Why are executives so fiercely protective of their time? It’s because they have so little of it. If you’re persistent and persuasive enough to be able to secure a CXO’s time, the worst thing you can be is unprepared.
The mistake people make when communicating with an executive is failing to understand the executive’s world.
As soon as an executive thinks you are not prepared, your meeting is over. You’ll likely find yourself in the tough position of having to rebuild credibility.
How to avoid this fate? Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Here are three things you can do to meaningfully connect with executives and demonstrate that you understand their world.
1. Learn all you can about the executive.
To be able to connect with people in an authentic way, you have to know something about them first. Be an anthropologist and do your research. Ask and seek answers to questions like the following:
· How long have they been in their current role?
· With whom do they work?
· Where have they worked in the past?
· Who have they worked with in the past?
· What are they like at work?
· What’s their life like outside of work?
· Do they have kids?
· Do they have hobbies?
· What are they passionate about?
To find the answers to these questions, conduct an Internet search and use social networking tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Who do you know that they know? Talk to those individuals.
Find out what matters most to the executive and discover where your interests overlap. Everyone has something that they care deeply about.
If you look hard enough, you will find unexpected, yet genuine connections and shared interests that you can use to build rapport. You don’t necessarily have to bring up any of this in conversation, but just knowing about those interests and connections will help you get a better sense of the person.
2. Learn all you can about the company.
To make a credible case for how you can help a CXO, first you have to know what he or she needs help with. Find out everything you can about the company and its current challenges and opportunities:
· What is the company strategy?
· Where is it headed?
· Who are its competitors?
· What are the most pressing business issues?
· What products and services does the company offer?
· How do customers use those products and services?
When meeting with executives, the goal should be to convince them that you have the ability to help them solve their business challenges. If you start talking about tactical things, a CXO is liable to direct you to the third floor, fifth guy on the right who deals with that kind of thing.
Press releases and speeches offer insights into a company’s current strategy, problems and focus areas, as well as the executive’s specific concerns. Customer case studies help you better understand how customers use a particular product or service.
You’ll want to understand enough about the company’s products and customers and a lot about the strategic issues an executive is facing in order to have an intelligent conversation about how you might be able to help.
3. Focus on what’s most important to the executive.
Talking about product features is an all-too-common mistake. Unless the executive has specifically asked you to prepare a presentation, don’t deliver one. Instead, have a conversation.
How you begin that conversation is critical. Never start by talking about yourself or by asking generic questions to which you should already know the answers, e.g., “So, what business issues are you facing right now?” Instead, quickly and concisely show that you’ve been thinking about their business issues and have some ideas about how to solve them.
Time-to-value is of the essence. The first two minutes of the conversation are crucial. Prepare what you’re going to say in advance. Use a personal communication framework that enables you to get to the “ask” quickly and to link it back to helping the executive address the strategic issues. This is vital to your success.
Finally, Be Yourself
The objective is not to manipulate the executive – quite the contrary. Rather, when you take the time to do your research and prepare, it conveys to the executive that you have integrity and that you respect and value the executive’s time. We all know what a precious commodity that is today.