In our experience, most executive selling focuses on the elevation of the message, and overlooks the factor of timing. Successful executive-level selling requires both:
- Elevation – messages that are at a level that is relevant to the executive decision-maker
- Timing – aligned with the executive’s current decision window.
During a recent corporate strategy and messaging project, we worked with a newly appointed CEO, and had the opportunity to closely observe a typical “day in the life”. He used a very tight filter to determine what topics received attention in his very limited discretionary time. One criteria was timeframe, and in his case he only spent time on things that had a 0-72 hr deadline, OR were of a long-term strategic nature. E.g. he spent time either preparing for meetings scheduled in the next 1-3 days, or he spent time on topics that were 6-24 months out (vision, strategy, plans, relationships, etc.). We have seen this duel horizon model exhibited by a number of senior executives – not just the CEO.
This raises an obvious question – “What about everything else?”. Most managers seem to spend a lot of time living in the 1 – 12 week horizon (plus addressing any immediate crises). Our CEO friend didn’t ignore this timeframe – there were lots of quarterly reviews on his schedule. But he didn’t spend his discretionary time there – he trusted his staff to bear the primary management load for that time horizon.
So how does this affect selling? There are a couple of relevant observations:
- Getting an executive’s attention requires alignment on timing as well as topic. Each executive has his or her own relevant time horizon – understanding it is critical to engaging them.
- If you have been selling lower in the organization, your value message is probably based on the wrong timing.
The net is that in order for your project to make the executive buyer’s short list, it must not only solve an executive-level problem – it must solve today’s problem!