Strategic Conversations: Selling up the Chain

You are a senior leader. The business is on a reasonable course, but not a great course. You know changes need to be made, but have trouble getting audience for your ideas.

Let’s hope you aren’t selling to this person….

Let’s hope you aren’t selling to this person….

Here are some tips to sell into your C-Suite.

  1. Understand who’s making the call. There are only two people what matter in the whole equation. The decisionmaker, and whoever the decisionmaker trusts most. Most people identify the decisionmaker properly, but don’t have enough political insight or capital to understand who that key second person is. No one makes decisions in a vacuum anymore.

  2. PIck your time and place. Lobbing a random e-mail on a random Thursday with questionable followup will not yield any results. Think of it as an ongoing campaign, not an event. Think of a key set of times for direct, short in-person meetings where you talk about your topic.

  3. Shut up and listen. Your initial goal is to get them intrigued, not lay out your whole plan. Reveal as little as possible to get to the next stage-gate. Were you talking more than half the time? It’s too much. It probably means there is not enough “interest” or “impact” in your idea.

  4. Don’t overcommunicate. The classic mistake of someone in a lower position of power selling up is revealing too much too soon. Your goal is to listen and understand. You are getting subtle clues that if you are listening you will pick up on. If you are talking incessantly, then what are you going to followup with? Always have something to followup on.

  5. Know when to fold ‘em. No one likes the person who just continually pushes an old rock up a hill. If you were this person, what would be their #1 issue on their mind.? Does your idea relate? This is by far the biggest reason ideas go nowhere - not impactful enough.. Do others in the room look down when you present your idea, or do they lean in and watch for your boss’ response? There could be structural or political reasons why your idea doesn’t have traction that you will never hear about.

Often just changing your approach and picking the right battles can lead to traction. Finally, whoever “wants the deal more” will generally lose out. If you are TOO excited about your idea, it can be a negative sign that you are not flexible and open enough to consider other things that are also important to the business.

Rick Watson