Whether you’re a small company in which you are the C-Suite; a larger enterprise with a CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, CMO; or you’re aiming your mar-com messages at C-level executives, it’s important to recognize that this is a crucial audience. Recognize it and prepare accordingly.
Engaging the C-level is simply not the same as dealing with next-level managers or peers. The way in which those differences are managed often spell the difference between “go” and “no.” The differences could be generational: in some cases C-Level executives are older and may be less familiar and experienced with technology and new media. There are contextual differences: the C-level executive is managing multiple constituencies and multiple business units, of which yours is just one.
Ideas, projects and programs always carry risks and opportunities – the C-suite most likely defines those differently than operating units do. Their skill sets, experiences and performance measures are different from yours. Indeed, their “language” probably differs from yours as well, because it’s shaped by different influences: something as simple as “loyalty” can mean very different things to the CEO, CIO, CTO and CMO. As a result, it’s important to ensure that the C-Suite is treated like every other audience: do your homework, understand their needs and interests and prepare accordingly. Their understanding and support are crucial to a project’s success, but they will have to provide that based only on what you can tell them in the shortest amount of time.
Tips for Managing the C-Suite
As always, time and money are the great influencers. C-level executives tend to be hyper-sensitive about their time and they approach revenue and cost from a far different and broader perspective than operating unit managers. Recognizing those two variables, here are some tips and ideas for how to successfully manage C-suite relationships.
How to approach the C-suite
- View C-level executives as allies: your shared concern is with creating value for the organization. Prepare thoroughly and approach intelligently, but recognize they are not there to say “no,” they are there to say “why?” They are there to weigh the impact of the project or idea.
- They need to clearly know what you are asking of them and more importantly, what you are asking of the organization. C-level executives expect reasonable answers about how much this will cost, versus general ideas about “expected cost savings.” They almost always look for a positive ROI and the ability to absorb as much of the associated costs as possible in the current fiscal year. They do not like leaps of faith: know in detail how a project will perform and how it will impact the enterprise
- They like concrete examples of what the program or idea looks like from the various stakeholders’ perspective. We may know how the target audience will respond to a campaign, but what about suppliers? What about potential employees?
- They want reasonable expectations of what the project will and won’t deliver and they know there is a downside to everything. Prepare a candid, fact based analysis of outcomes and be forthcoming about the risks and potential losses. It will earn you the credibility and believability that drives trust. You have about 120 minutes to gain trust for your proposal: use the time wisely
When it comes to presentation:
- Be careful with the choice of words and phrases – what is common to you, may be foreign to executive management.
- Do the visuals depict an outcome that is meaningful to the C-team?
- Content: is the messaging appropriate for an executive audience?
- Storytelling style: is the project story inspiring to an executive whose focus is on generating corporate growth? Enough to warrant him or her to take action?
- Be attentive to the physical setting of the meeting and the business context: to the extent you can control it, do so.
- C-level executives tend to respond to rational plans, not pitches or spins and want clear time lines with reasonable milestones.
- Without notice, C-level executives might shorten the allotted time for the discussion or meeting and fully expect that you’re prepared to summarize your proposition to quickly develop a compelling bottom line up front.
Want support selling your idea into the C-level suite? Just drop Renee or Bill a line at (310) 442-0101.