How to Pitch to C-levels in 3 Easy Steps


One of the most frustrating things about the eMetrics 2008 summit in San Francisco was the incessant whining about pitching C-levels. In a room full of "report monkeys" as Avinash called us, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the avalanche of data and simple actionable results.

I have spent a fair amount of time in the board room, pitching VCs and listening to analyst calls. In my opinion, it gets back to the simple maxim of "know your customer." Here are 3 solid tips on how to know what your c-level really cares about and how to get what you need from him or her.

1. Listen to the Analyst calls

If your company is public, this is an absolute necessity. These calls happen once a quarter and must be published usually via press release which means these calls are open to everyone. I'd encourage you to listen through the entire call, but especially to the analyst questions at the end. These questions often indicate weak points in the company's model.

For example, years ago, Salesforce.com was heavily badgered on their calls about how many of its customers were enterprise level versus small and medium businesses. If you were trying to reach the c-levels at that time with relevant analytics, you would have had much more success if you tied your insights to how your actions would help the company attain enterprise customers.

What if your company is not public? No problem. See #2 below.

2. Study the competition.

Every company has a public competitor. If you think you don't have competition, then you probably don't have a real market. Nothing makes a c-level look more like a bozo than having some smart-ass board member point out what competitor #1 is doing and ask how you plan to respond.
You can be a hero by proactively monitoring the competition with both the analyst calls (#1) and web analytics tools like Hitwise. Nothing will make your c-level's day more than being able to say, "In the past month, we've taken another 5% of our competitor's online market." Now take it to the next level and lay out a plan for the future, translated into real dollars. It sounds like this, "We plan to continue our assault with targeted email campaigns which are seeing 2x the conversion rate of our old broadcast emails. We project approximately $1.1 million in new online sales will come from these efforts over the next six months and at a lower cost per customer." Shazam!! You're a star and so is your c-level.

3. Learn to listen for the "question behind the question"

When I was the company spokesperson on a number of media tours, I was once coached to listen for the question behind the question. A simple example of this might be "How much does it cost?" where the real concern - the question behind the question - is "Will I see a good return on my investment?"

A c-level is constantly balancing many interests against yours. If you can anticipate their deeper concerns using #1 and #2 above, then you can often hear the question behind the question. If not, stop before you blurt out an answer and ask for clarification. Dig in with as many questions as you can reasonably get away with before looking like the Gestapo. With the proper context you will be able to give the answers your c-level most wants to hear. And that's the key to getting a yes.