How to Sell to the CEO


Do you have trouble making sales, and a tough time getting through to the decision maker?

As CEO of a top 10 global hotel chain, I get hit on a lot by vendors. But the reality is, I hardly ever buy. That’s because most people don’t know how to sell effectively.

I met Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inns many years ago. Someone asked him the secret to selling and he said, “The easiest way to sell is to let other people buy.” What he meant was, offer something valuable to that person, then stand back and let them make the decision.

I met one of the best salesmen I have ever seen in October 2013 in Edinburgh, where I was attending a distribution technology seminar. One of the presenters walked up to me afterward and asked if I had a moment to visit. He said if it wasn’t a good time to chat, he could leave it with me.

He pulled out a white envelope and said that his team had spent 9 months analyzing review data on 1000 Magnuson Hotels, and that he had some ideas on how we could increase room rates and brand ratings for each hotel without much effort. All of this was presented in a couple of sentences with a simple graph on a bar napkin.

Within a couple of weeks, we signed a chain-wide software agreement with that company.

My point is, don’t sell to anyone unless you have something they need. Don’t ever tell someone ‘I want your business.’ That’s like telling them you just want their money. Don’t ever come to another person’s house for dinner without a nice bottle of wine or some flowers.

So, here are some basic rules on how to sell to the CEO.

  1. Research your prospect; make sure you know their business.
  2. Find a clear problem, and then offer a solution they clearly need at a fair price.
  3. When you follow up, do not ever call or email unless you have something new to add. Don’t ever say, “I’m calling to see if you got the proposal.” Instead, each time you follow up, let them know that you’ve just added a new feature that was not in the original, or let them know a new market development that is key to helping them. Always bring a gift.
  4. Always ask if it is a good time to talk, don’t fire-hose people with your pitch as soon as they answer the call.
  5. Use a good system like to stay on track and maximize your time.
  6. Sales is a numbers game, so you need to build a pipeline to do this. Focus and repeat.  Make 25 personal calls a day, not emails.
  7. When you are in a slump, get to work earlier. Each time Bill Clinton faced political doom, he went to work earlier every day. It kept him focused and always put him back on top.

Follow these simple rules religiously, and soon you will be taking the calls instead of making them.