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.
Duel Horizon Model:
During a recent corporate strategy and messaging project, we worked with a newly appointed CEO and had the opportunity to observe a typical “day in the life closely.” He used an extremely tight filter to determine what topics received attention in his limited discretionary time. One criterion was the 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 within 1-3 days, or he spent time on topics 6-24 months out (vision, strategy, plans, relationships, etc.). We have seen this duel horizon model exhibited by several senior executives – not just the CEO.
The Question at hand:
This concept 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 many 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 a relevant time horizon – understanding it is critical to engage them.
- If you have been selling lower in the organization, your value message could be based on the wrong timing.
The net is to have your project make it to the executive buyer’s shortlist; it must solve an executive-level problem and today’s problem!