Congratulations! You've finally landed a one-on-one meeting with a top exec, a powerful player inside your customer's firm.  It's a great opportunity, but you've got to be certain to take advantage of it.

Make sure you follow these simple steps.

1. Do your research. 

Before the meeting, research and review the exec's "business agenda"--what he or she needs to accomplish organizationally.  Then use your contacts in the firm and your own business acumen to understand the exec's "personal agenda"--likely career goals, the job that he or she is angling for, and so forth.

2. Don't assume the exec knows who you are.

Busy execs are often unaware (or can't remember) why a particular meeting is on their agenda. Introduce yourself and explain why you're there, tying the subject matter to both the business agenda and, more subtly, the personal agenda of the executive in question.  For example: "I'm John Doe from Acme and I'm here to discuss how to increase profitability through improvements in quality control."

3. Establish credibility immediately.

Within the first few minutes, demonstrate that you've done your homework and understand the company, its challenges and its place in its industry.  Focus on business issues that the executive faces--never the specific bells and whistles on your product.  Execs don't care about features and functions; they want to know how you're going to change the bottom line.

4. Ask intelligent questions.

Frame everything according to the drivers that affect the business and the metrics that this exec uses to evaluate activities.  For example, if you're talking to a CFO, you might ask questions about the ROI expectations that the firm uses to make purchasing decisions. If you're talking to a chief technology officer, you might ask questions about the how the rest of the company measures IT performance.

5. Listen more than you talk.

Once you've asked a question, hear what the exec has to say. A productive conversation with a customer is one in which the customer does most of the talking.  Your job is to guide the conversation so that you discover what you need to know in order to be of service to that customer. You need to fully understand a company's problem before proposing a solution.

6. Add value to the conversation.

Resist the temptation to present your solution right then and there.  Anything resembling a sales pitch will make it seem as if your haven't been listening or (worse) don't care about what the exec just told you.  Instead, bring additional value to the conversation by introducing a different business perspective and your experience dealing with similar problems.

7. Close on a next step.

Involve the exec directly in planning any subsequent actions concerning your offering. In most cases, this will involve an opportunity for you to present some kind of customized solution to the problems you've been discussing. However, take the exec's lead on how to go about this.  Ideally, you want the executive to make some kind of public commitment to the project, even if it's just to schedule a group meeting to discuss the idea further.

The above is based on several sources, but draws heavily on a conversation with Dr. Steve Bistritz and Nicholas A.C. Read, authors of the bestselling book Selling to the C-Suite.

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