C-Level Executives Want to Hear From You. Maybe.

Tuesday’s post, The Truth About Why Salespeople Don’t Like Cold Calling, continues to generate no end of comments (both in agreement and violently opposed). A few comments have suggested that cold calling is ineffective when calling the C-suites. Others have commented that that cold calling is how they actually reach C-level decision-makers and influencers.

Could it be that some salespeople are more effective than others at calling and gaining appointments with C-level executives?

Cold Calling C-Level Executives

There is no reason that you, as a professional salesperson, cannot pick up the phone and call C-level executives, providing you have great ideas (and you do have great ideas!). There is no reason you cannot pick up the phone and say:

“Hi Tom. This is Anthony with The Sales Blog. I just read an article about your new initiative, and I have some ideas that I believe will helpful to you and XYZ Company with this project. I’d like to invite you to grab a cup of coffee and a quick discussion on two of these ideas. I promise it will be 20 minutes that will be worth your while whether you use us or not. What does Thursday morning look like?”

Does this require that you have the ideas? Absolutely. Do you have to be prepared to generate value on the appointment? Absolutely. Are some of these executives still going to say no? Absolutely. Which is why you never adhere to single approach and you use every prospecting method available.

Why Do C-level Executives Take Your Call

Who do you think has the worst case of insomnia in your prospect company?

No one, and I mean no one, has bigger problems with more at stake than C-level executives.  No one wants to make sure their initiatives succeed like C-level executives.

C-level executives are charged with achieving their company’s strategic goals and objectives. Where those goals and objectives rub up against market realities are where problems are found. Where problems are found is where there is opening for you to create value.

What’s Expected of You

In order to provide value to C-level executives, you have to be able to either solve a problem for them or help them create a new competitive advantage (although I would argues that creating a competitive advantage is still solving a problem, it is just creating the problem of not having the competitive advantage first). To get the opportunity you have to be a couple things.

You have to be supremely confident that you can solve their problem or help them with a competitive advantage.

You have to have the business acumen to be able to speak to them in their language, and the language of business is often financial or strategic. This means you have to be able to read a financial statement, and that you are as good with Microsoft Excel as your nearest CFO. You need to be able to prove out your points, and this includes ROI. Y0u also need to know how they compete and their strategic advantage in their market.

You need to forgo the simple rapport building. C-level executives are interested in business and they are interested in doing business with other people who are interested in business. (I am not suggesting rapport isn’t important, but you Damn well better not start with the trivial).

C-level executives need you to be their go-to-expert in your field. They know they are not subject matters on everything, and they know they cannot afford to not understand the parts of their business where your business can make a difference. They will expect you to be a subject matter expert par excellence, filling a gap that they have in their knowledge and experience.

You will need be the kind of person that is going to own the initiative and the results of what it is you sell. You will need to the kind of person who can achieve the outcomes you promise, engaged with your team and their team throughout the entire process.


Let’s not forget that C-level executives are human (well, I have met a few that may not be). They usually have more experience and greater competencies which has led them to a position of responsibility. This responsibility includes achieving results for their company, their clients and customers, their stakeholders, and their shareholders. They build teams to achieve those results, and their partners are part of that team.

If you can differentiate yourself, you can get their attention. If you can solve problems and/or create a competitive advantage (owning the outcome), you can be part of that team. Having the necessary skills is up to you.

And so is having the confidence to do so.


1. What do you believe about C-level executives that prevents you from being able to pick up the phone and call them?

2. What do you believe about yourself that prevents you from being able to pick up the phone and call a C-level executive?

3. What are you missing that, if you had it, would make it easier for you to make the calls higher up your prospect’s organizational chart? What do you have to do to get it?

4. What is your best language for calling a C-level executive?

For more on increasing your sales effectiveness, subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Sales Blog and my Email Newsletter. Follow me on Twitter, connect to me on LinkedIn, or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your sales organization, check out my coaching and consulting firm, B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, email me, or call me at (614) 212-4279.

Read my Blogs.com featured guest post on the Top Ten Sales blogs.

Read my interview on business relationships by Joe Sperry at S4 Consulting.



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  • Michel Chiasson

    I don’t know what the fuss is about. Doing transactional business calls 15 years ago, yes, there were a lot of cold calls and that wasn’t fun. Necessary yes, but fun, no.
    The truth is that today, if you have an internet connection, there are really no cold calls anymore. I can go on Linkedin and view a CEO’s profile, his /herpicture, i can call at night to prep for his/her voice on voicemail, I can. I can go on Flowtown and establish his/her social profile. I will know him/her so well before I pick up the phone to call, that if I really have a solution that can solve a problem that is a concern at the C level, i will get the appointment every time. Cold call, yes, I remember that!

  • http://blog.sellingtoconsumers.com Skip Anderson


    A marvelous post that succinctly explains the ups and downs of cold calling C level execs. Well written and worth the read. Thank you!


    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Skip!

  • Brian McCaffrey


    Great post! Full of concrete suggestions and good advice. my experience is that nobody likes to have their time wasted: these folks even more so. For me, preparation has been the key. Good stuff! You should write a book, man!


    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Brian. I am working on the book now!

  • Greg

    Great post Anthony…. and great blog… a real winner.

    I think the key here is taking the time to make sure that you are relevant. I recently cold-lettered and then cold-called a CEO about their low rankings in a J.D. Power Customer Sat Survey. He immediately got back to me and hooked me up with one of his direct reports — Sr. VP of Customer Service–to give us a good look. I agree with you. With all of the available information, there is no reason you can’t pick up the phone and call the C-suite…. as long as you are extremely relevant.

  • Juan Lulli

    Ah, Ian. There’s a recurring powerful theme in this and some of your other blog commentary that you know I’m partial to. It’s in the form of a question and answer. And it’s this: What’s expected of a salesperson? One thing, Confidence. The supreme confidence to approach, to present, to relate, to solve…to convey to one the confidence to buy. I think it’s the one-single-solitary-distinct-specific-summing up term that identifies the Source of Success of Sales. Thanks Ian! @juanlulli

    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Juan. I believe that confidence is right up there in necessary sales attributes. But nowadays you have to back it up with real business acumen and the ability to generate results for your clients. I believe you are right, though, that confidence is at it’s source!


  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jlulli Juan Lulli

    It even takes even more confidence to believe that you ARE ABLE to offer differentiating business acumen and realizable results. Sometimes — and I know this first-hand — as you pick up the phone, enter the office, rise to deliver the presentation…sometimes you’ve got to figuratively re-fill from the well of your confidence to know that you ARE ABLE to offer that rare insight, acumen, value to someone’s business. So you’re right Anthony, properly adjusted and calibrated and well-balanced smarts and ego are at the source of success in sales. (And by the way, on the matter of confidence — and humility — geez, sorry I’ve had the habit of wanting to call you Ian–must be the Italian surname (?) that I share in heritage.) Thanks again Anthony for your rockin’ insight. @juanlulli

  • http://www.knowledge-advantage.com Gene Carlino

    Anthony- I would like to offer that like most learned behaviors, a roadmap of not only what to do (referencing you very good preparation/planning points) but HOW to do “it” is the key to then practicing and ultimately “playing” on the field (in front of or on the phone with the C-Level Executives).


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  • Jeni Ho

    S. Anthony,

    Thank you so much for this post. I love what you have to say, not only does it naturally make sense, but it’s VERY good information. This article definately impacts sales professionals like me and i’m sure many others, in a positive way.

  • Grant M

    S. Anthony,
    Outstanding post. I find that C-level leadership always has a direction they would like to go, and if you can effectively align yourself as a person that can help get them to their destination, then you are in. Keep up the great work!

  • AspireForBill

    Anthony, this is an outstanding blog post. Well done!

  • Kc

    I know this was two years ago but i love it