The 4 Psychological Secrets You Need to Know to Influence C-Suite Buyers

Everyone in sales wants the key to the C-suite.

The C-suite has been playing a larger role in B2B purchasing decisions. Research from Chorus shows that organizations are 2.2 times more likely to have a C-level executive on a sales call due to tighter budgets and more pressure. Increasingly, if you don’t have that C-suite access, the likelihood of getting a deal — even a minor one — plummets substantially. Even if you don’t talk to someone in the C-suite directly during that first deal, growing and expanding those customer relationships is ultimately going to fall on a C-level executive’s desk.

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Getting the key to the C-suite is only the first step. Once you get there, your biggest task is knowing how to navigate the motivations of the C-level buyer using the following techniques.

Selling to the C-suite? Here are your biggest challenges

According to our research, executives are four times more likely to want to have conversations about the challenges of running their businesses than about sellers’ products and services. Yet, they grade sellers as four times worse at those business conversations than in discussions about products and services.

That means your biggest challenge is bridging the gap between the conversations that C-level buyers want to have about their business initiatives and your products and services.

How loss aversion comes into play

Psychological studies show that humans have a tendency to weigh potential losses more heavily than potential gains. Gaining $20 is nice, but losing $20 feels like a tragedy. In selling terms, an executive is more likely to take a risk and sign your deal if it means avoiding a loss over achieving a gain.

To test this theory, we ran a study with executive buyers and put two choices in front of them; the only difference was the way the choices were framed — one as gaining, one as avoiding a loss. Mathematically, the two options were identical. But framing the choice as avoiding a loss instead of achieving a gain led to an almost 70% increase in the selection of that choice. This tendency gets stronger the bigger the loss. People will take more risk as the potential loss gets bigger.

So, when you’re selling to an executive, it’s not just about hard numbers or ROI. It’s also about the emotions or the intrinsic emotional value of avoiding a loss. Knowing this will be advantageous to you as a seller when approaching a C-suite buyer.

4 strategies sales leaders can use when selling to C-suite executives

1. Get into their mindset.

Approach every sales conversation from the executive buyer’s perspective. Take the time to understand how that executive views the world and the initiatives they have in play so that you can talk to them about those things first, at their level, before you lay out your products and services.

2. Do your homework.

Getting into your C-suite buyer’s mind often requires you to perform some research. And spending that extra time before you have an executive conversation will pay off. Dig into the paperwork. Read the shareholder letter, proxy statement or transcript of the most recent earnings call. All of these quick things can give you insights into where the executive is focusing their time.

3. Tap into sponsored access.

In our study around executive access, we found that sponsored access — using one of your advocates to sponsor you into an executive conversation — was a good strategy because the executives preferred to take sponsored meetings. So, if you have an advocate in the organization who can introduce you, with the right framing that sponsored access will be more impactful than nonsponsored access.

4. Use loss aversion to your advantage.

When you’re talking to an executive, remember to frame any risk as avoiding a loss rather than achieving a gain to move them in your direction. It can be helpful to showcase your value proposition, convey ROI, present an unconsidered need, or offer competitive benchmark data during executive sales conversations. But more important is the sense of emotion you can evoke. Our research shows that this will make executives two to three times more likely to take the risk you want them to take.

Executives are human, too. They have challenges and initiatives that they want understood. And, like all humans, they have more of an aversion to loss than they have a desire to gain. When you have the opportunity to sell to a C-suite executive, it’s important to understand them before you walk into their office. Doing so puts you ahead of every other seller who obtains the coveted key to the C-suite.

This article is part of the Crunchbase Community Contributor Series. The author is an expert in their field and we are honored to feature and promote their contribution on the Crunchbase blog.

Please note that the author is not employed by Crunchbase and the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect official views or opinions of Crunchbase, Inc.

Doug Hutton, EVP of Customer Experience, leads all post-sale teams for exceptional delivery at Corporate Visions and B2B DecisionLabs. He works with behavioral scientists and research partners to build a scientific foundation for award-winning solutions that help sales, marketing and customer success teams have winning customer conversations. Doug is co-author of “The Expansion Sale: Four Must-Win Conversations to Keep and Grow Your Customers.”

  • Originally published December 21, 2022, updated January 5, 2023