Standing On The Shoulders Of CEO Expertise

I’ve spent time lately helping salespeople understand the kinds of topic that CEO-style people want to hear, specific to when they permit a prospective rep to sit before them for five minutes, and do not ‘appear’ directly involved in your decision process.

I was reminded of a time fifteen or more years ago when, with English hostelries then shamefully shackled by sharia law drinking hours, we wandered passed a new fashion outlet in Nottingham’s Hockley.  For its first day of trading it had a chap standing in the doorway encouraging customers to check out his store with the welcome “hello, I’m Ted Baker”.

The opportunity was too good to miss.  After he showed us inside, I asked him “what’s your strategic vision then, Ted?”  His eyes lit up and off he went like a firecracker.  His main plan was to have his brand-name used as a generic clothing term.  He cited the example of jeans and how (in the decade following the iconic ad where Nick Kamen strips in a launderette to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine) people didn’t say ‘jeans’ in conversation, they instead said ‘Levi’s’.  He had plans to make his style of shirt into such an item, and hoped people would say things like ‘tonight, I’ll wear my Ted’.

Now granted, on reflection the question I asked “Ted Baker” (real name Ray Kelvin) I was lucky to get away with.  After all its wording was unsurprisingly fresh-faced-out-of-business-school.  Yet with a more everyday English wording, such as:

‘where are you headed with this’,

‘what’s your plan for global domination’ or

‘how will success look for you’,

the theme of the question is dynamite.

I have met the odd Chief Exec-style person that is bereft of vision, charisma or original thought, but most love to tell you how they’ll change the world.  If you can press the right button, they will divulge all sorts of vital intel that you can leverage with other people of similar standing.

One way of doing this is next time you meet the very top person in your clients, is to get them talking about where they’re going and how they’re tackling the issues they are facing right now.

Then when you’re in front of a prospect CEO, drop such knowledge liberally in to the conversation in a way that adds value to your position without breaching any confidences.

Getting a CEO to open up isn’t as tough as you might imagine.  You can use approaches like the three already mentioned, especially in a context of shaping your existing and future product delivery to them.

I also recently picked up a trio of wonderful ideas for when you’re short of time on this from (of all places) a music industry academic.  I saw that each of these requests got the interviewee thinking hard and, as long as you frame them a touch less abruptly than he did, could really uncover gold for you I think:

  • what’s you top 3 pieces of advice on …?
  • if you had a bumper-sticker for your core beliefs, what would it be?
  • what’s your Golden Rule?

And I’m sure you can build on this theme fairly easily.

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