C-level sales for startups: Ask for advice and you’ll get money

by Steli Efti
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In the early days of your startup, the ultimate validation is money. 

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating: people need to vote with their time and money. That’s how you know there’s a real market for your product.

End-users might think your technology is cool, but they don’t often make financial decisions. Many times, the people you need to convince are C-level executives. 

But here’s the problem: executives get pitched every day. They’re always asked for cash. So how do you stand apart?

Ask for their expert advice

Cold-calling executives doesn’t work if you don’t know about the market. To sell anything effectively, you need to understand their needs and how they buy.

When you reach out to them, say:

“We’re building a new technology and I could use your input. You’re an industry leader and I really value your expertise. I’d love to jump on a quick 15-minute call so that we can build this technology in a better way.”

Here’s why this strategy is effective:

  1. You’re appealing to their ego. People like to be experts. They like to give advice.
  2. You’re showing them that their advice might directly influence the end product. They’ll get exactly what they’re looking for with this new technology.

This isn’t a bait and switch, though

You should truly want their advice. You need to learn more about them. They could be future customers, so you want to make sure that they’re happy with your solution.

On the call, ask questions so that you understand:

  • Who they are
  • How they think
  • How they buy
  • How they would describe your product
  • How they would use your product
  • What they’ve identified as positives and negatives about your product

If they’re not ready to buy, don’t jump into your pitch

When you ask for money too early, they’ll likely get defensive and the relationship won’t go anywhere.

Instead, ask to stay in touch:

“Can I keep you updated on our progress? In a few months, once we’ve checked off some of the things we discussed today, should we schedule another 15 minutes?”

Most executives will say yes.

When they do, it’s your responsibility to keep them in the loop. The more they hear from you, the more invested they’ll feel, especially if you can deliver on their feedback.

If the call goes better than expected and they’re excited about the future, go for the virtual close

Ask questions like:

  • If you were me, how would you try to market this?
  • How would you try to sell to people?
  • How would you raise money?
  • What would it take for you to buy our product?

Push them out of their role and into yours.

If the fit is great, say, “I get the sense that you want to buy this product. Would you like to be an early customer?”

There’s a right time for this, but if the opportunity is there, go for the close.

In the early days of your startup, you need to build strong relationships, create a product with market fit, and generate cash. Reaching out to C-level executives isn’t always easy, so make the best out of every opportunity.

Just remember this simple framework and you’ll be ahead of the game: Ask for money and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice and you’ll get money. 

Want more actionable sales advice now? 

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