How to optimize time with a C-level executive

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This month I spoke with Mike Parrott, VP and general merchandise manager at wholesale giant Costco Wholesale Corp. We talked about ways to make the most of a C-level executive’s time once you are actually in front of him or her.

Salespeople often talk about how difficult it is to get in front of a C-level exec. But once you’ve gotten an audience, how can you make the most of the time that you have?

Parrott: The first part is timing, which often has a lot to do with dumb luck. You have to be at the right place at the right time, and the C-level executive must be in a receptive mood. And sometimes things fall into place. The best example I can remember was when a power tool vendor, who wasn’t selling to us previously, came calling just as we ceased doing business with its competitor. In this case, they had a solution to an opportunity Costco had and needed to solve. All too often, vendors try to wedge their solution into an opportunity that doesn't really exist—for me, at least.

Assuming the timing is right, what's next?

Parrott: Look, executives are busy people; they don’t have a lot of time for chit-chat. You need to be direct and get to the point. You can't waste their time, or your opportunity in front of them. You should be prepared: Know where you fit in your market and be prepared with market data before you come to a meeting. This means doing your homework, knowing your customer’s business and what they expect from their partners or vendors.

Know your product. Know your competition. I expect our vendors to know what the retail landscape is for their product, such as what our competitors stock and their prices for such products. Don't waste valuable meeting time discussing weather, sports, etc. Get to the point.

Great, so let's say the timing is right, I'm prepared and I’m not wasting time. What else can I do to improve my chances of winning the business?

Parrott: If you've really done your homework then you should know to avoid jargon that the C-level executive may not know. Consultants are always trying to "assist us in managing our third-party spend," whatever that means. It must be something important, because I get two or three calls a week to help me with this "problem." Maybe if they positioned it from my point of view and used language that I use they would get further in their call.

It comes down to timing and relevance, doing your homework and speaking the executive's language. For marketing this means ensuring that the sales tools, enablement and content meet these customer needs. By helping sales to recognize the right timing indicators, providing them with relevant competitive and market data and delivering content that is written in standard English and without a lot of jargon, marketing and sales can pull in more new customers who really want to work with your company.

Lisa Dreher is VP-marketing and business development with Logicalis Inc. ( She can be reached at [email protected], or via Twitter at @LisaDreher.

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