Whether you are in a key sales opportunity, pitching an internal project, or looking for a promotion - everyone needs to deal with executives at some point.
While executives are key decision makers and enablers of your success, they can also appear to be the most difficult and intimidating people to deal with if you are not prepared.
Here are 5 key strategies you need to know to succeed with executives, as well as several experiences that I won't soon forget:
1. Be Strategic and Outcome Focused
Most executives don't care about the cool functions of your shiny new product, or that your hair looks good when you walk in to pitch a project or your promotion.
They care about their strategy and business outcomes. Therefore, when working with executives make sure you know how to convert features, functions and details into outcomes.
Instead of "this product is the newest cloud based CRM", try "we believe that you could grow revenue by 10%, and sales cost by 20% through our CRM".
Instead of "I think we should start a project to standardise processes", try "I believe we could reduce administration costs by 20%, through a project to standardise processes".
Instead of "I want a promotion", try "over the past 2 years in my role, I've been able to contribute a 10% increase to sales", or "My output has been 20% up on previous years" - "I'd like to talk more about how I can make an even bigger impact on the business".
You're probably thinking that the above takes a lot more time to research and compose - it actually doesn't. It is going to take you the same amout of time to articulate business benefits, as it does details. In fact, the benefits will have a higher impact because of how concise and focused they are.
2. Be Concise
One of the key traits I've found with all the key executives I have worked with, is their ability to be extremely concise.
While a life-story e-mail or response to an answer might suffice for you in other areas of business, you'll find that executives demand precision. To be honest, they also just don't have the time for anything else.
They have the ability to bring together complex ideas into simple sentences or questions, and have the restrain to not elaborate any further than absolutely necessary - so they also expect this from you.
Your best approach to executives is to respond to them concisely. Practise getting to the point of an answer promptly, and whenever you e-mail, re-read your e-mail a few times before you send it. Look for ways to halve it, or get down to 5 lines maximum and see what a difference it can make.
I once had an executive notorious for people being unable to get his attention. I analysed previous communication, and sent him a 2 line e-mail - I received a 1 line response within about 2 hours.
3. Clarify Expectations, Don't Make Assumptions
Earlier in my career an executive once said to me - "I already have my wife to think for me, I don't need you to do it too".
This was in reference to an assumption I had made about what I thought the executive wanted to do. You will find that executives appreciate you clarifying expectations upfront.
Instead of retrospectively saying "sorry I assumed you wanted this", before you take key actions, say upfront "my understanding is that this is the action we'll be taking", and seek agreement first.
4. Set Expectations, and Damn Well Stick To Them
Executives have little time, but memories like elephants. To save them time, make sure you set expectations with them. If you want to meet with them, be clear about why - most of them don't have time for 'coffee'.
When meeting, clarify the agenda upfront. When closing the meeting, restate your understanding of next steps and actions.
Most importantly - if you say you are going to do something by sometime, then you damn well better do it.
I was once working on a transaction with a billion dollar company who had an executive responsible for the globe - of which our transaction was just one part. We had held a meeting three weeks prior in which we had committed to respond by the 7th. On the 8th we responded, and to my disbelief the executive reverted to us questioning why we had not responded to him on the 7th like we had committed to.
Start now becoming supremely accountable for your actions and set expectations.
5. Make A No Excuses Policy
Don't make excuses, period.
One way executives avoid making excuses, is that often the only thing they like learning more than what something will do, is knowing what the caveats, risks and exclusions are. They are always analysing to make sure they cover risks that most people won't even notice - so they don't have to go back to their stakeholders and try make excuses later for something they missed.
Make sure you put this into your thinking too. If you are accountable for something, be accountable.
When you are embarking on a project, a sale, a promotion, think about all the concerns or risks as much as the benefits. You will earn respect for highlighting these early, and for being able to confidently answer the question when asked (by which time you will also have an answer for them!). Telling them early won't cost you your opportunity, telling them late may have grave consequences.
If you didn't respond to an executive in time because your team didn't give you something, then you should have taken responsibility for following up with them, or re-setting expectations with the executive earlier - not using your team as an excuse.
If something went wrong because you 'sent an e-mail' letting an executive know something and they missed it, then why didn't you call them or follow up until you knew they got it - you've only made an assumption they got it.
Believe me, you might believe in your mind that you have an excuse for something, but when you are looking in the eyes of an executive you need to be sure you did everything possible to make no excuses.
All in all, I consider myself extremely lucky to have encountered and learned from the executives in my career so far.
Using these strategies to get past the initial intimidation, and learning from your own mistakes - you are bound to achieve more with these key decision makers than you can with anyone else.
Leigh Fletcher is a millennial sales executive, blogger and entrepreneur, with a passion for sales improvement strategies.
Leigh writes practical articles with a focus on leveraging personal experience to help others learn new skills in selling or simply refine existing skills. You can learn more at Leigh-Fletcher.com, and like below to keep up with his strategies.