How To Sell To The CEO

Right now the CEO of a large company is lying awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering how he is going to handle a serious issue.   He wants help.  He wants to call someone who can ease his anxiety. You may never have thought about selling to the CEO, but you should.

The CEO is a smart guy.  He’s well educated.  He has a couple of decades of experience.  He is politically savvy and financially adept.   Yet this particular issue has him vexed and perplexed.

Throughout his entire career this executive has confronted issues head-on, identified his options, and made the best decision for his business.   But this time his options appear to have narrowed and the “good” solution is not easy to identify.  The choices he faces appear to be degrees of “bad.”

As light begins to peer through the curtain in his bedroom, he makes a decision to pick up the telephone and call a person whose counsel he has sought on similar issues.   He knows he will receive solid, objective guidance, from this person.  Based, in part, on this guidance, he will bet the future of his company.

As he reaches for the telephone he confidently has one person in mind.

You have not given that exact scenario any thought.

Why would you spend any time thinking about the problems faced by the leader of a huge business?

You think about those problems because helping this guy make good decisions is important to your relationship with him.

Relationships lead to business for you.

Make no mistake; there is no “Request for Proposal” published when a business leader is looking for a trusted advisor.   There is no committee formed when a CEO needs someone to bounce ideas off.   There is only the trust you have developed.

How do you get to this point?  How do you develop a relationship with a guy like this?

There are four aspects of a deep relationship.


This relationship with the senior decision maker begins when he first recognizes you and your talent.  This can be through reading a book or an article you have written, it can be through seeing you speak at an event, it can be through the introduction by a mutual friend, or in a dozen other ways.

At some point, you appear on this guy’s radar screen because of something you said or something you did.


Just knowing you is not enough.  The decision maker must get a glimpse of your brilliance.  He must know what you know.

Most often this comes from personal, direct conversations.   It comes from being yourself.  It comes from telling the truth, even when it is difficult.  It comes from offering your unvarnished opinion even when it may get you thrown out of the room.

The executive needs to know you are going to give him your best thinking even when it exposes you to ridicule.


There are lots of people out there who do what you do.

Why should the CEO call you?

You need to be able to articulate a clear differentiating factor.  Something that matters.  Something that cannot be easily replicated.


It’s lonely at the top.  The people who enter the CEO’s office, the people who enter the General Counsel’s office, are almost always angling for something.  If you provide guidance and support without any motive other than acting in the best interest of your friend/client, you will develop trust.

The four aspects of this kind of relationship are easy to comprehend but difficult to develop.


Because they require emotional investment – on your part.

You must invest in this person.  You must invest in a relationship with him.  You must invest in helping him succeed.

That’s tough.

It’s tough because we live in a NOW world.  You want that big trial TODAY.  You want the huge order IMMEDIATELY.  You want to be the GO TO person.

These relationships are built brick by brick.  They are built by giving good guidance on lots of small issues.  They are built by people sharing your reputation in boardrooms and at cocktail parties.

It starts with the relationships you have right now.  It starts with the guidance you provide today.  It starts with your activity, your personality, and your focus, right now.

The executive’s legs swing around to the side of his bed.  His feet hit the floor.  He reaches down and picks up his phone.  As he scrolls through the contacts, he stops on a name and pushes the green button.

Somewhere across the country, a telephone is ringing on a nightstand.

The sound startles you out of a peaceful slumber.  As you reach for the phone you don’t realize it but answering that call may very well change the trajectory of a career…for both of you.