 minutes to catch up on takes a total of about 15 minutes. I show up better informed with better insights, it saves an incredible amount of time, and creates better relationships with our customers.”